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Secret Garden Party 2012: Camels, Mud Wrestling And Backstage With Orbital

by Dan Swinhoe
30 July 2012

This year's Secret Garden Party was a mud bath. No such problems backstage, though, as I caught up with Orbital to talk festivals, comebacks, and Mad Max...

For those who weren’t at this year’s Secret Garden Party, Saturday was a mud pit. I’ve been at some muddy festivals, but the entirety of the festival could only be described as a swamp. There were moments when the mud-wrestling pit in the Collo-silly-um seemed like a good way to get clean, and at various points I was worried I was going to lose my girlfriend like in that scene from The Never Ending Story. And like a pleb I didn’t bring any wellies or shorts, so instead I had shitty trainers and rolled up jeans.

“Take your shoes off before you get in.” The trailer we’re about to get in looks untouched by dirt, I feel bad just standing near it, and even worse offering a brown hand out to shake. “We just got here a few hours ago, you want some juice?” It’s clear Orbital don’t slum it in the fields anymore; they’ve reached the point where they can have shiny trailers and tell people to take off their muddy shoes (nothing to be done about the rest of the dirt) before they get on.

“It’s been nice weather today. It’s nice to have a dry festival, this year has been full of bloody wet festivals and I’m bloody pissed off with it. You come somewhere like this, and the mud just destroys your soul sometimes.” Orbital’s souls look fine, as do their clean clothes. The two brothers Paul and Phil look relaxed and happy, and seem down-to-Earth and friendly. And genuinely glad to be here. “Yeah we’re really excited for tonight, we’ve been wanting to come here for a while,” says Paul. “It was always recommended by Eddy Temple-Morris, he interviewed us years ago and said you should really come up, and he’s not somebody who would recommend something lightly. A lot of our friends have been here too; they’ve really enjoyed it, People dressing up, being creative, and having lots of fun. It has a proper legacy as a kind of hippy festival where there’s more to do than just to listen to music. The line-up too; there is a kind of thread but it’s hard to spot, it’s all kind of eclectic but it all works.”

Originally this interview was set for Bloc festival, but its cancellation and subsequent administration put that idea to bed. But the Hartnoll brothers are more gutted about not getting on stage. “We were totally disappointed, we were looking forward to that. London always feels like a home gig to us, it was going to be massive; one of the pinnacles of our summer. A festival in London, that’s a nice idea, let’s get that going, and look what happened.” Bloc isn’t the only festival that’s been cancelled this year, with the likes of Cloud 9, Sonisphere UK, The Big Chill and GoGo Festival have all bitten the dust this year. “I think it’s been a trend of the last few years. There was a real glut of festivals a few years ago, then the recession started kicking in and the bankers started messing around and now there’s definitely a few festivals slowly shutting down.”

When the police first shut down Stonehenge festival they all came ploughing down to Glastonbury in their crazy missile-launcher vehicles that they made- they took the aesthetics of Mad Max and make it for real

Orbital have been going for a long time, playing hundreds of shows all over the world- you think they would’ve seen some things. You would be wrong. I ask what’s the craziest thing they’ve ever seen or done at a festival. “Errrrrrrr….” At this point I’m subjected to the longest pause in any interview ever. I panic. I thought this was an easy question.

In one festival I was handed a piece of string and on the other end was a small gimp tied by his testicles, saw one guy climb to the top of the stage rigging and continue playing his guitar, and the DJ from Slipknot leap from a small building into the crowd. “Back in the eighties, at Glastonbury and what is now become the Shangri La area, the people that do a lot of that used to be the Mutoid Waste Company.” Finally an answer. “When the police first shut down Stonehenge festival they all came ploughing down to Glastonbury in their crazy missile-launcher vehicles that they made- they took the aesthetics of Mad Max and make it for real. They used to take old trucks and sculpt them into monsters and on the back there’d be lots of oil drums and they’d get on do lots of metal bashing and industrial music and they used to make things out of motorbike frames and tractor frames, and they built Carhenge. Made out of big American Cadillacs, it was a Stonehenge made out of cars and they had these mad industrial metal bashing jams on their sculptures. It was mad.”

Unlike a lot of today’s MCs, DJs Orbital are known for actually playing live and not just putting on their record and standing there. But that makes preparation for shows a lot more difficult. “We started preparing in December and finished about half hour before we were due to go on stage for the first gig. We were like ‘Fuck it! That will have to do!’” Paul exclaims. “Then once you do the first gig you go, ‘Right what was wrong with that, what didn’t work there’, and it’s an ongoing Chinese whisper of an idea. If we were just pressing play, we could prepare it in a couple of weeks, but because we improvise with the structure we have to break every song down into every little detail to make sure any of it is possible in combination at any time, and that just takes ages.”

So does that mean they prefer the studio? “It’s two sides to the same coin- the same but different. One’s creative and one’s performing. What I like about festivals, I like being outdoors and I like meeting all the people, it’s like a real busman’s holiday, whereas when you do your own gig you don’t get to meet other artists. Also I love that you’re preaching to the non-converted. When do your own gig they’re all gonna go ‘ Yeah I like that one’ as long as you don’t totally screw it up, but at festival you’ve got to win them over, and I like that, it’s a challenge.”

We’re just really enjoying what we’re doing. Every gig on its own merit, they’ve all been really, really good. It’s been really good getting out there again

There are plenty of seasoned pros who still get nervous before a show, but not so Orbital. “I would never be confident, but it is kind of exciting. You come somewhere like this you’ve got a line-up with Little Roy, then Lamb and then us. So I know we’re gonna be the noisiest, most up-tempo. You can see there’s this nice build, and it’s exciting to know you’re gonna reach the pinnacle with tempo and energy.” Paul quickly backtracks though, “I don’t mean that in the sense that we’re the best band, but there’s a mellow vibe building up.”

When asked what’s been the highlight since they reformed in 2008, the normally quiet Phil pipes up and says, “We’re just really enjoying what we’re doing. Every gig on its own merit, they’ve all been really, really good. It’s been really good getting out there again.” You can tell they’re really enjoying what they are doing.

The interview comes quickly to an end, as Phil & Paul have to run off to record some new parts for the next single. Leaving them to it, we take our leave and go back out into the mass of mud and people. Come gig time the Great Stage has amassed the biggest crowd of the day, if not the weekend. A huge fireworks display worthy of the Olympics preludes Orbital coming on stage, including fire-dancing and the burning down of a small floating rave-island for good measure. Not a bad grand entrance. The brothers themselves put on a great show- melding tracks like Beelzedub with the likes of ‘Chime’ and ‘Belfast’ with a backdrop of lights that can only be described as fucking impressive.

As we leave and head for the tent we end up in a random tent with a dead-ringer for Marc Bolan playing classy lounge jazz covers of Elvis, Monty Python and Eminem. Come Sunday the sun is out and the mud more acceptable; we chill out while rowing in the lake for awhile before riding a camel around in circles, and later as we sit in the sunshine watching more wrestling in the Collo-silly-um, I can’t help but think I should’ve asked Phil & Paul if they’d fancy a go.

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