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by Don Crispy

Le Petit Orb

The hoary godfather of ambient house still has a screw loose

Alex Paterson
COURTESY OF Standard Works

If for no other reason, Alex Paterson and his shifting cast of partners in the Orb deserve a place in a future electronica Hall of Fame for the 1990 psychedelic anthem “Little Fluffy Clouds.” The song, which featured a goofy, unauthorized Rickie Lee Jones sample cut up over a bed of subterranean dub beats, floaty synth melodies, and spacey effects, was one of dance music’s first full-fledged hits.

It was also a bridge between the ’70s ambient explorations of artists like Brian Eno and Pink Floyd and the rapidly evolving house music culture, and set a template for much of the downtempo music that provided a breather in “chill out” rooms for ravers tired from too much E ’n’ glee.

Paterson and co-producers such as Jimmy Cauty released a series of albums in the early ’90s, including The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Underworld and Live ’93, that, along with fellow travelers like Future Sound of London, defined a kind of music that was meant not so much to be heard or danced to as to be immersed in.

While danceable rhythms would emerge and then disappear, the effect was not linear but dimensional, a kind of sonic environment in which sampled backgrounds from BBC nature documentaries and NASA space recordings had as much value as the rhythms and melodies. Japan, with its generation of Bubble-era kids eager for psychedelic experimentation and its openness to music, quickly leapt on the rave bandwagon in the early ’90s.
Paterson was soon a fixture at signature events like Rainbow 2000 and clubs such as Yellow, both in his Petit Orb (with Thomas Fehlmann) and individual DJ incarnations.
When the promise of a new musical future that seemed so bright in the early days of rave culture descended into musical stasis and drug dependency, however, Paterson caught his fair share of critical flack. But the producer, who always seemed leftfield enough for the drugs to be superfluous, ignores accusations of being passé and continues to stick to his guns.

Paterson’s 2004 outing as the Orb (with recent collaborator Fehlmann), Bicycles and Tricycles, for instance, nods to contemporary club rhythms like breakbeats and electro. But the rhythms are never more than mere suggestions, and are soon submerged in clouds of effects and samples before one actually is seized by the urge to get up and dance.

The chance to play alongside Paterson has long been a prominent platform for domestic DJs, and at Daikanyama’s Unit the honor falls to Hiroshi Watanabe, a Berklee College of Music graduate with some legitimate house hits under his belt in the US in the ’90s, regular residencies at Module and Maniac Love, and an association with key German imprint Kompakt...

Also in Daikanyama next weekend, French nu electro label Kitsune’s Gildas Loaec and Masaya Kuroki will be in town to celebrate the release of their new Kitsune X compilation with a party at Air featuring special guest Trevor Jackson. Kitsune X serves up plenty of razor sharp beats by producers including Joakim, founder of noted techno label Tigersushi, while Jackson has been one of England’s disco punk emissaries via his Output Recordings imprint.

Le Petit Orb@Unit, April 2. Kitsune X release party@Air, April 1. See club listings for details.

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