Orbital are an English electronic music duo from Otford, Kent, England, consisting of brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll. The band's name is taken from Greater London's orbital motorway, the M25, which was central to the early rave scene during the early days of acid house. Additionally, the cover art on three of their albums showcase stylised atomic orbitals. Orbital have been critically and commercially successful, known particularly for their live improvisation during shows. They were initially influenced by early electro and punk rock.
In 1989, Orbital recorded "Chime" on their father's 4 track tape deck, which they released on DJ Jazzy M's Oh Zone Records in December 1989 and re-released on FFRR Records a few months later. The track became a rave anthem, reaching number 17 in the UK charts and earning them an appearance on Top of the Pops, during which they wore anti-Poll Tax T-shirts. According to Paul Hartnoll, the track was recorded "under the stairs" of their parents' house in "a knocked-through stair cupboard that my dad set up as a home office". The track received its first live airing at a club night hosted by the promoter Que Pasa in a local Sevenoaks venue called the Grasshopper on Boxing Day. Next was a gig at the Town and Country 2 in Islington, performing for the first time under the name Orbital. Several singles and EPs followed, and their first self-titled album, a collection of tracks recorded at various times, was released in late 1991.
In late 1992, the Radiccio EP barely reached the UK top 40, although it included one of their most popular songs, "Halcyon". The track featured a sample of Kirsty Hawkshaw from "It's a Fine Day" . The B-side "The Naked and the Dead" was similarly based on a line from Scott Walker's rendition of Jacques Brel's song "Next". "Halcyon" was dedicated to the Hartnolls' mother, who was addicted to the tranquiliser Halcion for many years.
The duo's popularity grew rapidly with the release of their second self-titled album, in 1993. The album included complex arrangements and textures, opening with the two-minute track "Time Becomes". The track consisted of two slightly delayed, looped samples of a line from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Time Squared spoken by actor Michael Dorn as the character Lieutenant Worf: "... where time becomes a loop" being played simultaneously through the left and right channels, respectively . The same sample was used at the beginning of "the Moebius", the opening track in the previous album. This audio pun was intended to make listeners believe that they had bought a mis-pressed album . The album reached #28 on the UK album charts, staying in the chart for 15 weeks. "Halcyon" was remixed for the album, as "Halcyon + On + On". Versions of this song played live by the band have incorporated diverse samples, including "You Give Love a Bad Name" by the band Bon Jovi, "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" by Belinda Carlisle, and in 2004 "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" by the band The Darkness.
The first two albums are commonly known as "The Green Album" and "The Brown Album", after the colours of their covers .
Orbital won an NME award for Vibes Best Dance Act early in 1994, but it was their headline appearance at the Glastonbury Festival on 25 June 1994 that brought them most attention. Q magazine classed it as one of the top 50 gigs of all time, and in 2002 included Orbital in their list of "50 Bands to See Before You Die".