Further adventures into Alex Paterson’s forward-thinking past
In 2013, ambient house masters The Orb celebrated a quarter of a century’s worth of music by releasing their ‘History Of The Future’ compilation box set. Comprising four discs, the recordings condensed the band’s back catalogue into a collection of singles, remixes, live tracks and promotional videos, including landmark releases such as the underground classic ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ and hits like ‘The Blue Room’ and ‘Toxygene’.
A little over a year later, Orb main man Alex Paterson has now sanctioned the second – and final – of the ‘History Of The Future’ duology. ‘Part 2’ focuses on rare tracks, some of which are available for the first time, alongside previously unseen video footage on a fourth DVD disc. All the material is from the time following on from the group’s departure from Island Records at the dawn of the new millennium, when they released a torrent of experimental ventures, albeit with wildly variable results.
Apart from being forerunners of the ambient house movement and one of the few outfits to successfully blend electronic dance music with cogent elements of reggae and dub, The Orb are known for their sampling polemic, but the issue of sampling has always been a thorny one for Alex Paterson. Having been a leading exponent of the practice, despite agitating other artists and record labels – and no doubt a few fans too – he seems to have been less interested in this aspect on recent releases. This may be viewed as a positive, though. As this compilation proves, too much of The Orb’s music suffers from an overuse of sketchily layered lo-fidelity samples.
Indeed, ‘History Of The Future Part 2’ perfectly demonstrates the pros and cons of the group’s approach to sampling. Disc one journeys between deep, oozing dub reggae, wildly atmospheric electronics, and rich, earthy trip hop, but it also moves from the sublime to the ridiculous, with several tracks polluted by scatterbrain spoken word sample-fests that really add nothing to the production. Discs two and three meanwhile concentrate more on The Orb’s limited edition 12-inch releases recorded with Paterson’s long-time collaborator Thomas Fehlmann, as well as with the likes of Lee “Scratch” Perry and Dreadzone’s Tim Bran. It’s here that you’ll find The Orb’s true value, hitting the heights with a series of pungent, unwinding ambient dub arrangements that are positively unique to them.
As far as The Orb are concerned, peaks and troughs come with the territory. And some may well consider it part of their charm. Uncompromising risk takers, you can’t help but be energised by their sense of self-confidence and steely determination to do things their way, which is as much responsible for producing this collection’s more refined moments as its head-scratching ones.