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Orbital, Brighton Centre review - a solid hands-in-the-air night out | reviews, news & interviews

Orbital, Brighton Centre review - a solid hands-in-the-air night out

Orbital, Brighton Centre review - a solid hands-in-the-air night out

Nineties rave originals mix polemic social commentary in with festival dance tent classics

Raving is a serious business

Just before the encore, the crowd is finally warmed up and dancing. It took a while, but hands are now in the air, middle-aged bodies are shifting about, muscle memory of MDMA nights in the last century.

The Hartnoll brothers are also jigging onstage silhouettes. The song, “Impact (The Earth is Burning)”, is from their second album, The Brown Album, as it’s known (because their first couple are just called Orbital). It’s come into its own in our age of environmental concern. Their backdrop film shows footage of our planet’s detritus floating in space… a triceratops… a shopping trolley. Greta Thunberg’s voice pipes up amid the skittering beats. “Our house is on fire!” Still we dance.

Orbital always had punk’s social concern in their genes, amongst the heady rave-tronica, and their set tonight is laced with political ire. Footage of Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods appears during their recent single “Dirty Rat”, spitting the Brexiteer-savaging lyrics, “Blaming everyone in the hospitals/Blaming everyone at the bottom of the English Channel/Blaming everyone who doesn't look like a fried animal,” while “Satan” is accompanied by footage that explicitly, viciously equates the Tories and Trump with the demonic. No-one here is objecting.

The Brighton Centre is far from sold out, the upper balconies closed and curtained off, but there are enough people here to make this cavernous venue bubble. Their peers The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers would sell it out but Orbital were always a more esoteric proposition, their music tipping its hat to older experimental electronica and synthesiser pioneers. They also have a seasoning of humour, as with “Spicy”, their mash-up of Spice Girls’ “Wannabe”, a great idea but messily executed tonight. If I had a niggle, it would be the geeky observation that the sound throughout is solid in the bass and mid-range, but murky in the treble region.

The Hartnoll brothers are, of course, wearing their trademark headlamp glasses. These may be their signature but they’re also a practicality, as they fiddle about with banks of analogue kit in semi-darkness. They are joined for recent song “Are You Alive?” by Lily Wolter of the band Penelope Isles. She too eventually dons headlamp glasses as she sings this catchy, poppy number.

Much of the set comes from their recent Top 10 album Optical Delusion, which goes down well, but old classics such as the ever-golden “Halcyon” go down even better. It’s pleasing that there’s a heavy female presence in the audience. Often, with bands of this vintage and older, it’s 90% BBC Radio 6 dads and grandads, which always makes my heart sink a little. “It’s techno for girls,” explains a female friend. Orbital’s music certainly has a friendlier, more spiritually euphoric essence than much techno. Then again, whether it’s really techno at all is open to question. Loosely, certainly.

Another tune that increases the revelling is “Chime”, an iconic 1990 number, from the era of rave, one that blew minds at the time by busting into the Top 20 of the proper charts. Its central synth motif is unquestionably one of the great, most memorable riffs in all popular music. Up there with “You Really Got Me”, “Smoke on the Water” and the rest. To end their encore they pull another oldie out of the bag, from The Brown Album again, it's the three part “Lush”. And it sounds just as its name suggests.

The woman beside me has brought two girls of about ten with her, possibly her daughter and a friend. They are jumping around, stood on their seats, grinning waving their arms in the air with the rest, sucking in everything that’s happening, all these grown-ups filled with the good cheer of music and movement and the message. There is hope for us yet.

Below: watch Orbital answering questions for 50 minutes, originally streamed Feb '23

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