Interview: The Orb (Dr. Alex Paterson)

“If it wasn’t for The Orb I would have burned out on that tour.” The Orb co-founder Dr. Alex Paterson reflects on his first experiences of life on the road. “I remember having to forfeit my Kraftwerk ticket because I was roadying for Killing Joke at the time, why I didn’t take the day off sick I don’t know. It had its pluses though, we ended up going on tour with Joy Division, and it doesn’t get much better than that really, especially with a band that had such a short lifespan.”

Growing up in the excess of the guitar worshiping, Rick Wakeman loving 1970’s, it was near impossible to hear house DJ’s on British radio. “I wanted something different; cassettes were getting sent over from New York and I knew people up North were getting into it with influences from Dance and Disco music – it was about hearing proper DJ’s like Tony Humphries, that’s what really got me into house music.”

“I had this girl in New York who’d record one of Tony’s shows in the morning, this is back in 1987, me and Youth who were sharing a flat at the time were like “What’s this shit here, it’s brilliant!” What we would now call sitar house I guess. That was our introduction to these sounds, they did this version of ‘Blue Monday’ and I’d never heard a version like it before, or since – it’s a gem.”

With artists like Bowie bringing the stylings of Eno to the masses, it cemented a shift in attitudes especially towards the established ‘rock’ acts. “Me and youth used to share a flat in Earls court and back when you could have one record playing all day, side two of Low was night night music for about a year. It wasn’t until Killing Joke that I started sniffing out more from the Eno collection.”

Paterson is regarded as one of the pioneers of ambient house music, a feat that becomes even more impressive when you consider the nature of his upbringing and school days. “I went to a boarding school and we were only allowed to watch two programmes a week, so we had a voting system – Miss World was always chosen, and then we had TOTP. That was in the weird days of T-Rex, I didn’t get all the bisexual stuff when I was 10 but I had an older brother who’d pump me full of what he thought was ‘good music’. I remember him giving me a Bob Dylan double album and it was God damn awful. He used to palm loads of stuff off on me, but I knew what was shit and I knew Transformer was an amazing album.”

“It wasn’t till I was 15 or 16 that I got the Bowie stuff; I went from being locked away in a boarding school to going to an art school in Bromley that was full of punks in 1976. Welcome to the new world, that’s all I can say – It was three girls to one boy. This is how weird it was in boarding school; to meet a girl you had to go to a fucking prayer meeting on a Sunday if you ever wanted to see a bird, apart from the barn dances at the end of term but that’s a another story (he laughs).”

The Orb and artists like Bomb the Bass were often criticised for their use of sampling to create music. “I think it’s totally misunderstood, it depends whose sampling and how they go about it. If you do it in such a way that no one knows you’re doing it and then you tell them ten years down the line, like the saxophone from ‘Higher Than the Sun’ with Primal scream – we just detuned it.” The Orb’s approach to sampling wasn’t always as subtle. “With Minnie Riperton  that was our first outing in just ripping it and seeing what happens, we should have got someone to do a cover of it, which we had to do a year later for CD.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ao2mOtx9vqQ

“No-one else had contemplated doing this chill out music to mad sweaty kids in dance clubs who are gagging for a bit of a sit down every now and then. Doing live sampling and mixing in an experimental chill out lounge is creative, if you just take one little sample and you take it as a big chunk, like a Chemical ‘Sisters’ kind of tune, it’s not. It became really apparent when I played ‘When the Levee Breaks’ at a Primal Scream gig and all these kids ran up to me and said is this a Beastie Boys remix …right. It goes back to fact that no-one knows what the source is, and the early Beatles and Zeppelin albums were just as guilty.”

Over the years Paterson has worked with everyone from Depeche Mode to David Gilmour, and more recently collaborated with reggae producer Lee ‘scratch’ Perry whose unique approach to writing gave birth to mind enriching tracks like ‘Fussball’. “We all watched a game of football in the studio, he wasn’t really taking part in anything and he watched it for a bit and then when he left and came back he was singing ‘Fussball’, so we though let’s record it. There were times when I wish we were recording him, one particular occasion when he was using his bible and calling out his Facebook – crazy shit, the one that got away (he laughs).”

Dance and Disco were essential influences on The Orb, and ones that Alex looks back fondly on, however the recent Daft Punk Disco revival isn’t cutting the mustard with the doc. “I think Nile Rodgers is a bit embarrassed by it all, I imagine. I don’t think he realised what he wasn’t getting himself in for. Chic are way above what Daft Punk could ever achieve, Chic are like Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, they reached out with a whole new sound.”

“Nile and Bernie Edwards were prolific, they were always on the decks with killing Joke – it was almost like the Giorgio Moroder German stuff, very precise. For me to talk about Chic and Sister Sledge and then Daft Punk is, I’m sorry, but ‘does not compute’.”

 

The Orb is due to celebrate its 25th anniversary with a tour and a four disc ‘History of the Future’ box set.

The Orb will be performing at the Manchester Academy 2 Saturday 12th October.

http://www.theorb.com/25th-anniversary-tour/

http://www.theorb.com/the-orb-history-of-the-future-by-dr-alex-paterson-4-cddvd-boxset-released-7th-oct-2013/

Tags: Ambient, Dr Alex Paterson, dub, house, Lee 'scratch' perrry, Primal Scream, Sampling, The Orb

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Tom Ingham

Music Editor

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