Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Orb Circus

“Not my circus, not my monkeys” – Polish proverb

The other day I checked in on Twitter, something I don’t do very often because of the key flaw in Twitter; the more people you follow, the harder it is to keep up with people or gauge what’s going on. Anyway, I came across this message from @swearymonkey:

I clicked through and then read an extensive rant from Kris Weston (KW aka Thrash), formerly of The Orb, against ‘Dr’ Alex Paterson (AP) and other Orb members and collaborators over the years (I’d actually forgotten that @swearymonkey was Thrash until then to be honest).

He originally posted the rant to Twitter with this message:

The general gist of the rant is summed up here:

“As a result of the constant unauthorised re-releases, the unauthorised remasters by people i would never let touch my music, the fraudulent royalties, the lies, the shameful exploitation of my work by Island / Universal Records, the stealing of my work and renaming it, the illegal broadcasting of my music at gigs and such without my permission, the unauthorised use of my intellectual property and one other seriously fucked up thing I have decided to wage all out war against these people until such time as they stop exploiting my work, give me the money they owe me and GTFO.”

Much of what KW writes is contained within a Gearslutz forum interview he did towards the end of last year. In short, having been responsible for what was The Orb’s creative and commercial peak, KW had received little recognition for his percentage of the workload at the time, subsequently not received his fair share of the royalties and then seen his hard work passed off as someone else’s and his production credits dropped. His opinion of AP comes across loud and clear:

“The truth is Alex Patterson is a DJ. He cannot play an instrument or write music on a computer or anything else […] [H]e has spent the last 25 years in the press trying to cover up the fact he plays no instrument and doesn’t know how to use any piece of music technology. He can hardly manage to send an email!”

While I realised this was just one side of the story, I felt for Kris – I hate injustice in all of its forms and he seemed to have been wronged constantly during and after his time with The Orb (and I can only imagine what the other “seriously fucked up thing”, that “serious allegation against him [Alex Paterson] and Youth which I’m not getting into here” is).

The Orb's Kris 'Thrash' Weston and Alex Paterson, 1993. (Image source: Sound On Sound/The Ferrari Brothers)
Why do I care about The Orb? My sister introduced me to The Orb’s debut album ‘Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld’ when I was around 14/15 and it was like nothing I’d ever heard before. Expansive, richly layered compositions laced with ambient and dub that the more you listened to, the more you heard. If that first listen wasn’t life-changing, it was definitely an epiphany for me. Its depth and beauty was a far cry from the hard-edged rave music I was listening to at the time; I even wrote an essay about it for GCSE English. As with many of the bands you love during your formative, teenage years, The Orb’s music has stuck with me ever since. Then ‘Pomme Fritz’ came along in 1994 and as much as I tried to love it, it just sounded like a meandering, directionless, self-indulgent mess. Listening to it while I type this, my stance on it has softened slightly, but it’s nowhere near the exciting, immersive and captivating Orb material that went before.

Years later this dip in form was explained to me during an interview with Alex Paterson. He said they’d thrown out the original version of the album and rushed together the version that was released to spite their record company who he said had left them out of pocket.

Anyway, I cast my mind back to that interview with AP (or Twattercake as Kris often calls him in his rant) for IDJ magazine and a feature called ‘Pioneers of Live Dance’. If what KW says is true, then interviewing AP for this was misguided and almost laughable, although nobody has had KW’s side of the story until now and AP’s had been the only voice available. As KW has extensively quoted interviews with AP during his rant, I thought I would put a more extensive transcript of the interview I did with AP out there. I even asked a couple of fellow Orb loving friends on Facebook if I should and they said to go for it so I did.

As you can see, there was nothing much groundbreaking that was discussed during the interview, but I felt it might help KW’s cause. So I sent him the link and the exchange (where I've clearly, perhaps prematurely, taken his side) panned out as follows:

Fair enough you’d probably argue, KW does say at the start of his rant not to contact him about it. So I left it at that and moved on. I thought I’d read through his Kickstarter (or Krisstarter as he’s called it) page on his website and thought I’d give some support to him in the way that he actually DID want it, by contributing towards the funding of his new album. It was then I came across this sentence:

“I've found myself caring more how I'm living than what I'm earning."

This resonated with me massively due to difficulties I have recently been through personally, followed by taking stock of what is truly important in life (more of which in another blog perhaps). So I decided to tweet the quote. The following conversation then happened, which I thought was mindless, not-very-funny gibberish but light-hearted gibberish nonetheless:

Hilarious, I'm sure you'll agree. His reaction, while fairly polite in its tone, seemed completely unfair and I was a bit miffed though. I showed the exchange to my wife and she said: “This looks like two mad people talking to each other. He sounds like an arsehole, why do you care?”

Indeed. This was a complete stranger I was chatting to, and by bestowing him with positive qualities it made me no better than a rabid One Direction fan. Besides, as a music journalist that has always treated interviewees as people above all else, equals rather than stars or idols, I should have known better. But if supporting somebody is annoying, if caring about people who have made some of the music that defined your teenage years and beyond is annoying, if showing some compassion is annoying, then I think I’ll just continue to be as annoying as I possibly can.

I come out of this wondering what the full truth is, but even if it’s somewhere in between what AP says in interviews and what KW says in his rant (and his ex-manager and others previously involved with the Orb say), it seems to be a pretty negative and bitter situation. With my own personal dealings with KW taken into account, it seems that neither party is particularly nice or covers themselves in glory: one man responsible for stealing all of the credit (and royalties) for somebody else’s work and another man who, understandably angry, is lashing out at people without considering whether they may actually be trying to help him. At a time like this, you need support, people fighting your corner, especially if those people are the ones you would like to fund your new album project.

The moral is, just because people have created something you love (like ‘Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld’), it doesn’t mean you would love the people that have created it. I genuinely hope that AP puts forward his side of the story (and holds his hands up if need be) and that KW gets the credit, respect and royalties he seems to be long overdue. In the meantime, I shall continue to listen to ‘…Ultraworld’ without any of this buzzing around my head and souring the experience.

I have to take the standpoint that this isn’t my fight to fight, which is what reminded me of the Polish proverb above: ‘not my circus, not my monkeys’. This battle between KW and AP is not my fight to fight, and they’re not my monkeys to train.

PS Since I wrote this, KW has unblocked me on Twitter. Storms. Teacups. Monkeys. Circuses.

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