The Hartnoll brothers of Orbital reflect on their career: “Sometimes you question why you’re putting in all this effort and only getting half the reward.”

Estimated read time 7 min read

Orbital is composed of siblings Phil and Paul Hartnoll. They grew up in Sevenoaks, Kent and initially worked as bricklayers for their father’s company before beginning to make music in 1987. Their debut track, Chime, reached the Top 20 in 1990. Blending underground and stadium electronic music, Orbital quickly rose to fame and became one of the most popular British dance acts of the 1990s. The re-release of their album The Green Album, originally from 1991, will be available on 19 April. They will also be touring the UK starting on 24 April.


I used to wear that sweater all the time. My mom knitted it for my dad, but when he saw it, he rejected it. So, I decided to keep it for myself. I adored it. When the rave scene became popular, so did oversized clothing, making the jumper even more perfect. However, one day in 1992, I had a hangover and accidentally left it on a train while traveling to London. I searched for it in lost and found, but unfortunately, it was never recovered. I was devastated. But, we did have some great memories together. It even accompanied me to my first Glastonbury experience.

This photo was taken in the cupboard-under-the-stairs-turned-office at my parents’ old house. We had just been on Top of the Pops and Chime was in the Top 40, so the Sevenoaks Chronicle wanted to interview us. We’d never done press before, hence the incredulous expression on my face. The photographer would have been saying: “Can you pretend you’re doing something?” And I’d have been thinking: “Is this what you want? Really?”

Before receiving media training, we were living out our dream – taken from the anonymity of Dunton Green and thrust into superstardom. Although I was a nerdy and geeky person, I had a strong determination and “get me the hell out of here” attitude. One of my earliest memories of my brother perfectly captures his personality. At the age of three, I was watching TV when I heard a commotion. Phil burst into the living room, with my mom and grandmother chasing after him. They caught him and started playfully smacking each of his buttocks. I saw him taking it, but also accepting it. That’s who Phil is: he acts before he thinks, does what he wants, and deals with the consequences later. It may cause trouble, but it’s also exhilarating.

My sibling is four years my senior. They were my role model until I reached 12 years old. As they entered adolescence, they began to tease and taunt me, causing us to grow apart. Prior to this, I would blindly follow them due to their confident demeanor, although like most people, they were likely hiding insecurities. My brother, Phil, was known as the toughest person in our school and had a reputation as a vigilante. One day, he witnessed an older student bullying a younger one in the cafeteria line and retaliated by shoving the bully’s head into the ground. This incident solidified his intimidating reputation and anyone looking for a fight would back off upon discovering I was “Hartnoll’s sibling.”

While working as bricklayers, I would bring a tape recorder to listen to pirate radio with my coworker, Phil. During lunch breaks, we would imagine what it would be like to be in the Cocteau Twins. Eventually, Phil purchased a drum machine and I played guitar as we attempted to create music similar to Cabaret Voltaire. In his eccentric manner, Phil decided to travel to America to explore hip-hop. Feeling frustrated, I focused on composing music on my own. As my music gained popularity, Phil wanted to join in and we formed a band together.

In terms of our collaborative dynamic, he is the energetic rabbit and I am the steady tortoise. I am responsible for the writing and do the majority of the labor, while he offers feedback from behind the scenes, such as “That’s great!” or “That’s too complex!” Having a sounding board can be helpful, but with three children, I begin to question why I am putting in all this effort and only receiving half of the profits. There were moments when I struggled to come to terms with this. Any division within Orbital has been instigated by me.

After a decade of therapy, our relationship has greatly improved. Instead of trying to change my partner, I am focusing on improving how I handle difficult personalities. This has led to a sense of calm in both of us. Previously, I would wake up in the middle of the night, mentally arguing with my partner. But now, I simply get up to use the bathroom and return to bed. We are currently in the best state our relationship has ever been in.


My sibling previously dated a nurse and now I am wearing her scrubs. I am unsure of the reason. This experience has felt like being suddenly immersed in a challenging situation.

When I was a child, I had a wild side but was also very caring. I didn’t have toy soldiers or an Action Man, but I had a doll named Betty. I was happy when my brother was born. Since my dad was always busy with work, I took on a nurturing role when we were young.

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I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Paul has Autism Spectrum Disorder. As children, Paul would often be found studying in the corner while I struggled with dyslexia. At the time, dyslexia was not a well-known term and I did not excel in school. My mother faced difficulties with her menstrual cycle and took a medication called Halcion, which she tried to hide from us. She often blamed me for everything and Paul grew up in that tense environment. As I went through puberty, I became an emotional support for my mother, but I was not prepared for that role.

I have a significant indentation on my arm from a large scar. When I was 14, I gave myself some DIY tattoos, including one for the Anti-Nazi League. My mother eventually took me to see a doctor who could remove the tattoos by cutting them off and using a cauterizing tool. Feeling remorseful, my mother then suggested getting a tattoo to cover up the scar, which I did.

During this time, Paul believed that we were not as close. However, I was actually dealing with numerous challenging situations at home and struggling with school. Despite this, there were also many joyful moments, such as attending parties thrown by my mom’s cousins where Motown and Trojan Records tracks were played by DJs.

My brother and I have shared many enjoyable moments together. As children, we played a game called Shiftybum while taking baths, where we would hang off the side of the tub and then jump in. In 1994, while on stage at Glastonbury, I jokingly suggested we play Shiftybum, which made him laugh. Another memory was when we were playing at the top of a flume in Scandinavia, and it started raining heavily during our performance of The Box, inspired by Hammer House of Horror. I was concerned for my brother’s safety, urging him to get down before we were struck by lightning. He was dedicated to his art, and nothing could stop him.

Paul has separated the band on approximately four or five occasions. During these breaks, we did not communicate with each other. It was difficult because I not only lost my band, but also my brother. Fortunately, our relationship has greatly improved since he has undergone therapy. I used to be concerned because it seemed like he never truly enjoyed being in Orbital. He was always focused on what was coming next. Now, he is less stressed and there is a lot more harmony between us.


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