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by Don Crispy

Alex Paterson

The UK ambient house prodigy sits down with Metropolis to discuss the genre he’s credited with creating

“The Orb is my life and my family”
courtesy of Ageha

At the gig you were on turntables and [partner] Thomas Fehlmann was on laptop. Is that your standard set-up these days?
I’m always on the turntables. I’m a DJ. I never tried to hide the fact because that was what the Orb was about in the first place.

Who first came up with the “ambient house” tag?
In the summer of ’88 we were coming back from doing raves off our heads, and I thought, give me six turntables, see what I can do. And we created this atmospheric soundscape, which became the Chill Out album. The whole thing was a happy accident. I was really frightened that we might get called “New Age house.” New Age appalled me. I was taking the drums away [from the mix], so it became the chill-out, ambient side of house. On a 12-inch, we just put on the back, “Ambient house for the E generation.” But [ambient music pioneer] Brian Eno hates me. He thinks I nicked his thunder.

Since Brian Eno never put beats to his music or intended for it to be played in a club, why would he feel threatened?
I don’t understand either. If he wanted to do that, he could have. I think one of the best albums ever made was My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. I was shocked because I thought I was doing him a favor by crediting him as an influence. But apparently he didn’t like that. He thought I was taking his music into the studio and sampling it, but I wasn’t. I wasn’t that stupid.

What was the upshot of the Rickie Lee Jones lawsuit over “Fluffy Clouds”? That must have changed the way you approached sampling...
Not really. I just do it with a bit more discretion.

I thought I heard that bit at your gig...
You’re absolutely spot on. There are bits of Rickie Lee Jones you heard on Saturday night. You’ve got a seven-year cutoff point now. If a record’s been out seven years and no one says, “Oi, that’s my music, give me the money,” there’s nothing they can do... It gives us freedom of choice.

What kind of sources are you sampling these days?
Can’t tell you. But they’re there. You’ll have to listen to find out. It’s a bit like the Steve Reich bit on “Fluffy Clouds.” You think it’s the Orb but it’s actually Steve Reich.

Where do you go for sample sources besides records?
Eastern Europe [laughs]. I bring a field microphone with me on holiday. You might get a sample from a temple in India. There was one track where I had to wear padded shoes in a temple, and you can hear things like that in the albums. Another classic one was watching an elephant blow dust over itself [makes elephant noise]. Time-stretch that, make it into a rhythm—you’ve got a song... I’m not a musician. I was never taught music. I find musicians get more off me than I get off them because they’ve been taught this rigid format. Whereas I’m always like, “Play this noise, play that noise!”

Do you carry around a DAT recorder?
I’m recording you right this moment [laughs again]. I used to do quite a lot of it. But it became so normal I stopped doing it.

How do you balance work and family?
The Orb is my life and family. But I’m trying to take one weekend off a month to spend with my daughter. Because I don’t want her slipping off into my mentality—I don’t want her wondering if I really love her or not. I want her to come out with me when she’s 16 or 17, and take over doing the Orb. I want it to become a family thing. Not many people have done that before! If she hates music, fine, I won’t force it on her. But if she wants to get into music, she can reinvent the Orb. She’s got the same bloody surname as me and looks a bit like me, but much cuter!

You’ve been coming to Japan for over ten years now. What changes have you observed?
Well, their bodies aren’t their temples anymore. There’s more drug use.

Have you ever collaborated with Japanese producers?
I did a YMO remix album, Technodon. I got to warm up for them at Tokyo Dome, which is probably why I’m so big over here. This was for their reunion around ’93. All I remember is I got a huge amount of money for it.

Do you think the rave/club thing has become too corporate?
Even though the Orb is 17 years old now, I feel like it’s still a budding young girl. I wouldn’t be doing it if I thought so.

Alex Paterson plays Cyprus@Ageha on July 22. See club listings for details.


Would you like to comment on this article? Send a letter to the editor at letters@metropolis.co.jp.