In a week when thousands of electronic music fans were left bitterly disappointed at not being given a fair chance to secure tickets for a certain influential German band, it came as a relief that at least there was one K*******K influenced act touring that you had a good chance of getting a seat for.

Brixton Academy is one of those venues that still has the ability to take your breath away when you walk into the main auditorium – the building itself being TARDIS-like in that the outside of the hall doesn’t prepare you for the sheer scale of the interior with its sloping floor, proscenium arch and Art Deco stylings. The ‘Dr. Who’ reference is also very prophetic for tonight’s show as will become apparent later…

Following support act NATHAN FAKE, the stage was set for ORBITAL, their banks of equipment (including an Apple Mac running Ableton Live, Roland Jupiter/TR909, Macbeth synth and iPads) surrounded by billowing dry ice as the Hartnoll brothers take to the stage with their trademark twin torch glasses. Opening with ‘Time Becomes’ and its Steve Reich-style vocal loops, it is immediately obvious that this is a BIG budget, no expenses-spared sound and light show – for ORBITAL there is no lazy, predictable back-projection video looped for an entire song, this was an almost Close Encounters-style happening where the lighting perfectly accentuated the pulsating, electronica on offer.

New tracks from ‘Wonky’ (7 out of the 9 were played), seamlessly interspersed DJ mix-style with older tracks ‘Impact’ and ‘Belfast’ with the lead-off track from the current album, ‘Never’ achieving the rare feat of being a totally electronic track that was both synthetic and genuinely emotional sounding at the same time. It wouldn’t be an ORBITAL gig unless there were a few samples thrown in, and the crowd got the obligatory festival crowd-pleasing clips of ‘Heaven Is A Place on Earth’ and ‘You Give Love A Bad Name’ in ‘Halcyon’ and later continuing the sci-fi theme, ‘Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft’ by THE CARPENTERS!

On paper, the idea of two balding, middle-aged home counties guys behind a bank of synths playing a raved-up version of the ‘Dr. Who’ heme doesn’t exactly set the pulses racing, but despite this scepticism, the closer to their main set truly rocked the Academy. Banks of lasers shaped a pyramid around the band and then it was a supercharged new version of Delia Derbyshire’s finest 3 minutes with updated half-time, dubstep-influenced sections which gave the version a euphoric, contemporary edge.

Encores included ‘Wonky’ tracks ‘Stringy Acid’ and ‘Where Is It Going?’ and were again a testament to the quality of the new material, especially when the other finale was the iconic ‘Chime’. As soon as the syncopated synth stabs and rubbery, Yamaha TX81Z ‘Lately’ bass sound filtered through the huge PA system, most of the Brixton crowd started partying like it was 1990.

Allegedly the original track was recorded on cassette for the princely sum of 99p and it was amazing to see it still standing the test of time 22 years later…

Minor disappointments? Only the lack of ‘The Box’ and ‘Satan’ in the setlist, plus the inevitable “how much music is actually being played live” question, which at the end of the day really didn’t matter as the sheer spectacle of the sound and staging of the show swept you away with it, to the point where you were left grinning at how utterly fantastic live electronic music is when done exactly right. ORBITAL are one of those acts that you didn’t really realise how much you loved until they had split up – long may they continue to keep making quality electronic music for many (light) years to come.

‘Wonky’ is released by ACP

Text and Photos by Paul Boddy
21st December 2012