Old ravers who remember the heady days when the duo released their first single Chime, would not have been able to resist grinning at the sight of Orbital opening the Paralympics this summer alongside unlikely vocalist Stephen Hawking. It was a moment when you could almost have considered them national treasures, such is their contribution to music and the length of their tenure in the charts.
But that’s not to say Orbital are old-fashioned, or now an act based on nostalgia. Seeing them at the exhaustive Warehouse Project series, ensconced in a line-up that includes electronic music heavyweights such as Apparat, Joy Orbison and Modeselektor shows that Orbital are as relevant now as they’ve ever been.
The immense Warehouse Project venue is exactly what its name suggests – a huge, warren-like warehouse. It’s all concrete walls, metal awnings and the plastic drapes most often seen in abbatoirs or hospitals. This unforgiving environment is complemented by a pushy and up-for-it crowd that fills the space so efficiently you find yourself wading through elbows and shoulders at every turn.
It sounds intense, and it is, but that’s not to say it’s not fun. The crowd are as determined to enjoy themselves as they are to navigate the bottle-necks as quickly as possible. This much is clear during Apparat’s set – opening for Orbital – in the main room. Going against expectation if all you’ve heard is his recent, very mellow, album, the German producer played a stuttering, playful set that the crowd were lapping up.
Joy Orbison also had the crowd jumping over in Room 2, where he was playing a pleasingly bouncy set, maybe a little too pleasing as the room was thick with people.
There wasn’t time to hang around, however, as Orbital were taking to the stage in the main room. Opening with 1993’s 'Time Becomes', the duo ploughed into a set that was perfectly pitched between new album Wonky and the big hits. There were also a few surprises – a glorious 'Halcyon' segued into an unexpected cover of Belinda Carlisle’s 'Heaven is a Place on Earth' early on in the set, leaving you wondering what on earth was coming next.
Pounding versions of 'New France' and 'Straight Sun' flowed straight into Orbital’s riff on dubstep, 'Beelzedub'. It’s this sense of playfulness with different genres that enables the duo to make sense in both a line-up such as Warehouse Project’s, as well as any festival you might have seen them appear at this summer.
As the classic Orbital track 'Belfast' moved into 'Impact', before arriving at the Lady Leshurr-featuring Wonky, you get an (intentional?) sense of the decades of music that Orbital straddle. They completed their nod to the history of electronic music with a cover of the hugely influential Doctor Who theme tune – surprisingly danceable in this context.
But, as mentioned before, Orbital are not riding a wave of nostalgia. While many of the tracks will bring back fantastic memories for some of the crowd, the rest are enjoying Orbital because they sound very now and very comfortable in the context of a host of acts that form integral parts of the current electronic musical climate.
The penultimate track may be their still euphoric first single 'Chime', but they end the set on Wonky’s closer 'Where Is It Going?' – a pertinent question that Orbital are sure to be involved in answering.