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Orbital on ‘Optical Delusion’ and joining forces with Sleaford Mods

The dance icons on creating new music that subtly references the pandemic and disorder in our uncertain times

By Nick Reilly

Orbital's Phil and Paul Hartnoll (Picture: Press)

Orbital have opened up on their 10th album Optical Delusion and how it sees them reflecting the state of the world, while also bringing some high-profile collaborators along for the ride.

The dance icons – brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll – returned last week with ‘Optical Delusion’, their tenth album and first in five years.

While the duo’s trademark electronic sound is front and centre on the record, the uncertainty of modern times pulses through it at the same time. ‘The New Abnormal’, for instance, is the closest thing to a pandemic song that they have ever recorded.

“We hit a pre-apocalyptic moment with Covid and that’s going to effect everyone, that’s why it’s in there!,” said Paul.

“Most albums I seem to buy have an element of that in their work. It’s seeped into fiction and TV too, people have worked out how to incorporate it into creativity too.”

But far from being a reflection of those dark times, it is a consistently eclectic and at turns surprising record. The final track ‘Moon Princess’ is a collaboration with Japanese electronic artist Coppe. The pair joined forces after Phil Hartnoll reached out to the musician.

“She runs a label called Rice & Mango and she’s absolutely brilliant,” he explains.

Elsewhere, Sleaford Mods loom large on ‘Dirty Rat’, a politically charged effort which features the vocals of Jason Williamson.

“The collaboration with Jason came about because they asked us out of the blue to do a remix for them, which I was thrilled about because I’ve been a big fan for a long time. Part of that deal, was they said they couldn’t offer much money, but they could do a swap and feature on one of our tracks. It was a no brainer,” said Paul.

While the spoken word sermons of Sleaford Mods might be a world away from Orbital’s dancefloor-primed sound, he explained that his own background allowed the idea to make a lot more sense.

“It felt very natural, you know my background is in anarcho punk with bands like Crass and Subhumans and Flux and that kind of thing. For me to have someone, you know, ranting and raving, you know, you know, like that just works for me. It was always something I liked, you know.

Phil added: “Jason’s confrontational style is excellent, it’s pure old school punk. It’s lovely, we loved that element of it.”

And while fans can expect to see the group live this summer, one place they won’t be hitting up is Glastonbury Festival – where the band played a memorable Other Stage set in 1994.

“We won’t be there! The problem with Glastonbury is that it’s become such a global thing,” Paul explained. “Everyone wants to do it. Everyone wants to clear their diary in case they can get it, and it becomes so oversubscribed. It means it’s tricky getting the slot you’re happy with. Maybe next year we’ll be there!”