Orbital At Glastonbury Review: Classic rave hits and VIP guest spots

Saturday’s Park Stage headliners roll back the years with the help of Tilda Swinton (And Mel C).


by Ian Harrison |
Updated on

It’s the Hartnoll brothers’ seventh appearance at Glastonbury, and past materialisations have always given the fans something to chew over. In 1994, they played a drum machine-busting set at the old NME stage which went down as one of the most vital of the original rave era. Then in 2010 their festival-closing performance of the Doctor Who theme saw a guest appearance by none other than then-Timelord Matt Smith, wearing, of course a pair of Orbital’s signature head torches.

Are there similar thrills coming our way tonight at the Park Stage? It seems so. When Orbital take their positions in silhouette behind their gear, a third figure, dressed in white with regulation headwear, walks to the front of the stage and begins to talk in calming yet commanding tones. After Sparks brought Cate Blanchett onstage at the Park last year, another noted actor is getting involved. It’s Tilda Swinton – who starred in the video for the duo’s 1996 single The Box – reciting the dialogue from Deeper, the 1989 flipside of their debut single Chime. Instructing us to “let your mind go blank,” she counts us down from ten to full hypnosis. Then: “Think of nothing.”

It's easier said than done. This cherry-picked set from across the group’s career comes in at the banging end of their oeuvre. Sulphurous Brexit-curse Dirty Rat (with the voice and video images of Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods, who’s playing across site) and the evil Satan/Beelzedub are both sudden techno convulsions. Lush 3-1 and Impact (The Earth Is Burning), now with a Greta Thunberg sample, transmit mental fracture and eco-catastrophe. Then, with lava lamp screen visuals, things shift again with the elegiac inner-space travelogue Halcyon + On + On.

Orbital’s VIP guest list expands with the Spice Girls-sampling Spicy. To go with its rave pianos and acid squelching, Spice Girl Mel C comes on, also in white, to sing the hook live. Inevitably, the Saturday night revellers go wild. All that remains is for a consignment of giant glowing rubber balls – think a clubbed-up version of the Rovers off ’60s TV show The Prisoner – to be released into the crowd and for glorious versions of Belfast and Chime to bring us back where we started.

Or nearly: Tilda Swinton has to return and wake us all up from hypnosis with the instruction, “You will make the world a better place.” Was it a dream? The kind of unique and transporting experience Glastonbury specialises in, it most certainly was.


Deeper (with Tilda Swinton)

Dirty Rat

Satan / Beelzedub

Lush 3-1

Impact (The Earth Is Burning)

Halcyon + On + On

Spicy (with Mel C)



Stay on MOJO4MUSIC for complete coverage of Glastonbury 2024’s best music including ColdplayIDLES, Fontaines D.C.SqueezePaul Heaton and Fatboy Slim's Housemartin's reunionDexysLCD SoundsystemPJ Harvey and more.

Picture: Orbital at Coachella 2024. Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty

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