Are We Here?’ by Orbital, from the album Snivilisation (1994)
Given my deep, almost obsessive love for Orbital’s entire oeuvre, it seems unfair to pick just one track to discuss out of the many they’ve released. The Hartnoll brothers have provided more of the soundtrack to my life than any other musicians – there’s no doubt I’ve listened to some of their tracks hundreds of times – and were at the forefront of electronic music for an entire decade. Nevertheless, if there’s one single track which I come back to more than any other, it’s ‘Are We Here?’, so… here we are.
The album it comes from, Snivilisation, was their third and marked something of a change in direction: less club-friendly, more experimental, and certainly more ambitious than their previous work. For a long time it was my least favourite of theirs purely because it was so different from everything else they’ve done, but as I listened to it more, I slowly realized it was their best. This seems to have been the opinion of many Orbital fans. You have that knee-jerk “Play your old shit! Your good shit!” reaction, then you actually give it a chance and see how good it is.
Now, if you listen to ‘Are We Here?’ by itself, it’s magnificent – 15 minutes plus of typically emotional and heartfelt loops cut together to almost feel like it’s telling a story. As the penultimate track of Snivilisation, listened to within that context, it becomes something like the greatest thing I’ve ever heard. If the album is, as I occasionally suspect, a concept birth-to-death thing, then ‘Are We Here?’ is its centrepiece – the last days of a being’s consciousness before slipping away into the dreamworld of ‘Attached’. That sounds awesomely pretentious, and maybe it is, but for me, it’s a religious experience when listened to in sequence.
The old criticism of ‘too repetitive’ would be an easy way to dismiss ‘Are We Here?’, and I imagine I probably did exactly that upon first listen. Now when it comes on, I can’t help but marvel at its complexity, how every element is perfectly timed to come in at just the right moment. It makes me feel very small and insignificant, but it also makes me totally okay with that.