The Orb was born on a warm, Sunday summer’s afternoon in after original members Alex (then calling himself LX Dee) and Jimmy Cauty (Rockman) had driven back from a Shoom party in Brighton to Transcentral on Jeffrey’s Road, SW4 (where Alex’s brother Martin also came into the world.) Using an OBX and decks, the pair cooked up the idea for ‘Lovin You’ (aka ‘A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld’). However, the first track to bear The Orb name was ‘Walking On Sunshine’.
The Orb played their first gig in Bath in the August of 1988. Driving down in Jimmy’s old American police car, caused quite a few heads to turn in town! After all, the American police car was no 1 with the timelords! LX had always loved playing records and seeing people’s reactions, even if it was to an audience of one. Alex commenced spinning at the earliest acid house clubs – Spectrum, Slam & Transcentral, playing anything from Eno to Dub, with no regard to musical boxes, on a mission to push the outer limits further out. Not just rearranging the sonic goal posts but painting them rainbow colours and drop kicking them into uncharted realms… much like The Orb.
With the immenant release of their new album, C.O.W. (Chill Out World) Dr Alex Paterson spoke with Decoded earlier this week to discuss the state of the underground scene, 25 years at the top of his profession and how touring has changed for him.
Hi Alex, great to meet you. So, naturally, with it being the 25th anniversary of Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld, we will talk a bit about that. We know there is an underlying message in Chill Out World. Was there an underlying message to Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld?
Erm, underlying message? Well, it’s been going for 25 years. The underlying message to Ultraworld, in the sense that it’s, it’s a chillout album, it’s an escapist album, so you can actually put it on and go somewhere else, without actually having to go somewhere else.
You say Chill Out World is an instruction or friendly suggestion. Do you have any rituals when it comes to winding down and chilling out?
Not really. I think I do what most people do, just kick back and have a spliff. Basically, I would imagine that I come from a world 40 years in the making of this kind of behaviour and it hasn’t changed, more and more people are just turning off alcohol anyway, naturally. When in my day, we would have been taking things like MDMA for the first time and naturally, not taking any alcohol again. I mean, I have seen changes, that’s for sure. I have been around the block a few times I suppose! In that sense, don’t feel overruled by me either, I can waffle on haha. If you wanna talk about football I’ll talk about football, you just gotta kinda break the ice and shit haha. I want you to feel comfortable with me, not like I’m lecturing you, that’s for sure.
No that’s fine, we can talk about whatever you want! Haha. So, you and Thomas have worked with some great artists over the years including Youth and Roger Eno – who make an appearance on this album. Do you find collaborating with other artists expands your artistic capabilities more than it would working alone?
There’s a magic formula when you work with other people, isn’t there? I have never really felt that working on my own, if I wanted to kind of call The Orb, the first album, say this is my album, I just got a load of musicians in to help me because this is me on my own. But, I never wanted that to be part of The Orbs philosophy, I wanted The Orb to be a collective. It could regenerate and bring new people in at any point without too much of a bump or a hiccup.
You know, some of these things might have been a bit of a hiccup at the beginning, but in the last 15 years or so we have gotten ourselves into what we think is a good position. And next year we are aiming at a bigger stake. I don’t really like The Orb as a brand, but unfortunately, in the 21st Century, we have got to be real, and we are a brand name. It’s not bad really for something that has been against the grain for so long and having to fight major record labels, even though we are on one, purely due to the fact they wouldn’t want to release any of our music because they couldn’t understand it.
That’s major record labels all over the world. They have a tried and tested formula which they stick too and turning the whole music industry into rigor mortis, unfortunately. But the things that are going on underground with dance music anyway, it will never capitulate to sort of, such level of bland radio rock. Which record labels still try and market because they can’t market a dear old DJ. They aint got their heads around that one yet, still! Believe me, I have been in every situation. In 1988 a record label I was working for told me, in a year House music will be dead, they just weren’t interested, so I think they might be eating their words somewhat now.
You get quite a lot of that going around at the moment don’t you? People saying House music is on its way out again…
Yeah, well, It’s a load of bollocks… there was a huge Techno festival in Paris last weekend and it was like 50,000 people turned up, tell me that’s dead! You know what it is, it’s because the press are bored and they wanna pick on somebody. They done it with Disco in ’78 – they said Disco was dead and that came around and wiped the floor with them haha, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I mean, I don’t worry about it in any sense, the only thing that I do find, which is kind of odd, is that we made this music 25 years ago, it’s still in full swing. There’s different types of dance music, there’s Grime, there’s Jungle and Drum n Bass, that glitchy shit, there’s the minimal stuff; it’s expanded rather than just died.
This is what it’s gonna carry on doing, it’s like hip-hop. Hip-hop is an experimental way of life, house music and techno is another way of life. It’s like travelling, but living at home, you know? It really is. I understand it all, my brother was a traveler. Again, I’m kinda showing my colours haha. I was around when punk started. I was a 16 year old in 1977 and that set a precedence in my head, which, in many ways I could see where house music was going, the bods that were doing that kind of stuff then still, were major players in the house music days.
We understand Pink Floyd has a big influence on you, would you say the Punk Rock you were listening to back in ’77 had a big influence on your sound also?
Well, the thing with them, it just seems that it follows me around, I have never really liked Pink Floyd. The reason why it follows me around, basically, we put Battersea Fire Station on the front cover of our first album.When we put it on the front cover, many people said ‘Oh, it must be a Pink Floyd album cover.’ And so we got this weird connection with them and not only that, one of my mates from school ended up being the bass player of Pink Floyd!
He played bass on a couple of Orb tunes, so there’s a connection there anyway. And because that connection grew bigger and bigger anyway, we ended up doing an album with him, with Gilmour, strangely enough. Here’s me sitting in a garden in South London wondering what that was all about. It’s a bit like last night, I was offered tickets to go and watch Jean Michel Jarre and I just, really, I couldn’t face that! As much as I appreciate that he’s asked us to collaborate with him and stuff, I think it’s a great honour.
Let’s move on to the new album anyway. Alex, you called the album “A protest album in reverse”, what does that mean?
Well, rather than go and fight over everything, just chill out. Just let it ride over you, get it out of your system. Don’t get annoyed. Zen out a bit mate that’s all, and in a sense, in the 21st century, it works a bit better. If I had of said that in the 1970’s I’d of got hit! I’d probably get hit in certain circles in the 21st century as well! So that’s my own process, the protest thing is basically, yeah it’s just Chill Out World! You know, it’s fucking madness!
I’d agree, it’s very fast paced these days, isn’t it?
Well, it’s a world of confusion basically. It’s set up by those politicians who are confusing us all the time, so we don’t really know what’s going on anyway. That’s the whole criteria of what they’re up to, in my humble opinion haha. So I tend to just think, well I’m sitting in the shed in my garden now, this is where I go.
Anyway, getting back to it! I did a bit of digging around, I believe the Korg MS-20 was your first synth, was it not?
Ah, no that was Thomas’ first synth actually. I was a DJ so, I have always stuck to my guns on that one. Synthesisers, well, my first synthesiser on a much more honest note, would be an OBX, and Oberheim. When I was working with King and Joe, they had an Oberheim and I would look after it and fix it and make sure it was working. I got to know how to turn it on, turn it off, knew all the settings, knew how to work it and, in the summer of 88, I went round to see Jimmy from KLF and he had just bought himself an OBX. He didn’t know how to turn it on! So, I said I knew how to turn it on, and how to make some sounds out of it, so he said ‘Go on then’, so I did and then he went ‘alright, let’s make a record’ and that, my dear chap, is how The Orb was formed!
Haha, that’s great! I remember when I first started, I was sat in my nans kitchen bored and pulled out my laptop, grabbed a copy of FL Studio and went from there…
Yeah, well it’s those moments isn’t it. We didn’t have computers in those days, we had a sampler which kept breaking down! If you sent files, it usually told you it could take 35 years, so…. We really didn’t do that kind of shit. Haha, it was way off the pace 89/90, I can tell you that now.
The tour starts a few days after the album’s release, obviously, you have a lot of experience touring, but with such a gruelling schedule, have you learnt any tricks over the years to keep your energy levels up?
Hold your nose, hold your breath and wait for it to end! Erm, no, I have learnt that I don’t really need to do much. I tend to not eat food for at least 4 hours before I go on stage because that just slows me right down. I usually have something to eat after the gig, which isn’t really good for me, but it’s better than looking really sluggish on stage. I don’t eat meat, I don’t drink much alcohol. I don’t drink any alcohol. I think it’s a good idea to have minimal alcohol on the road, it isn’t doing you any favours at the end of the day, however clever you might think you are at the time! Haha, I have learnt from my own mistakes, I really have!
Do you think touring has changed much of the past 25 years?
Yeah, it’s got digital, it’s gotten really kinda cold. Yeah in loads and loads and loads of ways… You still get to the same gigs and you still get to see the same faces. If you’re doing Denver for the 5th time in 5 years, say, which we are doing this year, I kind of know people there. There’s a similarity basically, which is very nice about the whole thing because you get people starting following you about in different places. Like it used to be in the old days, you would have loads of people following you about.
I mean, I used to follow bands about when I was little, I kind of understand that ethos. It’s actually good to get out of your own environment and see all the other faces. I was 16 or 17, sleeping in a cardboard box trying to see The Clash in Wolverhampton or something. Haha, hmm yeah, it’s nice. It’s grounded as well, you’re doing it for the music, you don’t actually think about any of that, you don’t remember any of that, you know? It’s just a gig. We drive past this place in Purley, which is South of Croydon. We went to watch The Clash play there once, and it’s just a fitness centre now, I smile every time I drive past there.
Out of all the dates on the tour so far, is there one in particular you are looking forward to the most?
Well, I’ve gotta say Nottingham because that’s where a lot of my mums family live and I get to see all my cousins, they all come out and have a jolly good time, put their rave wigs on and scare the living daylights out of everyone, I think it’s great. It’s hugely amusing. There was one time when this roadie turned up, he had loads of piercings, in about 95/96. He turned up in Nottingham to see The Orb and work with The Orb, and my cousins got him up against the wall, managed to pull his tongue out of his mouth – his pierced tongue – and he was shitting himself, it was brilliant! I mean, they are pretty North to me, they’ve got kind of that Yorkshire accent. I love it. I’m proud of all that lot as well. There’s not many people who have got 27 1st cousins.
Haha, yeah! Not many at all. So, obviously you have been working with Thomas for over 20 years now, I just wanted to know, how strong is your relationship with Thomas? Do you see each other often?
Well, he lives in Berlin and I live in London so it’s really a lifesaver. Once you go on tour, you start getting a little edgy with each other because there’s nothing else to look at. It’s no disrespect to either of us but, it’s good to have the time away from each other because you can recharge your batteries and you have got something to say to each other when you see each other.
Two weeks ago we had a session in Berlin and it was brilliant because we hadn’t seen each other for a couple of months and we had something to say and we did a really good remix of Albatross for Chris Coco. And I DJ’d at a treehouse club, way away from Kompakt, just shows that there is another form of dance music. It was all like 80’s dance music, from like preload or prelude? Which is like a Kiss FM 98.7 New York Radio station where it all came from like the whole dance scene came from this particular radio station. With Tony Humphries and Shep Pettibone. He ended up producing for Madonna, but he was a DJ on Kiss FM in New York, for about 6 years in the 80’s, and I was getting all his tapes.
Let’s talk a bit about the current state of affairs regarding the industry and, in particular, the nightclub scene. It has taken a few rough blows as of late with the closure of Fabric and the devastation following Studio 338. Do you think it will ever recover to the heights of the early 90’s?
I mean, don’t forget, we have got a lot of right wing governments that want to control people. They have closed Space down as well in Ibiza, I have just heard as well, so. Transformation change, going back into the underground, they will never stop it. What do they want to lead us into? Some kind of Civil war? It’s a weird one. Well, the police will never look good in my eyes and many other people’s eyes actually living in the reality of the world. You know? No matter how much that fucking prime minister that we never voted for is saying, it’s never going to make it right whatever she is trying to say, words never make anything right, its actions that do. And all I see in the world, which is the chill out bit is that we are all, unfortunately, turning into a world full of right wing fascists the older we get and it’s really quite scary.
Yeah, it’s very scary.
And the fact that she is making out that we all wanted to leave Europe is absolutely taking the fucking piss. I mean, NBC in America, when we voted to leave Europe, they said that the UK had left NATO, they didn’t even know what was going on! It saddens me because, for the young people of this country as well, the way forward is not an isolated Britain. Don’t people realise they can go and move to Romania if they wanted to?
They can move to anywhere that they want. They could go and move to Portugal where it’s really hot. They can go and get rented accommodation in, well I know there’s a lot of people that will know this, but you can get rented accommodation in the Canaries, 500 euros, and just live there quite happily. It’s no different to what people are doing, coming over here and living here! We shouldn’t have made Britain such a heavenly palace. I don’t know what we have tried to portray ourselves as, but it seems a lot of eastern Europeans think it’s really cool over here. It really isn’t that cool but, it’s alright.
Moving on anyway, you have played at some incredible venues and events over the past 25 years, what has been your number one gig to date and what made it so special?
Blimey, erm, I think the gig that made it so special was, I did this gig with no bouncers, no security, we didn’t talk to the police and we hired out the Nimes Amphitheatre that holds 15,000 people in South France. We played with Underworld and we put the stage in the middle of the arena, like the gladiators would be and had the whole crowd dancing around us. Literally, we were in the dressing room letting people in the window, cause it was sold out and they couldn’t get in. It was one of those nights.
Yeah there’s that, and the other one was on this old Nazi joy division camp on an Island, and we done 2 sets, one at sunset and one at dawn. A load of other bands played and other DJ’s played and we managed to close down Copenhagen airport with the light show that we had because we played on a boat, on a pontoon that we had designed into a giant ghettoblaster. All the lights that had shone onto the water doubled the reflection and we were all over the Danish newspapers in the morning!
‘Band closes airport!’ The headline was. That is not possible, I was on a boat!
One of the quirkiest moments on my life, you’ve got me goin now! I was in a bar in Manchester. We had bumped into the Chippendales, we were in the bar and proceeded to have a bar fight. A national newspaper managed to get hold of the story, we managed to get page 5! They said to us, ‘So what would you like to say?’ I said, ‘Well it’s usually you isn’t it?’ You just make it up!
Hahahaha!! Well, thanks very much for talking to me today Alex. Good luck with the tour and the new album! Look forward to speaking again soon.
Thanks, and good luck with everything on your end.