How we made Orbital's Chime

Interviews by Dave Simpson
‘That’s brilliant. Turn the knob!’ … Phil, left, and Paul. Photograph: Andre Csillag/REX/Shutterstock

Philip Hartnoll, electronics and production

We made all our early music at our parents’ house in a cupboard under the stairs, just like Harry Potter. Each time we got a new synthesiser or sequencer, we’d be like little kids unwrapping a Christmas present. One of us would discover a new sound and the other would go: “That’s brilliant. Turn the knob!”

Paul was in charge of things like whether a song lasted a minute or an hour, and I made all the squelching noises. Initially, we’d been trying to copy New Order and Donna Summer. We were going to clubs when they were still called discos, but then someone came in with a tape and said: “This is the new music, it’s called ‘house!’” And we loved it straight away. Before we knew it, we had our own collection of house-y songs.

We called ourselves Orbital after the M25, the ring road around London that ferried people to illegal raves. But I never actually drove round it myself. I preferred going to the Mutoid Waste Company parties in central London. Five quid in, acid house all night and people dressed like something from Mad Max. They’d have giant sculptures, like a weeping willow made out of metal shards, with pools of fire everywhere. You’d never get away with it now, because of health and safety, but it was amazing.

When Jazzy M, a pirate radio DJ and record shop owner, played Chime to a load of other DJs in his shop one night, apparently they all put their hands up, wanting vinyl copies. He had to explain that there weren’t any – it was just on a cassette. But that started the initial buzz.

The next thing we knew, we were on Top of the Pops. They wouldn’t let us play live, so we performed in T-shirts reading “No” and “Poll tax”. We placed the mains plugs on top of our instruments so that everyone could see we weren’t really playing. They didn’t let us back on the show for six years.

Paul Hartnoll, keyboards and sequencers

I was in a garage band called Noddy and the Satellites. It was very easy to drift away and do something else. I’d seen Gary Numan performing Are “Friends” Electric? on Top of the Pops, but I only really got into electronics when Phil bought himself a drum machine. I got myself a synthesiser and came up with the basis of Chime in a spare two hours between finishing work washing dishes and going to the pub.

I was trying to pair a four-track recorder with my dad’s two-track cassette recorder to make a six-track studio. This meant I had to come up with six different sounds or melodies to play simultaneously. I certainly wasn’t trying to make a hit record. The recording costs were £3.75, which was the price of a “metal” cassette tape.

When we played Birmingham, audiences reacted like we were the second coming of Christ

When some of the local soul boys played our stuff to Jazzy M, I was summoned to meet him at his record shop in Croydon. He was a proper evangelist in terms of getting house music off the ground in the UK and was always telling us: “Make music like this. Then come back.” As soon as he heard Chime, he decided to start a label, calling it Ohzone. We sold 2,000 records then six major labels came after us and we signed to London Records. Their A&R man, Pete Tong, bought records from Jazzy’s shop.

At first, nobody knew what to make of us. One review said Chime sounded like a fridge – but at 22, you just think: “Fuck off, grandad!” When we started gigging, we’d play somewhere like [experimental music club] Oscillate in Birmingham and the audience reacted like we were the second coming of Christ.

Acid house was so new that we were all enthusiastic amateurs, making it up as we went along. Our phone number was written on the label in the middle of our record so we’d get calls from people like David Holmes in Belfast. He became a pivotal figure in British dance music, but when he called us to ask us to play in his home town he was still a hairdresser living with his mum.

•Orbital play Brighton Racecourse on 29 June and Zebedee’s Yard, Hull, on 30 June. Then touring until 10 August.