Oval Space – November 13th
There was some fantastic music on show at Hackney’s sprawling Oval Space on Friday evening. For those hardy enough to brave the cold swirling wind at the outdoor bar, it was playing on the tiny stereo as the warm vibes of Curtis Mayfield and the Caribbean food stall tried to keep the night at bay. Given what was unfolding indoors, I preferred to pull up the collar of my coat a bit further and suck harder on my cigarette.
Inside the poor souls – who shelled out a hard-earned £24 for a ticket to see The Orb – were forced to put on a brave face. Here they were paying homage to one of the reigning electronic acts of 80s and 90s. But what they received in return was a chance to witness the inglorious and ugly final act of the revered duo.
It was a disaster: a pure, unmitigated musical car crash of the highest order. From start to a mercifully quick finish 90 minutes later, the assembled mix of club veterans to fresh-faced Kompakt devotees were subjected to a nightmarish miasma of Alex Paterson’s schoolboy DJ incompetence to Thomas Fehlmann’s hackneyed and half-baked musical ideas. Combined with a bargain basement light show, an orblivious soundman and visuals that would make the first generation of screensavers blush, the disaster was complete.
So how could the legends manage this crippling descent from orbsome to orbful? It’s hard to say. Perhaps they were just attempting to join their new Kompakt labelmates by throwing off their trademark psychedelic ambient fluffiness by jacking up the bpm? Whatever. It failed. But the manner in which it failed was the most damning, as it was no mere artistic flop but a colossal meltdown in every practical way.
It’s clear that neither Paterson nor Fehlmann were in control of their live set or had any idea what they were attempting to create. Even rehearsals could not have saved their set from a shortage of compelling music – and that would assume they could have figured out how to use their equipment. Because it was just embarrassing to hear Paterson fail over and over again to synch a beat with Fehlmann’s laptop set up. He’d miss, whack up the channel into the red so the entire soundsystem was clipping, realise he’d missed it, and then whack it back down seconds later. Over and over again. And just for an extra helping of whiplash, the heavy-set Paterson would then follow it up with his other favoured trick of spinning the CDJ wheel like he was playing roulette in Vegas.
Meanwhile, Fehlmann seemed totally overwhelmed by his laptop, throwing snippets of music in a haphazard fashion into the mix. Very little of it was interesting and it never even threatened to create the heady pastoral vibe that the duo perfected over the years. And the mysterious lulls of near silence between Fehlmann’s segues were equally damning. Bar a few cheeky KLF samples or some intriguing flashbacks to their collaboration with Lee Scratch Perry, the mismatched tag team were guilty of under-delivering in every conceivable way.
No one wanted it to end like this. But regrettably, Friday night saw The Orb’s artistic credentials unceremoniously buried next to the hulking gas holders which flank the Oval Space.