Leftfield/Orbital: London Arena

London Arena seems to be accomodating those who fancy their saucer-eyed gurners' soundtrack to have a little variety...

You could look at it in terms of a fightback. The pioneers of home-listening techno and their demi-superstar DJ cohorts, reclaiming the populist territory that half-arsed two-step and cheese-ridden trance has occupied of late. For sure, there’s a party over here, but it’s pumping out enough off-beam headfuckery to scare a horde of dummy-sucking Gatecrashers into the cowering foetal position.

In principle, at least. Yet with NYE 2000 failing to throw up one obvious standout bash, London Arena seems to be accomodating those who fancy their saucer-eyed gurners’ soundtrack to have a little variety. So, when Afrika Bambaataa spins a baffling, excellent set incorporating DMX, Sisqo’s ‘Thong Song’ and white-gloved rave-action, people dance, punch the air and whoop like baboons.

Inevitably though, it’s Orbital who truly tear the place up. Hailed with the drawing of a vast curtain and some hilariously pompous Wagnerian strings, it quickly becomes apparent that the Hartnoll brothers have a little more than lowest-common-denominator crowd-pleasing on their minds. Electronic-jamming through the jagged loops of ‘Way Out’, making the version from ’99’s wonderful, undervalued ‘The Middle Of Nowhere’ LP seem conservative by contrast. Follow this with hacked-up reworkings of ‘No Where To Run’, ‘The Box’ and ‘I Don’t Know You People’, and we witness the thin experimentalist/crowdpleaser line walked with brilliant and fearless impunity.

The new material showcased tonight, including an extraordinary new track of expansive beatascapes akin to Autechre in the Nevada desert, betrays a duo reinventing themselves at every turn, and still allowing themselves the freedom to run through old faves ‘Satan’ and ‘Chime’. Orbital remain a revelation.

‘Chime’ doesn’t, contrary to expectations, summon in the New Year (Orbital’s set finishes at 11:30). Instead, courtesy of Andy Weatherall, we get Plastikman’s unanthemic and undancable ‘Helikopter’. Idiosyncratic? Weatherall’s yer man.

Official headliners Leftfield currently find themselves in the awkward position of providing some of the boldest digital electronics available, and being unable or unwilling to expand on this status. Some of the finest moments of their back catalogue are overlooked in favour of dragging out the likes of ‘Chant Of A Poor Man’ to their logical conclusion; sure, it sounds great, but after 20 minutes of it you long for some of Orbital’s wide-eyed flights of fancy, a chink of light in this coal-black battery.

Still, when Neil Barnes and Paul Daley get it right, they’re matchless. ‘Inspection: Check One’ is, as ever, the brutish and perverse sound of classic dub pumped with dinosaur amphetamines, while ‘Phat Planet’ kicks up almighty dust clouds, going nowhere and forcing you to bow down in reverence. More often than not it’s magnificent stuff, but reining in their excesses would make it more so.

By the time X-press 2 take to the decks for an epic journey through funky house dynamics and curious, eclectic excursions (Fugees anyone?) people have been dancing for seven hours, and the dancefloor slowly begins to disperse. A shame, because Carl Craig’s arrival at 6am sees a hundred or so spannered stalwarts treated to euphoric Latin house and chunky techno.

A fine night out then, albeit one leaving you with the satisfaction only the completion of very arduous tasks can bring. And if nothing else, the prospect of

new Orbital material in 2001 means we’re set for a good year.

Noel Gardner

Images: openup2images.com