Classic Compilation: Orbital – Back to Mine

The ‘Back to Mine’ compilations premise was simple. After pummelling your brain to mush in a sweaty club, with four hours of repetitive beats, the DJ in question would invite you back to his pad, where he would show you his gentler side by playing you chilled-out choons, as you melted into his couch, the MDMA comedown marginally softened by a big spliff. The series began in 1999 with Nick Warren, and was a mix of soporific pieces, and balmy Café Del Mar anthems as you might expect.

By volume four the remit began including bands in the DJ seat (albeit ones with a dance element), though it was never clearly stated whose gaff we were invited to, or perhaps we were left to assume that the bands all lived together ‘Monkees’ style. Nevertheless this collective approach opened things up in terms of diverse musical choices, and reached its zenith with volume ten, when someone wisely invited Orbital to join in the fun.

The Hartnoll brothers were renowned for their eclectic influences, so this was never gonna be a laid-back Hed Kandi snooze-fest, and indeed it isn’t. Things kick off cinematically with John Barry’s theme, from sixties romp ‘The Knack’, lulling us in with funky hammond, strings and soothing “oohs” no doubt erotically trilled by beehive-sporting Mary Quant types. Then in a genius move of juxtaposition we suddenly crash back to earth with Lee Scratch Perry’s ‘Justice to the People’. This being Orbital on the decks, electronic/techno is a key ingredient, and it’s delivered by Warp Records’ DSR (‘Babaloo’), and ‘Spice’ by Eon, lest we accuse them of forgetting their houseguest still has a small nation’s supply of narcotics coursing through their veins.

The twangy euphoria of The Tornados follows with ‘Love and Fury’ (I once had the good fortune to bump into Paul Hartnoll at an exhibition of record sleeves at the National Gallery, and after introducing myself as a fan in a bumbling starstruck way, he dragged me over excitedly to the sleeve of ‘Telstar’, opining that its importance in the canon of music could not be overstated. “How so Mr H?” I asked and he simply replied that it was the first instrumental electronic Number 1.)

Other treats to be found on this compilation come from Severed Heads, P.J. Harvey and Susan Cadogan, and not forgetting the brilliant ‘No Idea’ by Earth Leakage Trip, a track akin to being trapped in a hall of mirrors at the seaside on DMT with H.R.Pufnstuf. Orbital in their own compositions ( and there is one included here – the infectious skanking ‘Ska’d For Life’) have the knack of effortlessly transporting the listener through peaks and troughs of mood and intensity, so why should it be any different when they’re playing DJ in-between handing out cold Stellas and designating skinning-up duties?

Some ignored and underrated classics also feature – The Divine Comedy’s achingly beautiful ‘Lost Property’, and ‘Celebrate the Bullet’ by The Selecter, a stunning lost track that was blindly but intuitively groping in a seam of proto trip-hop, when Massive Attack were still in short trousers. A good DJ also knows that it’s all about context; an over-familar song can bowl you over anew if dropped at the right moment, and only Orbital would have the cojones to gleefully include Jethro Tull’s ‘Living in the Past’ when least expected.

Mind-melting tracks by Plaid and Tangerine Dream lead us to a concluding nostalgia-hit for psychedelic surfers of a certain age, with ‘The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe’ by the Robert Mellin Orchestra, invoking soft-focus black & white childhood bliss.

Other interesting selections in the series would follow from artists like Underworld, Audio Bullys and New Order, but without such unpredictable and diverse panache (drugs are tiring enough without having to feign surprise when Bernard Sumner plays you a Primal Scream track, (“Wow Barney, I never had you down as a fan!”…give me strength, where’s the ketamine?)

So, in conclusion, you don’t have to be slack-jawed and fried, and on the wrong side of a double-strength mitsubishi to thoroughly enjoy this album…but if you are, you couldn’t be in better hands.


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