The Orb’s Alex Paterson thrives on collaboration
A chat with the Orb’s Alex Paterson is a wild ride, even if it opens on a sombre note. When the Straight reaches the ambient house pioneer he’s in a San Francisco hotel, and news reports about the navy-yard shootings in Washington, D.C. are just beginning to break. As a U.K. citizen touring the U.S., the influential DJ and producer is understandably concerned.
“It’s happening in England a bit,” he admits. “Like, we get the odd beheading every now and then—people with different ideals, and they’ve got no way of expressing themselves anymore. But I can’t imagine a load of English blokes with guns. Imagine that. It’s bad enough at the football as it is without that kind of thing going on.”
It doesn’t take long before the darkness subsides, however. By turns caustic (when discussing the music industry), tender (when speaking about his “old brothers” in the band Killing Joke or his large and ethnically diverse family), and vividly profane (the ineptitude of the major labels, again), Paterson is a fabulously engaging conversationalist. Over the course of a rapid-fire 40 minutes, we cover everything from the reason Scots have thick necks—“So they can’t get knocked out,” apparently—to his days as a talent scout for the once-prestigious EG label.
“The reason I was an A&R man was that I actually knew what I was doing,” he says. “There’s the irony of it all. Late ’87? ‘House music’s coming; I think we should get on board, lads.’ But they didn’t want to know. ‘Oh, disco? It’ll be over in a year.’ Right, okay...”
Particular attention is given to the collaborative process, which most recently resulted in the Orb’s triumphant appearance at the Glastonbury Festival in June. For a guaranteed smile, search YouTube to see Paterson and bandmate Thomas Fehlmann as they’re joined by the Ghanaian drum ensemble Kakatsitsi on a rapturous tribal remake of the Orb’s 1990 hit, “Little Fluffy Clouds”.
It took five days to assemble the Glastonbury show: “The longest time we’d ever rehearsed for anything,” according to Paterson. It’s certainly more time than he and Fehlmann had to prepare for a September 5 appearance with dub pioneer Lee “Scratch” Perry, who’d previously joined the duo on wax for last year’s The Orbserver in the Star House and the recently released More Tales from the Orbservatory.
“That was horrific, in the sense that it was really a Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry show,” he explains, not without a certain bemused affection. “We’d never done a gig with him before, so we were saying ‘Look, we’ll get there a day early and have time to do a bit of rehearsing, and then do a long sound check on the day of the gig.’ And he’s like ‘No no no no no.’ So he gets in at 5 o’clock on the night of the gig in Norway and wants to go out for a photo session! That was the start of it—and, come the gig, it could have been a lot better if he’d remembered what the songs were.”
Making the two Orb-plus-Perry releases was a more relaxing experience, thanks to a novel creative strategy.
“When Lee came over, he brought a man to film him making the album, so he was constantly miked-up,” Paterson says. “We were taking him out to lakes, and to see animals running around in fields, and he was singing to everything he was meeting, which was just amazing. So we had all these sound bites that we could then take back and use on the tracks. That’s why we did two albums, because we discovered we had so much stuff.
“We could even do a third one,” he quickly adds. “If we wanted to do a porn album.”