In Pictures: The making of Orbital’s The Green Album

By in Features





A window into 1991 rave culture.

Ahead of Record Store Day 2024, legendary British electronic duo Orbital reissued their self-titled debut album (aka The Green Album), alongside a boxset and booklet offering an insight into Orbital’s early days and the UK’s burgeoning rave culture in 1991.

Filled with photos, flyers, artwork and stories from those heady days, the boxset is a treasure trove for Orbital fans and ravers across the board. We’ve dug through the archive, taken from Orbital’s personal collection, to uncover some visual highlights. Read on for a window into 1991, accompanied by commentary from Phil and Paul Hartnoll themselves.

First studio under the stairs


Cabaret Voltaire

Phil: We blew out a trip to America, all expenses paid, mega hospitality, just so we could support Cabaret Voltaire in front of thirty people at Subteranea under the Westway on 6 June 1991. The as-yet-unconvinced music press sent someone down to take a look at the bizarre spectacle of a “rave duo” actually trying to play their stuff live. “Why would they do this? What for? Whoever heard of such a thing? “

Paul: The reviewer absolutely hated us. They said something along the lines of, ‘Two balding lab technicians fiddling around with knobs… boring songs that are probably called things like “I Dream Of Plexiglass” or “Steel Cube Idolatry”’. We thought, “Right, we don’t even know what any of that means, but we are definitely having “Steel Cube Idolatry”.” That is a brilliant title.


Paul: “Chime” was written very quickly, just as a little experiment one Wednesday night. I’d quickly made something up and I was trying to get it right, but all my friends had come round, hassling me to come to the pub. Eventually, I got it right, and it was “OK, brilliant, now we can go”. They all trooped out with no comments apart from one guy, Farik, who scratched his chin and went, “That was pretty good… That was alright…”. I went “Oh thanks” and then we just went off to the pub and didn’t think anything more.

I was good friends with Jazzy M, who was a bit of a mentor to me. He’d give me free records and say, “Do something like this”. He used to listen to my demos and play some of them on his pirate radio station, The Jackin’ Zone. So I took “Chime” up to his Oh’Zone record shop and gave it to him for a quick listen. The room was full of DJs and it was Friday. Everyone was buying their weekend new tunes. Jazzy had the headphones on and when he pressed play, he just started smiling.

He whipped the headphones off, rewound the tape and played it loud in the shop. Every DJ in the shop put their hand up. “I’ll take one of those. I’ll take one of that.” I’d never seen anything like it. Jazzy set up a label to put “Chime” out and he told me to go and record it again on a metal cassette. “That bit where it ends? Make it come back in again.” That was his top tip. That’s why it’s about 10 minutes long. It was the most expensive cassette I’d ever bought at £3.25 or something, but I think it was worth it.

Phil: Yeah, I think it was a good investment.


Paul: In 1990, we got a call from David Holmes, “Would you come and play my rave that I put on in Belfast?” It was called Bass–the one he did before Sugarsweet. I said, “Well, would they like us? Won’t people be pissed off with us because we’re English?” He laughed at me and said, “Don’t worry, we’ll look after you.” So we went over, stayed at his mum’s house, and played at his rave, which was just incredible.

It was the first time we’d ever been treated like rock stars. People were cheering, they wouldn’t let us off stage. They were clambering at the edge of the stage and David Holmes was leaning on his decks, just pointing and laughing at us. He made us come back on and do “Chime” again, even though we’d done it once. The crowd was fantastic. We’d given him a tape of demos and a couple of weeks later he rang up and said, “God, we all love that second track. That’s brilliant, we love it.”

That was the original version of “Belfast”, pre-vocal. We were in the process of doing a shinier version of it so we just thought, yeah, let’s call it “Belfast” because it so goes against the grain of what people in England thought the city of Belfast was like. It captured the lovely time and the people that we’d met and the warmth. Everything in the track felt like that.

Phil: When we were back in the studio under the stairs, I was making a tape–a birthing tape of my second child–while Paul was doing “Belfast”. That’s when the voice sample appeared. We were both going, “My God, this fits so well, we’ve got to use that”. So we did and that was that.


Paul: A budget version of the classic DX7 favoured by house and techno folk back in the day, because we could afford it. Gritty FM sounds that sounded like the future at the time. It had a preset called solid bass, which became a classic sound in dance music, as heard on “Chim” and all over The Green Album.

Emax II Sampler

Paul: A pro(ish)-level sampler bought after “Chime”. Sampling was my favourite thing back then (and still is, it’s just harder to get away with now!). This brought lovely filtered sampling to the table and is one of the backbones of The Green Album‘s sound.


Paul: This needs no introduction! Phil bought this from a pub singer who made him sit through his meticulous bassline programming of the Pet Shop Boys’ “West End Girls” before he took his money. If only he knew what we were going to do with it!

909 Drum Machine

Paul: I bought this new at a cheap price because it was an old-fashioned analogue machine that no pro-level musician wanted at the time as the world of drum programming was going digital and sample-based. I put up with it for a few years until I started making house, when it came into its own. Imagine my surprise when I got the album Techno – The House Sound of Detroit and heard it all over the album. These guys were using the same cheap equipment as us!

Green Album floppy disk

This floppy disk was one of the heroes in the restoration of the tracks from the Green Album so we could bring it to the live arena. It contains song files for the Atari and backups of the R8 drum machine and the Korg Wavestation synth.

Live shows 1991

Live photos by Martyn Goodacre London 1991.

The Green Album gear

Paul: Other gear used in the making of The Green Album: a Lexicon LXP 1 reverb unit and the classic Alesis Quadraverb. Phil turned up one day with this weird-looking British synth, anOSCar synthesiser–it looks like something Action Man would take into battle and was beige in colour (great for seeing when playing live amongst the smoke machines and strobes of the early 90s). It was love at first hearing. What a growling monster.

Photo by Martyn Goodacre London 1990

Orbital’s Orbital LP (The Green Album) Deluxe Box Set is out now.