It started with a Joke, audacious dub science and some cassettes of New York radio’s revolutionary master mixes of the late 70s-early 80s. Killing Joke marked Dr Alex Paterson’s entry into the rock ‘n’ roll world, as both roadie and encore vocalist haranguing his way through the Stooges’ ‘No Fun’ & ‘ bodies ‘, while golden age dub reggae and New York sound shifters such as Shep Pettibone and Tony Humphries fuelled his desire to take sound to realms only previously glimpsed in dreams.
Apart from roadying for Killing Joke, Alex had formed a band called Bloodsport in 1980 with old [much-missed] pal Wally, and then was first vocalist in band called Heist in 1985.
In 1987 Both living at the Coach House in Wandsworth, Alex and Joke bassist Youth were in the thick of the acid house revolution, starting their own W.A.U. [What About Us, Wheels Ashore Untangled, Wake And Untroubled] label to release the new sonic experiments orbiting their South London spaced station. Some of these spangled outings can be found on The Orb & Youth’s Present Impossible Oddities: From The Underground To The Overground: The Story Of W.A.U. Mr Modo! [Year Zero].
The Orb was born on a warm, Sunday summer’s afternoon in after original members Alex [then calling himself LX Dee] and Jimmy Cauty [Rockman] had driven back from a Shoom party in Brighton to Transcentral on Jeffrey’s Road, SW4 (where Alex’s brother Martin also came into the world.) Using an OBX and decks, the pair cooked up the idea for ‘Lovin You’ [aka ‘A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld’]. However, the first track to bear The Orb name was ‘Walking On Sunshine’, first track on the Eternity Project set released on W.A.U./Gee Street in 1989.
Meanwhile, the orb played their first gig in Bath players in August, 1988. Driving down in jimmy’s old American police car, causing quite a few heads to turn in town! after all the police was a no 1 with the timelords! LX had always loved playing records and seeing people’s reactions, even if it was to an audience of one. Alex commenced spinning at the earliest acid house clubs at spectrum, slam & transcentral, playing anything from Eno to dub, with no regard to musical boxes, on a mission to push the outer limits further out. Not just rearranging the sonic goal posts but painting them rainbow colours and dropkicking them into uncharted realms.
Feb 1989 saw the first Orb EP – Kiss Your Love/Suck My Kiss/The Roof Is On Fire/Ambiora Mix [homaging the NYC radio station], followed by the monstrous ‘A Huge Ever Growing…’, which was also renavigated in a parallel dimension for John Peel’s Radio One show in December. 1989. Between September, 1989 and March, 1990 the orb [sometimes joined by Youth] played the White Room at Land Of Oz at heaven, Charing Cross, London’s premiere acid house night, lowering ravers into a warm bath of aural balm and diverse exotica. These epic sets could be seen as the initial gestation of The Orb as beat-less music was created using an eight-track board hooked up to three turntables, CD and cassette players with projections on screens to match.
In 1989, The Orb remixed Fischerman’s Friend [aka Sun Electric], West India Company’s ‘O Je Suis Seul’, the newly-formed KLF’s ‘3AM Eternal’, Marathon’s ‘Future Perfect’ and even Dave Stewart and Candy Dulfer’s top tenner ‘Lily Was Here’, recording the Space album in Bottom, Cornwall [Tracks: ‘Mercury’, ‘Venus’, ‘Mars’, ‘Donner & Blitz’, ‘Pluto Calling’, ‘Sat On Jupiter’, ‘Nep-Tuned’]. Alex also compiled ‘What Time Is Love 1′ on KLF.
‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ was written and recorded at the Coach House that year, finished in 1990, after The Orb signed to Big Life and Jimmy left to do the KLF. ‘A Huge…’ was reissued with new mixes through Big Life, followed by ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’.
That year’s Orb remixes included Delkom, Depeche Mode, Erasure, Jam On The Mutha, Marathon and Sun Electric. At the same time, Alex was holding down an A&R man position at EG Records, home of ambient music and otherworldly whoopee.
By now, Alex was hatching the first Orb album, Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld, transplanting the wild invention of dub and Kiss FM mastermixes into the new vistas opened up by acid house, fuelled by his fevered imagination, interest in aliens and immersion in pioneering electronic music by the likes of Eno and White Noise. With Youth off on various projects, Kris ‘Thrash’ Weston stepped up to twiddle knobs and translate Alex’s creative ejaculations. ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ was a pumping new dub mutant, laced with harmonica & radio 4 plus Rickie Lee Jones expounding from a promo CD interview and glistening melodic stratas.
Thomas Fehlmann is the longest-serving Orb satellite member, a legendary titan in the history of Berlin’s electronic music scene. Born in Switzerland, he had relocated to Hamburg by the time he formed seminal outfit Palais Schaumburg with Holger Hiller in 1979, moving to Berlin in 1984. After splitting with Hiller, he concentrated on his home studio and sampler, releasing records as Ready Made and starting his Teutonic Beats label in 1988. Thomas also became a respected DJ … becoming a resident at Berlin’s renowned Tresor club in the 90s. He also became a pivotal part of the Berlin-Detroit connection, forming the 3MB with Juan Atkins and Moritz Von Oswald.
Alex met Thomas in May, 1989 in his capacity as his A&R man at EG, when the latter was in London toting his latest set, ‘Von Sprung Durch Music’. Thomas was over with Sun Electric [which he is also a member of], Marathon and half of DAF, cementing the relationship by taking them to the spangled wonderment of Shoom. After the Orb remixed Sun Electric’s ‘O’locca’, Thomas co-wrote ‘Outlands’, starting the telepathic studio relationship which continues to the present.
LX was spinning at Berlin’s Space club November 1989 the weekend the wall came down . & watched the collapse of the wall with Thomas & sun electric .. a moment in time!
‘Back Side Of The Moon’ and NASA-laced ‘Supernova At The End Of The Universe’ saw Alex collaborating with Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy, who’d recently started System 7, while the stratospheric skank of ‘Perpetual Dawn’ was written by veteran London sound system operator Eddie Maiden (R.IP). Alex has always been very loyal to his mates, many old Grove-Battersea lunatics still about in various capacities. Despite now playing bass for Pink Floyd, Guy Pratt played on the langorous ‘Spanish Castles In Space’. The album sparked a new term called ambient house but was already striking way beyond such categories, into the Orb’s own ultraworld.
The original double album took the form of an epic space odyssey, starting with side one’s three Earth Orbit tracks [‘Little Fluffy Clouds’, ‘Earth [Gaia]’, ‘Supernova At The End Of the Universe’], followed by side two’s Lunar Orbit [‘Back Side of The Moon’, ”Spanish Castles In Space’], side three’s Ultraworld Probe [‘Perpetual Dawn’, ‘Into The Fourth Dimension’, ‘Outlands’] and four’s Ultraworld pair [‘Star 6 & 7 8 9′, ‘A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld’]. Star 6 & 7 was written with long time friend Hugh Vickers aka huge knickers & tom green.
While the April, 1991 launch for Ultraworld was held at a North London floatation centre, The Orb was turning into a formidable live experience, blitzing through album tracks and soon-to-be classics like ‘Towers Of Dub’, taking venues into a senses-blasting new orbit. This was still the spirit of punk rock, meaning rules were broken, there was attitude under the ambience and healthy regard for upsetting the nearest applecart, giving it the large salad atop a spangled middle finger. October saw Primal Scream’s Screamadelica, on which The Orb produced the transcendental lift off of ‘Higher Than The Sun’. The album gripped a nation keening down from the initial ecstasy flash. Alex DJed with Andrew Weatherall on the insane Screamadelica tour and, apart from having a blast, pumped some of this heavenly gas into the back passage of his own mental soundscapes. The only way was up. “I’m the first person to be amazed by the success of what’s going on,” said Alex. “It’s not preconceived and we’re not copying anyone else.”
The album would go on to make Melody Maker’s top 30 1991 albums list, Spin’s 90 Greatest Albums of The 90s list, number seven in Muzik magazine’s Top 50 Dance Albums Of All Time and ranked at 45 in the NME writers’ list of Greatest Albums of All Time .