Phil and Paul Hartnoll, also known as the electronic band and DJ duo Orbital, have been pioneers in the dance music scene since the early 90s. Balancing the electronic sounds with live band elements, Orbital took American house music and made it their own in the UK scene. After achieving success, playing all over the world and producing hit after hit they took a five year hiatus to rejuvenate their sound and work on side projects. The result was their Orbital 20 album which produced their hit “Halcyon” and pushed them into super stardom. Now, three years later, they are on a highly anticipated tour to promote their latest album Wonky. Headlining festivals in the United States and playing shows in select cities we got to catch up with these EDM legends backstage at Insomniac's Nocturnal Wonderland right before their incredibly unique, melodic and eerie set that had people talking about it for days after.
OC Weekly: How has the electronic dance music changed, grown or evolved from when you first started touring in America almost 20 years ago?
Phil Hartnoll: When we were touring in 1992 whatever city we went to had little pockets of ravers that went to warehouse parties and listened to electronic music. Now when we come here it's gone national. All these pockets of people have gotten bigger and bigger. Younger generations are being brought up on electronic music. The whole scene has grown much more organically here.
Paul Hartnoll: I don't think it's really gotten any different just bigger. You have to remember the basis of it is about young people dancing. Which is so primal, why would it change? It's always been young people yearning to belong and embrace being part of a group. That's the natural part of human culture.
In a sense electronic dance music is just like any emerging culture like rock'n'roll or hip-hop was?
Phil: If you look into rock'n'roll or punk rock for instance. They all have their own little communities and within that there's a vocal element, a song and a story behind these songs. House music is much more instrumental. Generally you are going to dance to the basic primal beats. Now it's just transpired to a greater audience. The real difference is you are dealing with greater emotional levels. Our music is really emotional to us with tribal beats that create a sort of connection with our audience.
How would you describe your music and sound to our OC Weekly readers?
Paul: I don't like to make just base level dance music. I find that boring. I like tunes, melodies, emotion and harmonies. I want the song to move you in an emotional kind of way. If you do that with music it doesn't matter if you are lying down on a bed listening to it. If it has a powerful beat it's got something more going for it. Don't get me wrong if I hear that really simple, basic minimal kind of dance music in a real loud environment then I will enjoy it. But if I listen to it on the radio it's the most boring thing in the world to me.
Did your five-year break have a huge impact on your sound now?
Paul: I think it refreshed our whole attitude. We needed to step away to appreciate it. It's like getting a second lease at life. For this album we wrote stuff that we thought we would enjoy playing live, not what we thought would go well live. It's what we wanted to play and what we wanted to throw at people. It took us a year to make this new album but we never stopped writing. I've been doing music since I was 13 and never stopped.
What were some of your biggest influences on this new album?
Paul: With Wonky we were influenced from two years of being Orbital again and playing live and the feedback we experienced from playing. Also getting out there and doing lots of festivals in a random array of music helped. We were getting to experience all this music which is currently on the scene at the moment and that has it's influences. It was the first time we saw dubstep. I think it was Annie Mac playing it in Scotland. I thought I want to see how people dance to dubstep, I had never seen it before.
Phil: We took various bits and pieces stylistically bits of dance music, folk music and bits of dubstep. You hear what other people are doing then you try your own version. You take away from what you have been hearing and kind of throw it into the mix of what you are doing. So there are bits of modern styles from the random selection of DJs we've seen and bits of folk music since I listen to a lot of modern folk music now.
Is that they key to success as an artist you think, to play what you want to hear?
Paul: Absolutely and I think that's why we stopped playing. We had kind of forgotten how to be true to our likes. There wasn't much left and we were a bit burnt out. I would advice anyone don't try to please other people just please yourself. Please yourself and you will please other people.
Now you are here at Nocturnal and headlining Beyond Wonderland in the Bay area as well as other shows in select cities, what can your fans expect from this tour?
Phil: We are playing lots of tracks off the Wonky album but some old favorites of course. We worked alongside video artist and our lighting designers who have been with us for a long time for our own production. We got all new video content which is important for us. Intellectualizing the song after you've done it and thinking what imaginary will be good to go with it is big for us. It's working with other people and expanding ideas of each song to help create moods.
We love that evoking emotions in the audience which is a big fundamental part of dance music and DJing. Do you think this art has been lost with all the mega producers and young up and comers?
Paul: I've already noticed that syndrome when you are walking around a festival and you hear a song. Then you hear it again and again. The DJs are just turning up to do their thing. Then the next one hasn't even been there or heard anything that was played before and they play the same songs. Their hands are in the air and I'm thinking you idiots these kids just heard that and you weren't even here. Good DJs used to go early and check out the vibe first.
Do you think they have an excuse since they are playing shows nightly all over the world?
Paul: It's one thing if you are a band and play the same shit because that's what you do as a band. But even then we mix it up and re-arrange it every night because otherwise it's boring. If you are playing records and you are playing the same songs every night that's just lame. There's really no excuse for playing the same set. There's no difference in having that recorded and just pressing play. Where's the craft in DJing there?