The Orb

The Orb virtually invented the electronic genre known as ambient house, resurrecting slower, more soulful rhythms and providing a soundtrack for early-morning ravers once the clubs closed their doors. The group popularized the genre as well, by appearing on the British chart show Top of the Pops and hitting number one in the U.K. with the 1992 album U.F.Orb. Frontman Dr. Alex Paterson's formula was quite simple: he slowed down the rhythms of classic Chicago house and added synth work and effects inspired by '70s ambient pioneers Brian Eno and Tangerine Dream. To make the whole a bit more listenable -- as opposed to danceable -- obscure vocal samples were looped, usually providing a theme for tracks which lacked singing.
Paterson had worked as a roadie for Killing Joke during the '80s, and began to be influenced by the explosion of Chicago house music in England during the mid- to late '80s. He joined the A&R department of EG Records -- the home of Brian Eno himself -- and first recorded as the Orb with Jimi Cauty (who had played in the Killing Joke side project Brilliant and later gained fame as one half of the KLF). The duo's first release as the Orb, a failed acid house anthem named "Tripping on Sunshine," appeared on the 1988 compilation album Eternity Project One. In May 1989, the Orb released the Kiss EP, a four-tracker dedicated to -- and heavily sampled from -- New York's KISS-FM. Paterson had begun to DJ in London around this time, and Paul Oakenfold recruited him to man Land of Oz, the chillout room at his club Heaven.
Paterson's ambient sets incorporated a wide array of samples and sound effects, ranging from BBC nature recordings to NASA space broadcasts and special effects. With those samples mixed underneath the music of ambient pioneers such as Eno and Steve Hillage, his sets became popular alternatives for dancefloor victims and worn-out club kids. Hillage happened to be in the room one night when Paterson sampled his Rainbow Dome Musick album. The two became friends and later recorded together, Hillage contributing guitar to the Orb's "Blue Room" single and Paterson working on the debut album by Hillage's System 7 project (or 777, as it is known in the States due to copyright problems with Apple).
The Orb's first actual foray into ambient house appeared in October 1989 on Paterson's WAU!/Mr. Modo label. The 22-minute single "A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From the Centre of the Ultraworld," which sampled ocean noises and Minnie Riperton's "Loving You," actually hit the U.K. charts that year. The single became popular with indie kids as well as club DJs, and earned Paterson and Cauty the chance to re-record the song in December 1989 for a John Peel session. (That version was released two years later, alongside their second session, on the Orb's Peel Sessions album.)
In early 1990, Dave Stewart asked Paterson and Cauty to remix his single "Lilly Was Here"; the track hit the U.K.'s Top 20, and the Orb's remix work soon became just as popular as their original material. Erasure, Depeche Mode, Yello, Primal Scream, and more than 20 other bands eventually received the remix treatment before Paterson began to cut back his remixing work in 1992. (One of the only outside remixes of Orb material occurred around this time when breakbeat pioneers Coldcut remixed the Kiss EP for a U.S.-only single.)
Alex Paterson and Jimi Cauty had been recording an album during the turn of 1989-1990, but the two split in April 1990 -- a result of Paterson's fear that the Orb had become known more as a KLF side project than an original act. Cauty stripped Paterson's contribution to the recordings and released the eponymous album -- credited simply as Space -- later that year. (Cauty released another ambient album that year: Chill Out, this time with his KLF partner Bill Drummond.) In the meantime, Alex Paterson had been working with Youth (from Killing Joke) on the new track "Little Fluffy Clouds," with a melody incorporated from composer Steve Reich. The single appeared in November 1990, sparking the wrath of the sampled Rickie Lee Jones, whose dialogue with LeVar Burton -- from the PBS children's program Reading Rainbow -- was sampled for the chorus and title of the track; Big Life later settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. Though the single failed to place in the charts, its laid-back vibe made it a big hit on the dancefloor.
Youth's other commitments made it impossible for him to become a permanent member of the Orb, so Paterson decided to recruit Kris Weston (nicknamed Thrash for his punk/metal roots), a young studio engineer who worked on "Little Fluffy Clouds" and had recently left his previous band, Fortran 5. The Orb performed live for the first time just after the pairing, early in 1991 at London's Town & Country 2 with Steve Hillage on guitar. The group's live dates soon became their forte, breaking down the boundaries which had previously separated electronic music from rock. An Orb sh
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