Eyewitness: Glastonbury ’94

"I was terrified..."

In the first instalment of a new series, Orbital’s Paul Hartnoll reminisces about the band’s iconic performance at Glastonbury ’94.

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I remember seeing The Orb the year before and watching them do ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ and watching that stage erupt and just thinking they need a proper Acid House kind of rave here; it would go down a storm. Luckily enough, we happened to be there the next year and I just felt like it was right. Everywhere people were dancing, people who liked indie music were still going out dancing. It wasn’t as polarised as people like to make out or as some publications used to manufacture at the time, but I think it was just right for it. We hammered in there with no vocalist, two guys, tons of equipment, loads of Roland 303s and 909s and just hammered the Acid House rave sort of aspect. But, we’ve always had a different take on that anyway, it’s never been quite clear cut as that, I think that’s what helped win over the kind of rock and indie and festival crowd.

Can you remember thinking before going on stage, or was it just a case of you knew it was going to happen?
I was terrified, that’s only one of the two gigs where I’ve thrown up before I went on stage. I was sort of walking towards the stage and i just started heaving, security guards were like “go behind there, mate,” you just got the impression that he’d been saying that to people all day. But I was there tuning the synth up right behind the main stage and Bjork was on before us, and I could hear the beginnings of ‘Human Behavior’ starting and I looked over and saw, bless her, this little Bjork stood behind the curtain about to dive on stage and she looked so scared just hugging the curtain. I just thought: ‘oh my God, if she’s scared what fucking chance have I got?’ I just watched her take a big breath and walk around corner, and to hear the roar of the crowd for the first time from backstage was quite mind blowing. We’d never done anything with that many people before, even close to it.

There’s a heavy improvisation aspect to what Orbital do, you need to play off the crowd, so with a crowd that big how do you judge where you think where it’s going to go?
You just start and you get a vibe very quickly. If 40,000 people that look like a Peter Jackson Lord Of The Rings army start looking cross it’s very easy to notice. But they didn’t look cross at all, they loved it; it was brilliant.

At times, towards the end, at the beginning I felt like a submariner in a sinking submarine; pulling all the switches, pushing all the knobs. For me, I lost two snare drums during that gig; snare drums a big part for me. I couldn’t find the snare drum for the first song, it wasn’t coming down the line, we had a backline guy trying to fix the lead, and then you just improvise like I’m going to get a snare drum from this machine and get that slapped in there. It was all very much like that. In ‘We Here’, again I couldn’t find the snare and it was my fault, I had the wrong set of sequences playing. By the time I realised and spun in the right sequences I realised I had all the levels up way too loud on the mixing desk because I’d been trying to find the snare, and I knew it was going to come in so loud. I went for the mixing desk and it was too late and it just came in, this thundery over-loud snare, but everyone went mental. It sort of double timed the whole gig and everyone just went absolutely ballistic. These little mistakes turn out to be glorious moments sometimes. That’s a part of the improvisational aspect though.

Did you hang about afterwards?
Yeah, I did the usually glastonbury thing of wandering about all night and drinking real ale at six in the morning in some sort of mad pub tent that I’d found. The next day, wandering through the market area, I saw our gigs for sale on cassette. It was mind blowing, they are actually selling it on cassette.

What impact did the show actually have, do you think?
It definitely opened the flood gates, I mean who else was there at that time, you had Underworld and that kind of thing, Chemical Brothers and the Prodigy sort of came up to do that kind of thing, within similar times. Within the next couple of years…there was six of us on the circuit, it seemed, and Moby from America. It was proven that we could all do it and hold a crowd’s attention.

Orbital – Chime (Glastonbury ’94)

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Orbital’s new album ‘Wonky’ is out now.

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