CQAF: The Orb

The 1990s comedown kings can still kickstart a good old rave

‘Mum, I’ve been to a rave...'

The heyday of all-night raves may have long since slipped into memory, but the Orb’s appearance in Belfast's Custom House Square Marquee gave plenty of old heads - and a few younger ones - the perfect excuse to dust off the glo-sticks.

As central figures in the UK rave scene, Dr Alex Patterson’s the Orb provided a much-needed late night, chilled out counterpoint to the furious techno of the period.

Creating and defining the genre of ambient house, The Orb were inspired as much by Brian Eno and Tangerine Dream as by rave music in mixing slower Chicago house, synths and obscure vocal sounds.

After the critical and commercial success they enjoyed in the early 1990s, The Orb, like many in the rave scene that spawned them, seemed to slip off the radar.

For tonight’s sold-out show, instead of retracing their ambient roots they perform as a live band with Patterson and Youth on decks alongside David Nock on drums and Tim Bran as MC. The colourful lights and psychedelic images referencing everything from science fiction to surrealism add to the sense of spectacle.

Unfortunately the opening tracks of the evening fail to fully connect with the high-spirited crowd. Tim Bran does his best, striding purposefully across the stage, but the dancehall and heavy dub influences are less inviting than his exhortations that ‘Belfast, make some noise’.

However, any fears that The Orb had totally left behind ambient house are dispelled when the opening vocal samples of Rickie Lee Jones on ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ rings out.

Also incorporating a sample from Steve Reich’s 'Electric Counterpoint', the track perfectly showcases The Orb’s original mix of house, synths and Eno-inspired sparseness, to the delight of the crowd.

Despite making their name as purveyors of the finest comedown music, The Orb live is anything but sedate. As the night progresses the tempo quickens, and the group moves from languid dancehall to something approaching acid house techno.

The Orb are clearly no longer pioneers of original, genre-bending dance music and live, they occasionally veer into generic territory.

But try telling that to the throng that spilled out onto Custom House Square at 1am, high on nostalgia for the heyday of rave... they've had a great night, but might be a little unsure about who will see them through the comedown. 

Peter Geoghegan