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REVIEW: The Orb - History of the Future

REVIEW: The Orb – History of the Future
Chris McLachlan

In writing a piece on a record which is essentially an amalgamation of The Orb’s back catalogue, there is the somewhat unintended consequence of also reflecting on their 25 year musical career.  A History Of The Future is a substantive four disc box set, documenting the highlights of this reign across all mediums; including everything from singles, remixes, live shows and videos since their inception in 1988. Since the longest serving member, Alex Paterson, has been doing his thing with The Orb before my own inception, AHOTF proves not only a history lesson into the art of ‘house listening’ techno but also an extremely accessible introduction to the delights of the band itself.

The term ‘house listening’ is perhaps easily misinterpreted here. Whilst it is absolutely your prerogative to stick this record on whilst you’re pottering around your living room on a Sunday morning dipping in and out of the weekend newspaper supplements (much of this was in fact written this way), the setting most associated with listening to The Orb falls under the chilled out afterhours session following the Saturday night rave. Indeed, with track names such as Perpetual Dawn, Little Fluffy Clouds and Ghost Dancing, not only does their ambient electronic sound keep you afloat during that hazy morning period, but the imagery associated with their music demands it of you; “Perpetual Dawn, Infinite Sunrise”.

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Little Fluffy Clouds even begins with a mighty Rooster’s morning crow before dropping into something of a thumping – yet ever so gentle – techno beat with dulcet-toned vocals and slippery sci-fi sounds. This emphasis on being played on the return from the club, however, is by no means exhaustive. The Orb are too readily known for their enthralling and captivating live acts as evidenced in both disc 3 and 4 of AHOTF. With extravagant stellar-like visuals and splicing laser displays, the intensity of their performances is just as conducive to a flat out, other-worldly raving experience.

Given the majority of the material on AHOTF has been in circulation for the best part of a quarter-century, it doesn’t seem entirely appropriate to put each track through the reviewer lens once more; that a collection of their top recordings can be brought together and released again is testament enough to their quality. Saying that, some notable moments do appear, in particular Andrew Weatherall’s Ultra Bass mix of Perpetual Dawn on disc 2. Giving the original track a dense and distinguished rework, it starts with a thick dubby bass line which is then layered with rolling hypnotic-like grooves and cruising acidic synths to really give it the proverbial Weatherall-shaped cherry on the pie.

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And to bring this piece full circle I return to an earlier sentiment, in that to those who are unversed in the long, established, and spiritual history of The Orb, this collection offers a suitable starting point. With this in mind, one can only imagine the countless experiences they have given club-goers and electronic music lovers alike over the years; whether as part of a memorable afterhours session, an intense physiological nightclub rave, or even during a sensible Sunday morning brunch. Although giving listeners a chance to reflect on what The Orb have achieved throughout their career, AHOTF is a welcome and necessary expression of the relevance of their sound in the past, present, and future.