Orbital’s Phil Hartnoll recalls a memorable gig in New York, just weeks after the 9/11 tragedy had hit the downtown district.

Paul Nichols headshot
  • By Paul Nichols
  • 31 Dec 2013
  • min read
Orbital’s Phil Hartnoll recalls a memorable gig in New York, just weeks after the 9/11 tragedy had hit the downtown district.

I remember very clearly when this picture was taken. It was 13 October 2001 at the Roseland Ballroom in New York. That whole US tour was really odd because it was just after 9/11. People we met kept saying we were really brave for going over there. They were convinced that visitors wouldn’t go to America anymore because they’d be too scared of more terrorist attacks.

All over the country we noticed a really sombre atmosphere, but especially before our gig at the Roseland Ballroom. It was a month since the atrocity and the venue was only a few blocks away from Ground Zero.

The gig had the craziest vibe, especially when we played our track Satan. All the live visual imagery that goes with the track is associated with war, bombs and explosions – horrible, nasty things that we considered to be satanic. I wondered what would happen when we played it. We were expecting the worst.

We had our big screen that we always take on tour and when it started blasting out all those extreme images the response was unbelievable; people went nuts. The auditorium was really packed and the energy levels were incredible. There was a real sense of release as everyone let off steam.

When I talked to people in the audience afterwards I was really blown away by the reaction we got. They told us it was exactly what they had needed.

I don’t normally say anything through our gigs because it always comes out weird – that’s why we stick to making instrumental music! But I said something at the end of that gig, just to acknowledge what had happened the month before. I gave them a verbal hug.

The event really sticks in my mind; we went to see Ground Zero after the gig, which was horrific. It made the whole tour morbidly fascinating. New York was the major league gig of the tour but we did a few others around that time and the interview questions we got beforehand were always really weird. Everyone was shell-shocked and wanted to know what we thought about it from a British perspective.

I remember telling interviewers that we were more used to terrorism in Britain, especially those people brought up in London. I explained that the threat of IRA activity loomed large on the mainland during the eighties. But we had never experienced something on that scale - it was totally unparalleled.

Phil Hartnoll is one half of Kentish duo Orbital, a genre and era defining electronic outfit that emerged at the height of acid house in 1989 and went on to shape the British musical landscape forever.

Chime, their first release, quickly became a rave anthem and took Phil and his older brother Paul from playing small local gigs to headlining stages at Glastonbury and the Royal Albert Hall.

They went on to produce eight acclaimed studio albums including their latest, Wonky, which was released last year. Paul and Phil have also scored soundtracks for films such as Luis Prieto’s UK remake of Nicholas Winding Refn’s gritty crime thriller Pusher.

On 12 November Orbital received a PRS for Music Heritage Award at The Garage, Highbury, London (formerly Town & Country II), where they performed their first full live gig on 18 March 1990.

Watch our video interview with Phil and Paul to get their take on dance music circa 2013 and hear how they first fell in love with electronica.