Orbital was an English electronic dance music duo from Sevenoaks, Kent, consisting of brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll. Their career initially ran from 1989 until 2004, but in 2009 they announced that they would be reforming and headlining The Big Chill, in addition to a number of other live shows in 2009. The band's name was taken from Greater London's orbital motorway, the M25, which was central to the early rave scene and party network in the South East during the early days of acid house. In addition, the cover art on three of their albums features stylised atomic orbitals. Orbital were both critically and commercially successful, and known particularly for their element of live improvisation during shows, a rarity among techno acts. They were initially influenced by early electro and punk rock.
In 1989 Orbital recorded "Chime" on their father's cassette deck, which they released on Oh Zone Records in December 1989, and then re-released on FFRR Records a few months later. The track became a rave anthem, reaching number 17 in the UK charts and earning them an appearance on Top of the Pops, during which they wore anti-Poll Tax T-shirts. According to Paul Hartnoll, the track was recorded "under the stairs" of their parents' house in "a knocked-through stair cupboard that my dad set up as a home office". The track received its first live airing at a disco in a local Sevenoaks venue called the Grasshopper. Next was a gig at the Town and Country 2 in Islington, performing for the first time under the name Orbital. A few singles and EPs followed, and their first self-titled album, a collection of tracks recorded at various times, was released in late 1991.
In late 1992, the Radiccio EP barely reached the UK top 40, but it included one of their most popular songs, "Halcyon". This song featured a sample of Kirsty Hawkshaw from "It's a Fine Day" (a chart hit for Opus III earlier that year), and B-side "The Naked and the Dead" was similarly based on a line from Scott Walker's rendition of Jacques Brel's song "Next". "Halcyon" was dedicated to the Hartnolls' mother, who was addicted to the tranquiliser Halcion (Triazolam) for many years.
The duo's popularity grew rapidly with the release of their second self-titled album, in 1993. The album featured complex arrangements and textures, and opens with the two-minute track "Time Becomes", consisting of nothing more than two slightly detuned, looped samples of a line from the Star Trek: The Next Generation. episode Time Squared spoken by actor Michael Dorn "...where time becomes a loop" being played simultaneously through the left and right channels, respectively (until one cycle of phase difference has happened). This same sample was used at the beginning of "the Moebius", the opening track in the previous album. This audio pun was intended to make listeners believe that they had bought a mis-pressed album (Orbital 1 packaged as Orbital 2). The album reached #28 on the UK album charts, staying in the chart for 15 weeks. "Halcyon" was remixed for the album, as "Halcyon + On + On". The first two albums are commonly known as "The Green Album" and "The Brown Album", after the colours of their covers.
Orbital won a NME award for Vibes Best Dance Act early in 1994, but it was their headline appearance at the Glastonbury Festival on 25 June 1994 that brought them most attention. Q magazine classed it as one of the top 50 gigs of all time, and in 2002 included Orbital in their list of "50 Bands to See Before You Die"
The third album, Snivilisation, was released in August 1994. Alison Goldfrapp provided vocals on a couple of the tracks, including the single "Are We Here?". The single "The Box" was released in April 1996, reaching number 11 in the UK, and its parent album In Sides, released in May 1996, became their second Top Five album.
Orbital split up in 2004. They played a final series of gigs in June and July 2004 at the Glastonbury Festival, the T in the Park Festival in Scotland, the Oxegen festival in Ireland, and the Wire Festival in Japan, concluding with a live Peel Session gig at Maida Vale Studios in London on 28 July 2004. The release of their seventh and last original album, Blue Album, coincided with this final wave of shows. The album featured Sparks (on "Acid Pants") and Lisa Gerrard (on the final single, "One Perfect Sunrise").
After a few comeback appearances they announced on 21 October 2014 that they were "hanging up their iconic torch-glasses and parting ways for the final time." The message thanked all the fans for their support and explained that the duo would continue their projects separately. Paul Hartnoll announced his new project 8:58 that he will be releasing in March, 2015.