The Orb are an English electronic music group known for spawning the genre of ambient house. Founded in 1988 by Alex Paterson and KLF member Jimmy Cauty, The Orb began as ambient and dub DJs in London. Its early performances were inspired by ambient and electronic artists of the 1970s and 1980s, most notably Brian Eno and Kraftwerk. Because of its trippy sound, the Orb developed a cult following among clubbers “coming down” from drug-induced highs. The Orb has maintained its drug-related and science fiction themes despite personnel changes including the departure of Cauty and other Orb members Kris Weston, Andy Falconer, Simon Phillips, and Andy Hughes. Paterson has been the only permanent member, continuing to work as the Orb with the Swiss-German producer Thomas Fehlmann and, later, with Killing Joke’s Martin “Youth” Glover and Tim Bran of Dreadzone.
Alex Paterson prides the Orb on manipulating obscure samples beyond recognition on its albums and during its concerts; however, his unauthorised use of other artists’ works has led to disputes with musicians, most notably with Rickie Lee Jones and Steve Reich. During its live shows of the 1990s, the Orb performed using digital audio tape machines optimised for live mixing and sampling before switching to laptops and digital media. Despite changes in performance method, the Orb maintained its colourful light shows and psychedelic imagery in concert. These visually intensive performances prompted critics to compare the group to Pink Floyd.
The Orb’s critical and commercial success in the United Kingdom peaked in the early 1990s with the albums The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld and U.F.Orb, the latter of which reached #1 on the British album charts in 1992. This success led to its infamous appearance on Top of the Pops, where the group showcased its quirky style by playing chess (an interest of Paterson’s since his early youth) while the group’s single “Blue Room” ran in the background. The Orb’s mid-1990s albums were met with mixed reactions from British critics; however, its work received praise from American publications such as Rolling Stone. The group experimented with vocalists on its next two albums, which critics generally described as bland and uninspired. The Orb then shifted gears to a minimal techno style spearheaded by member Thomas Fehlmann, releasing its new material on the record label Kompakt.