It’s All Coming Around Again – Orbital and Saint Etienne

It’s terrible getting old. You go through life, having fun, travelling, working, getting married, having a kid, when suddenly you hear a fact that makes you feel terribly, terribly old. This week, it was the news that Orbital have been around for 20 years. 20 years! Blimey.

20 years since I first heard “Chime” in a Newcastle nightclub called Rockshots (previously discussed here). And slightly less than 20 years since I used to use their “Green” and “Brown” albums to chill out after a long, hard night out. Orbital, along with Detroit Techno pioneers like Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson, and those ker-azzee Germans Kraftwerk, made electronic music fantastically human, and danceable to boot. I’ll talk about them at further length when I finally get to them in the Pitchfork 500 list but for now, just one of their finest tunes, “Belfast”, that made the hairs on my arms stick up after hearing just a couple of seconds the other day.

Because just those couple of seconds transport me to a night out at the Brixton Academy in 1991, seeing them live for the first time, and seeing genius in action. Oh, and I got a shoulder massage from a little Scouse lady that my brother swore was Sonia. Ah, what fun times those were. But 20 years? Sheesh.

And then I saw Pitchfork doing a review of the re-release of Foxbase Alpha by Saint Etienne. Saint Etienne are one of those classic London bands, like Ian Dury and Madness, through to Suede and Tindersticks1, that are so representative of London’s ability to nostalgically hark back to the past whilst looking forward. You can’t take the High Barnet branch of the Northern Line without being plummeted straight into the world Saint Etienne inhabit – Kentish Town, Tufnell Park, Archway, all primary locations on the psychogeography of Cracknell, Stanley and Wiggs. Sorry, I came over all Iain Sinclair there.

So, the review got me back to listening to not Foxbase Alpha, but the great early compilation “You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone”. Featuring singles and b-sides not present on either of their first two albums, it was somehow a better listen than either of their early album. So here’s a couple of tracks from there that instantly transport me to a terraced house in Sandyford, Newcastle, via Highgate, East Finchley and High Barnet. Wonderful stuff.

20 years. Sweet Jebus, I’m getting old.

1 Arguably there hasn’t been a decent London band for years. The Libertines? You’re having a laugh. Maybe it’s because everyone’s been too busy buying houses then watching them plummet in value to go and form a band. I suppose now, with everyone unemployed and bankrupt, they’ll have plenty of time to pick up their guitars once more. Anyone fancy forming a 16-piece post-rock/country/free-jazz band in South-West London, let me know.

MP3: Belfast by Orbital

MP3: Who Do You Think You Are by Saint Etienne

MP3: People Get Real by Saint Etienne

Buy Orbital’s “20” (CD/MP3)

Buy “London Conversations: The Best Of Saint Etienne” (CD)

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