DJ pioneers The Orb to play Belly Up Aspen

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
Pioneering ambient house DJs The Orb will perform at Belly Up Aspen on Thursday.
Courtesy photo |

If You Go …

What: The Orb

Where: Belly Up Aspen

When: Thursday, May 7, 9 p.m.

Cost: $15

Tickets: Belly Up box office;

The Orb’s Thomas Fehlmann and Alex Paterson have been working behind the turntables together for 25 years.

The London-based pioneers make their local debut at Belly Up Aspen on Thursday during a four-show swing through Colorado. Credited with spearheading the ambient house genre – and best known for songs like “Little Fluffy Clouds” and “Blue Room” – create otherworldly soundscapes of layered synths, vocal samples and drum beats, crafting danceable tracks alongside slower-paced psychedelic atmospheric compositions.

The duo has a new album, “Moonbuilding 2703 AD,” set for release in June. They’ll preview some of it at the Aspen show, according to Fehlmann. After a quarter century, he said, he and Paterson get as excited to record and perform as they did when Fehlmann joined the Orb.

“It still triggers new ideas, gets us excited, and more than ever we feel we’ve reached a level where we have spontaneous responses to each others’ ideas,” Fehlmann said from a recent tour stop in Los Angeles. “We don’t have to explain much.”

In the years since the Orb’s 1991 debut – “Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld” – the pair has been at the forefront of electronic music, creating lengthy, absorbing tracks that take listeners on a journey of samples and synth textures that imagine the sounds of the future. You can hear their trippy influence on electronic music among the new generation of house DJs, though the duo has evolved through years of experimentation and collaborations that have seen them teaming with artists like dub pioneer Lee “Scratch” Perry and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour.

For live sets, they present reworked versions of the compositions fans know from records and clubs. For “Little Fluffly Clouds,” for instance, they combine bits of the original with the remix they recorded with Perry for their collaborative 2012 album, “The Observer in the Star House.”

“We always attempt to create new things as we go along,” said Fehlmann. “That’s a perfect situation, because we want to be as entertained ourselves as the audience is. … To be honest, it sounds different every night.”

Over a quarter-century together, the Orb has weathered cycles of popularity for electronic music like the European DJ boom of the early 1990s and the form’s current explosion in the U.S.

“It comes in waves of intensity and interest,” said Fehlmann. “Sometimes you have a lot of new people in the crowd. But with the Orb, we have a faithful fan base that is our age [Fehlmann is 57 and Paterson is 55].”

At a recent show in San Diego, Fehlmann recalled, a man in the audience with his father and son introduced Fehlmann to three generations of Orb fans.

Of course, technological advances since the early ‘90s have changed the tools of the trade for the Orb, moving their track-building onto new digital platforms. The impact on the Orb’s creative process has been minimal, Fehlmann said, though it’s sped up the time it takes for a track to go from his imagination to our speakers.

“The way from the idea to the result is much quicker,” he said. “You come up with something and it works in the blink of an eye. … We embrace it, but we don’t consider ourselves slaves to technology.”

Over the years, the duo has played massive festivals and arenas around the world. So playing a small club like Belly Up is a treat for the Orb.

“It’s just a more personal, intimate vibe and we like that situation,” Fehlmann said. “We like the see the eyes of the people and the smiling faces, hopefully.”

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