Thirty years of success in the music industry is a lot to walk away from, especially when you’ve got something big to say. Brothers Paul and Phil Hartnoll, known to dance fans as British duo Orbital, have never shied away from a big message. Some sibling rivalry caused a breakup in 2014, but the need to share a true artistic vision with the world — and have it pay attention — got the band back together. Lucky for us, Orbital is just as great as it ever was, and the duo’s latest LP Monsters Exist plays like the best damn mental breakdown any nation state ever had.
A little bit political, a little bit cheeky and definitely fun to dance to, Monsters Exist hovers between reaction and escapism, much like modern man’s every day life.
“I certainly couldn’t make up my mind whether I wanted to do an angry album because of the state of the world at the minute,” Paul says, “or whether to do an album that’s more going back to the rave or the hippie roots like, ‘no, we’re just going to live a gentle lifestyle and make something you can listen to over here away from the chaos of the world.’ It kind fo fell somewhere in the middle, because it’s more like a score or a soundtrack to the world that we’re living in now. It’s not really judgemental, but it is illustrative emotionally of what’s going on.”
It’s a big statement, one Paul is excited to share with the world both in full album format and in an impending live performance setting. We caught up with him to learn more about the twisted storylines behind the instrumentals. Check the background in the exclusive track-by-track breakdown below.
I was working on a documentary about animal weapons, antlers and poison and things like that, and then there’s a bit where it says ‘now, it’s time for the worst animal of all,’ and of course its the human being waving their nuclear missiles around as their big antlers. I stated working on that thing, and then slowly but surely the track “Monsters Exist” appeared. I just knew it was going to be a track for the album. If I could summarize it in one sentence, I would say its a kind of imaginative, psychedelically-infused sort of TV series about the world. A documentary series or panorama of our world in action. “What’s going on in the world today?” Almost like a news magazine program, and (this) is the opening track. It’s got an idea: The world today, here it is, and “Monsters Exist.”
Hoo Hoo Ha Ha
That’s the track I started about eight years ago. I’ve always loved it, and I always had trouble with the lead sound. I would take it out of the toy box and play with it but go “ey, that’s not quite right.” It fitted with this album because it’s got a sort of wonder to it; it’s jolly, its up, but it’s also slightly unhinged and a bit hysterical. It’s the veneer of democracy falling off. It’s being on a roller coaster, but you know it’s got a wobbly wheel, and you know it might fall off the track, but you’re on the roller coaster and you can’t do anything about it. Imagine looking out your bedroom window and you see a parade of clowns walking down the road at midnight. It would be kind fo scary but funny at the same time … Like the UK marching toward Brexit with no plan whatsoever. Yeah, everything’s fine. Put a smile on it.
It really fell into place when (one of) the producers we’ve dealt with in the past had a listen to the album in its early stages and he said “why don’t you play it with brass, the lead sound?” It gave it the extra edge of hysteria that I wanted, and now its kind of jolly, but it’s kind of warped as well, like a record player table that’s about to be chewed up.
“The Raid” is the veneer off. It’s the underbelly of the Western World and the destruction of the planet. It’s this horrible, bizarre alleyway of humanity at the minute. We’re overcrowded, over-greedy, over everything. It’s just a theme for the virus of the human being. It’s just like “oh my god, what are we doing, what is going on, and do we even care?” We just kep marching forward even though we know all these things are wrong but we still don’t do anything about it.
That is literally the essence of Brexit. “Please Help U.K.,” that’s what it stands for. It’s a plea to the rest of the world to help us. Brexit is highly embarrassing and I can not beliece that it even came about; that the so-called intelligent politicians are still waking toward this uncertain ridiculousness in a world that’s so fragile anyway. Let’s really fuck it up for ourselves on top of everything else. Brilliant. Everybody knows the EU isn’t perfect, but nobody and nothing is. Let’s fix the EU rather than fuck anything up. It’s just going to make the whole of Europe hate us – and it’s going to make my job harder because I’ll have to get a bloody card made to travel. I’m a migrant worker.
I’m trying not to be cross with people that did vote for it, apart from the over 60’s because they should fucking know better. It’s not going to effect them in their lifetime, it’s only going to effect my children. Again, it’ almost hysterical, really jolly and then it’s all crashing down in the breakdowns. It’s a nice juxtaposition the whole Brexit situation and the divided Britain that im currently living in.
Tiny Foldable Cities
“Tiny Foldable Cities” is a surreal title that came from something once of my children said once. My ears pricked up and I put it down in my phone list of track titles that I always keep with me. It’s one of those things you have in your little mental rolodex and know one day will come along, and you’ll know which one it is. I was on the phone with my manager one night. I had shut the studio down, but there was one synth left on and I was fiddling on it idly when I was talking to him. Something came up and I was desperately trying to remember what it was I played. I just hammered in most of the main riffs the chords and lead lines, got that into the computer really quickly. Then, I stated thinking about it so I said “right, stop. Go home.” I opened it a couple weeks later when both me and Phil were there. It came really easily. It’s just one fo those lovely things that happens when you don’t really think about it.
Buried Deep Within
It was inspired around the same time as “Monsters Exist.” Originally it had some moments of the same track in it, so to me they’re a pair. If “Monsters Exist” is a theme tune to a current affairs program about the world, then “Buried Deep Within” is a musical bed that belongs to that program. That’s part of the score. It just came together really nicely and easily. There is also a little Easter Egg in the title of that track that people might want to try and discover. The title “Buried Deep Within” is part of a sentence that one of my favorite actors said in a film, and just before they say it, they say “if the monster exists, then it’s buried deep within.” That’s for someone to find.
It comes from an idea for something I was working on, a kind of stage performance, comedy show theater thing that was going to be very music orientated, but more contemporary dance than monologue. One of the pieces in it requires a moment of people raving, people taking ecstasy and having a great time. The dance wound down to one person on the street, a party for one; like Monday morning, still on drugs and nobody else around. The idea was to portray a proper death state, someone ending up basically homeless and on the street, too much hedonism and not enough getting your life together. It was arranged much more like that, but I left out the really despair part for the album. It’s got the awesome wonder and joy of that hedonism, but also there’s a sort of caution in there with the tone. It’s a beautiful track as well. I think its got an Old English feel to it, this almost folk medieval thing that feels like it could be played on recorders and lutes.
I call it “Vision One,” beaus in the play, this is the vision someone has that’s talking to you. Of course, if you capitalize the letter E, it’s “Vision On E.” You take it which ever way you like.
The End Is Nigh
That is a theme for the end of the world. It’s a slow, dirge-y, sort of melancholy anthem for humanity going down the pan. We’ll all be watching TV, Big Brother or some kind fo celebrity love island. The world will end, and no one will notice – well, they will bceause the internet will stop, and then they’ll cause trouble. It’s the last hurrah, the last party. I can not listen to it without visualizing, again, that thing of a sad party for one – but it’s not one, it’s the whole of humanity who just sat there clutching their withering balloons in their skewed party hats, just sat there, glum all around us.
There Will Come A Time feat. Brian Cox
I’m from that train of thought that by acknowledging death, you will live life well. Hiding from death, you’l just be waiting for life to start. The awareness of mortality is what you celebrate. We’re gonna die, so lets enjoy it then. Brian Cox, he’s like David Attenborough for science. He’s brilliant, and he’s brought physics to kids and adults that wouldn’t normally watch that kind of thing. I always wanted to sample him from the tv programs, but there was always too much ambient music in the background. I thought, “why don’t I ask him?” because he used to be in a dance band. I asked him on twitter and he said yeah. I asked him, “what do you want to say to the world that you can’t say in a family friendly TV program? What do you want to say with Orbital?” This is what he came up with, and it was exactly what we wanted. I think it sums up the album. I wasn’t sure to put it at the beginning or the end, but I had to go with “Monsters Exist,” the theme, at the beginning. So, we’ve got Professor Brian Cox finishing the whole thing off, giving you a summary of human existence and its place in the universe. “Don’t worry, we’re just a bit of star dust floating about. It’s much bigger than you can imagine, and you’re not going to last very long.”
Monsters Exist is out everywhere Friday, Sept. 14, but you can listen to it in full below, exclusively on Billboard Dance.