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Orphx, Techno Born in the City of Steel

Meet the 20-year strong industrial-techno act hailing from the Steel City of Hamilton, Ontario.

Jesse Ship

Orphx hail from the Steel City, aka Hammertown aka Hamilton, a working class auto and smelting-based town in southern Ontario, Canada. So it's no surprise that their musical evolution has kept them building on hallmarks of techno, pioneered first by Kraftwerk, which crossed over into the disillusioned realms of Skinny Puppy, Front Line Assembly and other 90s industrial acts.

For over 20 years, Richard Oddie and Christine Sealey have been mostly producing their music live using analogue synths, reel to reel, computers and the odd home made instrument. Their longstanding dedication to rapturous pounding techno has been rewarded with performances at the legendary Berghain in Berlin and Movement 2014 in Detroit.

Step into their underworld and emerge with knowledge and wonder.

THUMP: Where did the name come from?
Richard: It was a reference to the Orphic mystery cult in ancient Greece. We got this idea from the myth of Orpheus where he has to enter the underworld to rescue his lost love Eurydice. We had the idea of entering the underworld to gain lost knowledge from the unconscious.

So you've been making music for 20 years together? How did that start?
Christine: We met in high school. I had a synth. We started playing together and formed a droney/noisey shoe gaze band with a friend of ours.

R: We were into SBK (Sebastian Krüger), Skinny Puppy, 90s stuff. Rave and techno was a big thing around then. We brought the noise in with the techno.

Nice. What other sorts of music are you influenced by?
R: Our influence was more late 70s industrial and 90s dub techno like Basic Channel (Mauritz Von Oswald, Mark Ernestus) and their Chain Reaction label, Underground Resistance, that kind of stuff. We also like Mika Vainio who's been around since the '80s a lot. We played with him last week in Germany even. Jeff Mills, Drexciya and Dopplereffekt. There's definitely an EBM thread there too

Where do you think techno and industrial intersected?
R: For us, it was music that we were excited and passionate about. But there's a connection there. The 70s industrial sounds from the UK, and the 90s Berlin techno made us think of cities in dire straights, economic upheaval, all the facets of it.

Has your way of making music changed over the years?
C: Yeah, that's changed a lot. We used to have a Mirage sampler and weird handmade instruments, reel to reels, experimental music tools and whatever we could find at thrift shops. We had drum beats made of samples and field recordings. We still do that to an extent, but we moved from computers and now we've shifted to hands on gear and modular stuff.

Is that a retro throwback?
C: Sonically, not really but more how we work with it and what became available. Say you have a new tool to create music with. You try it out and it inspires your music to create new ways of working. Five to six years ago we started feeling that computers were really limiting for live performances and our stage shows. I started getting into modular stuff in an attempt to expand on how we were working on stage and put more elements of chance into the live set, and make it more hands on.

R: More like, to improve things with the live show. We have a rough plan when we play but we improvise the sets together. It's a lot more fun to play off the crowd and energy.

C: That also influences our last five years of recording.

How would you describe your sound right now?
R: Industrial techno, for lack of a better term. It's become a trend but we've been doing it since the late 90s at least.

How does it feel that techno sounds are becoming more popular in DJ circles?
R: The recent trend in harder and darker techno sounds has given us more attention in the last few years. People are getting into it more and here we are just doing it for so long. It's been really good for exposure.

So what are you up to musically?
C: We're working on a 12" for Berlin-based Sonic Groove records. We've been doing one for once a year since 2009. We hope to get some good material from our live shows for that. We've also got a full length coming at some point by the end of the year. That's way over due [laughs]. Our last full length came out in 2011.

So you are from Hamilton, Ontario. Has the city helped influence you guys?
R: Yeah, the atmosphere there is diverse, interesting. It was certainly influential from our early start and there's a really good art scene there now. There are a lot of interesting people to work with. The smaller community helps you feel like you're really part of that, as opposed to a larger community like in Toronto.

Do you have any favourite spots to play?
R: Yeah, Berghain in Berlin. We just did an amazing set there. It has such a great sound system. You can hear every detail of your sound. We improvise our set and it's important to know what's coming next. If it's muddy and unclear, it's difficult.

C: Also the way they set you up in the middle of the crowd, you feel the energy of everyone right there beside you.

R: Mansion and Format events in Toronto are both encouraging party promoters. It's nice to see some diversification of sounds and some more experimental artists.

What else do you have coming out?
R: We have collaboration with Ancient Methods, another Berlin based act. It's called Eschaton, we did a record on Token Records. We've got some shows coming up too.

Have you had any favourite moments from Movement 2014 so far?
R: We've done six shows this month, four overseas, and two now, but last night at the No Way Back (Interdimensional Transmissions) after party was one of the best.

C: So much of our work is improvised; you will never get the same sound twice. You turn a nob a millimeter and everything changes. When it works, it's so good. Sometimes we're always in synch from start to finish, playing off of each other. The crowd was totally there.

How do you perform?
R: We have two laptops playing Ableton, two controllers, and APC 40s set at various parameters. I do percussion and bass lines. Christie does everything else on the modular. They're both synced to temp changes. We have a rough plan when we start and the material is based on studio material but it's not identical. It's like, pieces of our tracks from the last 20 years.

C: And we make up stuff that's completely new. Adam [from Sonic Groove] was like, I want that and that section for the new release, and we're like uhh… we have no idea what we just did... but sure!

Do you record your own samples?
R: We try to record live sets, and when we were practicing for the tour, we'll record our run-throughs and go back to it.

That sounds like a hectic way to make music!
C: But it's fun! Eight to ten years ago we were using computers a lot more, before Ableton, you had to have a lot on the backing track. You couldn't play it all live, it was much more difficult, especially with traveling and playing. Now it's a lot more interesting for us to change things up and improvise.

@Jesse_Ship is a freelance music journalist and former Juno Juror in the Electronic Music category.