When I first heard The Orb as a 15-year-old they detonated my idea of what music was and how to listen to it. And when the pieces settled again they were in a different shape for good. As the years passed, I could place their influences and see where they slotted in. But by then it was too late. The Orb had already dissolved into my psyche as a whole and original sound.
In 2012 I still cherish them because much of that early delight is preserved. Tracks like the 17-minute subterranean epic ‘Blue Room’ are frozen in time by an enduring, impermeable nostalgia; a remembrance of discovery. I can still hear it – faintly, reflexively – how I heard it back then and I can still summon the same excitement.
In the 21 years since The Orb released ambient acid house masterpiece, The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, male pattern baldness has crept up on the raver boys. The chrome domes of dozens of Alex Paterson doppelgangers gleam around the dance floor. But no-one’s acting old. People are here to party. The air is zinging with it. The Metro has risen to the occasion with roving lights and a nightclub vibe and people are scattered loosely throughout the room, already moving to DJ Shane SOS.
It’s a refreshing change to the dreary arc of emptiness that forms in front of most opening rock bands.
But the DJ doesn’t stop. He’s been up there since 7:30pm and he sails on through to 10pm. Another opening act, Anikiko, come onstage. Sheets of paper pinned to the walls tell us Bomb the Bass was meant to play at 9:30pm, followed by Anikiko. Have BTB no-showed? I go to ask the bartender but an uppers-addled guy is serenading her with no sign of wearying. There’s lots of versions of this guy prowling around tonight; over-friendly old clubbers, loose cannons from back in the day, out giving the rusty wheel another spin.
Anikiko deploys a female vocalist and a guitarist to cook up minimalist folk-pop. Touted as ‘Gen Y’s Portishead’ they suffer from being extraordinarily out of place on the bill. Too far apart on the big Metro stage to offer each other any support, a tidal wave of chatter swells forward and flattens them. The previously dialled-in crowd is bellowing out the funniest stories they’ve ever told, heads knotted together in conversation. Anikiko parry with an adequate cover of Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ but the card is pulled too late. The chattering protest merely escalates.
After Anikiko flee, we discover Bomb the Bass and The Orb have been in the grasp of a modern Aussie-ism: getting fucked around by Jetstar. For seven hours. An MC makes their apologies and on bounce the BTB duo. I’m pretty much a blank slate. The only thing I know is that song, ‘Bug Powder Dust’, from ’90s house-party zeitgeist compilation The Rebirth of Cool Vol 5 so I’m surprised by how much I enjoy their old-school grooves, aided by melodic, processed vocals and, yes, tonnes of bass. Although they’re in the mid-section of their 40s, the duo is puppy-dog enthusiastic, passing a ciggie back and forth, air-drumming and grinning. Oddly, though, the club lights are now off and there’s barely any light onstage either. “We can’t see a bloody thing!” Tim Simenon from BTB yells merrily. “Old schooooooooool!”a guy next to me yells in reply. People dance crazily in the blackness.
The MC returns to announce that it’s Jetstar’s fault The Orb couldn’t do a proper sound check. Uh oh.
These days The Orb founder and mainstay Alex Paterson slants leeward from the nipples down but he still cuts an iconic figure. He’s wearing shorts, thongs, a T-shirt and one fake eyelash a la Clockwork Orange. I don’t know where Jetstar kept him for the seven-hour delay but clearly it was somewhere with no dress code. He’s joined by longtime Orb live collaborator, Fil Le Gonidec, who looks strikingly like Worzel Gummidge.
People whistle in anticipation as the duo taxi us down The Orb runway with some signature atmospheric noise: multi-layered and ham-fistedly spacey.
The smoke machine on one side of the stage shoots its load while its twin on the other side stays dormant. It’s a big old barrel of fun out here on the blackened dance floor but I think a cog has slipped loose from the machine. Is anyone in charge? Right on cue, The Orb play a lengthy HAL sample that seems to intone from all corners of the room. A stage invader appears in front of The Orb to take a pic with his phone. Foolishly, he reviews it, then lurches back to take a better one. At some point security notice the photo shoot through the murk and drag him off. Tim Simenon from BTB is stage invader number two, zooming past The Orb with his arms held perpendicular like an aeroplane. He returns later, grinning, bearing three paper cups, but clearly Worzel has thrown back too many mystery Kool-Aids in his time. He sniffs it first and mouths: “What is it?”
Then, the rooster crows – a sample from ‘A Huge Evergrowing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre of the Underworld’ followed by Minnie Riperton’s sky-high vocals ‘Loving you/ is easy cos you’re beautiful’ and soon after the room cracks open into chimes and a thumping techno beat and I’m swept up in dancing oblivion. No one uses samples like The Orb, especially in their early material, when it was easier to steal stuff. Who else could sample NASA, insect sounds, car crashes, deranged surgeons, clipped British comedians making prank calls to hotel lobbies, and David Attenborough? Who else could do it so shamelessly and so joyously?
It must be fun for them to watch the Pavlovian tail-wagging that the more iconic samples trigger in the audience.
They play versions of ‘Towers of Dub’, ‘Perpetual Dawn’ and ‘Blue Room’ which have all weathered the years wonderfully. But it’s not until they launch into ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ that people truly get lost in downtown Orb-ville. What were the skies like when you were young? The track is deconstructed, washed-out and lacking all the bassy, blissy parts. People dance anyway, because, well, it’s ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ but start to flag, frustrated. They splice a few bits back into the mix to stoke the frenzy a little, then peel it back again. The delicious musical foreplay goes on for what feels like eternity but some fans are suffering from faster-paced libidos. “Dropppppp iiiiiiiiittttt!” Finally, they do, and dive us down into balls-out, banging techno to close the night.
I wonder if The Orb wonder why everyone keeps telling them how influential they are? No-one has sounded like them since.
The Vine version here.