Music News

Eye of the Orb

Several London dance clubs can lay claim to the title "England [and therefore the world]'s First Underground House Music Club." But only one--a South London spot called Heaven--has clear bragging rights to "England [and therefore the world]'s First Chill-Out Room." It also can lay claim to helping bring about the ambient house of Alex Paterson, founding member of Orb, which is scheduled to hit the Valley this week.

It was 1989, and Heaven's owner, Paul Oakenfold, flashed on the idea of providing overheated dancers a separate space to relax and come down off MDMA trips during the club's weekly acid-house club night. He hired then London DJ Alex Paterson to provide atmosphere. Paterson, an A&R man for Brian Eno's label EG and part-time roadie for the gothic industrial band Killing Joke, was then pioneering a new form of beatless, aural-collage music, similar on the surface to New Age relaxation tapes but with far more intricate and intelligent structures. Thus, Heaven's chill-out zone was the delivery room for ambient house, and Paterson was the wizard behind the curtain.

Eight years later, with electronica breaking open the pop landscape like an earthquake fissure, Paterson is on tour in support of his ambient group Orb's seventh album, Orblivion.

Orb has incrementally defined and then expanded the boundaries of ambient house since its landmark 1989 album A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From the Center of the Ultraworld. Despite that pretentious mouthful of a title, Brain is a gorgeous piece of graffiti where jet noises, church bells, choral parts and myriad other samples play like seals in and over waves of synthesizer. One memorable review labeled the album "virtual drugs."

Orb launched its first U.S. tour in Phoenix with a show at Silver Dollar Club. Now Paterson and his Orb accomplice Andy Hughes, who replaced Kris "Thrash" Weston in 1995 after a nasty split, are scheduled to return to the Valley Wednesday, April 30. New Times spoke with Paterson recently about his Phoenix debut, the rummy rave scene in Puerto Rico, and why Americans are not very good with their feet.

New Times: What do you remember about your first U.S. show, at Silver Dollar?

Alex Paterson: Just that it was quite weird. It was in November of 1991. No, it must have been October of 1991--that's when Halloween is, right?--because everyone was dressed up in all manner of elaborate costumes. And we had this Blues Brothers sort of thing where there was wire mesh all across the front of the stage, except instead of protecting us from country-music fans throwing beer bottles--which might have been interesting, really, as long as we were protected--it was the end of a barricade to separate the 21s from the under-21s. It sort of ran the length of the club and wound up in this big wall in front of us. And so, from the stage, you couldn't really make head nor tail of what the fuck was going on out there, except there were all these people dressed up. Oh--I do remember there were all these lovely cheerleader girls running about. That's what sticks out in my mind, anyway. Wire mesh and cheerleaders. Not a bad combination, really, when you think of the possibilities.

NT: On U.F.Orb, you sort of tacitly expressed a fascination with the idea of UFOs and alien visitation. The Southwest is ground zero for sightings and abductions. Do you really believe the aliens are coming?

AP: Well, I certainly hope they are. And I think they may well be. All this talk has been around a while, hasn't it, and it doesn't seem to be going away. It's just getting stranger and more frequent. People may laugh at that, but I'm sure the idea that the Earth was round seemed just as ridiculous to people at the time. "Oh, the Earth isn't flat, hey? And I suppose little gray men are coming to visit as well." At the very least, I like the idea, because I think there's a little alien in all of us, trying to get out.

Andy Hughes, in the background: I think yours is just stuck in your head, Alex.

AP: No, Andy, it's in my stomach. Didn't you see the cinema?
NT: You recently played in Puerto Rico. What's the scene like there?
AP: Well, I didn't perform as the Orb. I just played records. I played this little club by the sea, and the scene there is really grinding, you know. It's heat-oriented, it's about a tropical, sexy groove, and sexy men and sexy women, and just sex, sex, sex. Grinding. So I wound up playing a lot of hip-hop and slowed-down jungle. That's what they're into in Puerto Rico. That and rum. There's a huge Bacardi distillery there. I didn't know Puerto Rico was part of America until I got there and a couple of locals who took me around told me it's an American commonwealth. They didn't seem to care for that at all. I'd say the natives are getting resentful. Didn't seem to care much for America or Americans.

NT: What do you think of Americans?
AP: Well, you're all right for the most part, except you're not very good with your feet. If you throw a ball to your average Americans, they'll at least try to catch it, and usually they'll manage to look pretty cool doing it. But kick a ball at one of them and they just go all funny.

NT: Well, we do have a few soccer players in this country.
AP: That was just generally speaking, mate. No offense, you know.
NT: Okay, what about the underground dance scene in America? What's your opinion?

AP: Well--say you had an A-bomb, and you dropped it on New York City, L.A. and Chicago--

NT: One bomb?
AP: No, three bombs. One each for New York City, L.A. and Chicago. How much of the U.S. population would you take out? Just answer quick. I'm trying to prove a point.

NT: Probably about 15 percent.
AP: No, 6 percent. Point being, there's a lot more of America beyond New York City, L.A. and Chicago, and there's a lot more to the American scene than those cities. Which is brilliant. We play all over America, and people are into us everywhere. We only had one bad show on the last tour, and that was in a small town in the outs in the south of France. There was just no one there. And that doesn't happen in America anymore, no matter where we play. It's really starting to all come together and happen. We're doing a lot of our dates on this tour with the Chemical Brothers, and, well, this is going to sound like some sort of snob story, but it's true. I was down at my neighborhood grocery store in London just before we came over to start the tour, and I ran into Tom from the Chemical Brothers, and he said, "This is it, Alex. We're going to conquer America." They're really into it, those two.

NT: What do you think of their new album?
AP: It's all right. It's a lot of fun, and probably a good introduction for people wanting to check out this stuff. But if you've been into it for a while, it's just more of the same. I mean, they loop it up a lot, don't they? The Chemical Brothers definitely love a loop.

NT: So what's the secret to keeping techno and ambient fresh?
AP: It's easy. Just don't copy everyone else. Be a black sheep, not a white sheep. I mean, God, I am tired of hearing all the sounds a [Roland] DX7 makes. Say, here's one for you--how is a DX7 like a clitoris?

NT: I have no idea.
AP: Every cunt's got one.

Orb is scheduled to perform on Wednesday, April 30, at Club Rio in Tempe, with Markus Schulz, and Kevin Brown. Showtime is 8 p.m. (all ages).

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse