Interview: The Orb set to headline 2013 Edinburgh Mela Festival

This article is from 2013

The Orb

The Orb's Alex Paterson on upcoming collaboration with Ghanian master drummers Kakatsitsi

Given the somewhat challenging task of describing the anticipated sound of a collaboration which remains entirely untested at the time of speaking, The Orb’s Alex Paterson does an impressively evocative job. ‘It’s going to be very, very heavy,’ he muses, the week before he’s due to first meet and play with Ghanian master drummers Kakatsitsi. ‘It’s going to be like dark matter, with this very surreal glint of starlight on the horizon of Africa, which will be us with these little melodies over the top. There’ll be this feeling of different African rhythms and I’ll then bring in different modern rhythms within their ones. And so we then feed off each other. I can hear it now.’ He laughs. ‘It’s much easier to hear in my head than to talk about.’

Plans had been afoot for Paterson – sole constant member of the British ambient electronica act who celebrate their 25th anniversary this year – to travel to Ghana’s capital city Accra for some warm-up shows with Kakatsitsi, but everything fell through at the last minute. Instead, he was left waiting for the drummers, dancers and singers who are well-respected in the Ghanaian music business for their work with various popular hiplife, highlife and gospel artists. At the point when they touched down in the UK, they could all get to work on an Afro-British partnership arranged via The Orb’s manager Ross March and Steve Peake of Indigenous People, a Brighton-based non-profit cultural education organisation.

After just three days of rehearsals, they’ll make their live debut together with a low-key show in Brighton, before exclusive performances at Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Mela. Two festivals not often mentioned in the same breath, it just goes to show what a big booking this was for Edinburgh’s annual multi-cultural extravaganza (where Kakatsitsi appeared last year to a rapturous reception).

It signals the ambition which director Chris Purnell has for the event, which he hopes will eventually grow into something akin to a Scottish WOMAD. ‘It’s a coup for the Mela to get a band of The Orb’s stature,’ says Purnell. ‘And it’s great that they are thinking along the same lines as myself about how to move forward with the event. It’s very much more world-music based, and collaborative work is the zeitgeist.’

Not someone who is naturally drawn towards collaborations, Paterson has of late worked separately with a couple of stellar names in their respective genres. Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour featured heavily on The Orb’s 2010 LP, Metallic Spheres. More recently, Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann – his ‘Swiss-German partner-in-crime’, as Paterson calls The Orb’s only other full member – travelled to Germany for highly productive sessions with seminal Jamaican dub-reggae producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.

The fruits of those labours have been two albums, with More Tales from the Orbservatory set to follow-up last year’s The Orbserver in the Star House. A more contrasting pair of musicians than Gilmour and Perry you could hardly imagine: ‘one’s your mate, the other one’s a schoolmaster,’ as Paterson puts it. ‘Can you guess which one’s which?’ But if there’s an experience he regards as having unlocked the possibility of this coming-together with the master drummers, it was DJing around the world in 1999–2000. Then, Paterson worked alongside eclectic London ensemble Juno Reactor in a landmark collaboration with South African percussion collective Amampondo, a not-dissimilar fusion of world music and western electronica to that which The Orb and Kakatsitsi will undertake.

Which rather explains why Paterson is so relaxed about the prospect of hitting the stage with the Ghanaians just a few days after first meeting them. ‘I got a good feel for all that kind of thing,’ he says, referring to the Juno Reactor/Amampondo shows. ‘I can’t see it being a million miles away. It’s all about creating energy.’

Re-conditioned staples of The Orb catalogue will provide the basis for their Mela set-list: ‘Blue Room’, ‘Perpetual Dawn’ and, of course, chill-out classic ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ are to be included. ‘Unfortunately for us, that’s what everyone wants to hear,’ says Paterson, a little wearily. He’d rather be performing new material, forward-motion at all times being vital to the ever-prolific Orb. But, by necessity, their quarter-century is being marked with some backwards-glancing events intended to test the water for an eight-CD retrospective boxed-set (slated for release in October) and supporting world tour. So, in April they graced Brixton with a special performance of their first two albums, 1991’s The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld and 1992’s U.F.Orb.

Somewhere between all that activity, Paterson remains hopeful of fitting in a Ghanaian trip to collect field recordings – ‘some ambience, the ocean, the jungles, the plains’ – towards an album which he hopes will be the ultimate outcome of the Kakatsitsi collaboration. ‘If it goes well,’ Paterson adds casually, sounding entirely like he expects it will, ‘there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be an end-product from all the work we’re putting in. That would hopefully be really, really cool.’

The Orb, Leith Links, 1 Sep.

Other Mela highlights

Star Crossed
A brand-new commission by Mallorca-based dance company Pasodos, it’s Romeo and Juliet meets West Side Story, played out through the dance mediums of capoeira and tango.

Mela Kidzone
Youngsters are invited to ‘Go Wild’ this year in the environment-themed children’s area, which sees the Mela partnered with Scottish Natural Heritage and The Forestry Commission.

Thermal and a Quarter
Indian rockers who sing in English but hail from Bangalore, better known by the acronym TAAQ. We love the name, but no, we have no idea what it means either.

Global Food Village
Over 20 outlets will serve the best in world cuisine, from Indian to African and Polish delicacies. For the first time, the Mela goes completely green: polystyrene is banned and it’s compostables only.

Kakatsitsi - Master Drummers

The Orb feat. David Gilmour - Metallic Spheres - 2010

the orb - blue room

The Orb - Little Fluffy Clouds

The Orb - Perpetual Dawn

Edinburgh Mela

World music, dance, fashion, food and fun. During the week the Mela takes over various venues around Leith.

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