Rhythmic noise & industrialised techno from Canada

One of the most highly respected acts in both techno and industrial circles, Orphx have been developing their signature fusion of hypnotic rhythms and experimental noise for the past 30 years.
The Hamilton, Ontario-based duo of Rich Oddie and Christina Sealey started out deeply interested in industrial and noise music, but also embedded in the most ferocious days of the raves in Toronto in the early and mid-90s, choosing to combine the two ad hoc, quickly arriving at a sound that many are only now catching up with.
Their distinctive sound used powerful layered rhythms, modulating soundscapes, and processed vocals and samples to explore themes of psychological conflict and social control.
In recent years, they have been working on new audio-visual performances using infrasound and multi-channel speaker systems, working in collaboration with video artist Patrick Trudeau and McMaster University’s Institute for Music and the Mind.

01. Few names in techno have such a long and rich history as yours does. Do you find that you have had to evolve your sound continuously to remain within the eye of the storm?

Rich: We’ve always made music without thinking too much about how it will be received. The changes in our sound have happened naturally and they haven’t always worked in our favour. We began making industrial music but after a few years we started bringing in elements of techno. It took us a long time to connect with techno audiences and for a while we were not very interested in doing that because our sound was really out of step with the minimal and tech house sounds that were so popular during the early 2000s. And we had found a great home within the European rhythmic noise scene with other artists who were combining industrial music with techno, electro, and drum and bass. But I started making connections with techno artists that we admired through remixes, which were released on the Teletai album in 2008. When we first connected with the Sonic Groove label that same year, darker and heavier sounds were just beginning to become more prominent in techno again and our sound fit well with this first wave of “industrial techno”. We are always changing aspects of our sound and exploring different approaches simply because we are always wanting to try new things and incorporate different influences.

02. Let’s start from your musical roots: what were some of the musical artists you loved the most before you got into making music?

Christie: When I first started making music, I was into both punk and electronic music. Depeche Mode, New Order, and The Cure were particular favourites. I discovered Nitzer Ebb on Depeche Mode’s Violator tour and from there I got into other industrial music like Skinny Puppy and Front 242, and then more experimental artists like Hafler Trio, Zoviet France, etc. When Rich and I met in high school we were both really into shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive and we first started making music in that style.

Rich: That covers pretty much all of our my early influences as well. But I think the bands that really inspired me to make music were Yello, My Bloody Valentine, Skinny Puppy, and SPK.

03. Orphx was created in late 1993 in the Canadian city of Hamilton, Ontario. Traditionally, the local economy was led by the steel and heavy manufacturing industries. The industrial roots of your city obviously fit really well into the stereotype of a fertile ground for electronic music. How do you see it from inside?

Christie: I think we also viewed it that way. The steel industry was in decline and so was the city, leaving behind a lot of empty factories and industrial sites to explore. I think this did influence the music. We didn’t have much money for gear so we used a lot of field recordings from these sites as the basis for tracks or as sample sources. 

Rich: Those places were intriguing because they were mysterious and dangerous and showed you traces from the past, like a time capsule. And there is something strangely fascinating about the decay in those places and the way that nature starts to reclaim the site, creating these weird ecosystems amongst the old machinery. They resembled landscapes from dystopian science fiction and this resonated as we started to discover industrial music. I think that growing up in a place with a lot of poverty and environmental problems also made us more sensitive to those issues and I think that has influenced us as well.

04. Tell us something about the Canadian scene: did you have a mentor or iconic local figure you were idealizing?
What local artist(s) impacted you the most both personally and artistically?

Rich: This area is known for blues, rock and punk, but it’s also had a pretty strong undercurrent for electronic and experimental mutations. As we’ve mentioned before elsewhere, we learned a lot in the beginning from Sublimatus: a group of artists who were really committed to improvisational music and what you could call “the artist life”. Some of our earliest performances were for concerts that we organized with them. There are a few other artists from Southern Ontario that inspired us, like Mind Skelp-cher, The Infant Cycle, and Teste.

05. You’ve been playing and recording for almost 30 years right now.
Do you see any difference between being in a band today and back when the internet was still in its infancy?

Christie: Yes, there are big differences. From the instruments to how we recorded and performed in those days. Not to mention the obvious difference in how we promoted and shared our music.

 Rich: The Xcreteria label I created with our original bandmate Aron was all based around fax communication and paper catalogues and master tapes that were sent through the mail. Advertising and promotion was done in printed fanzines, on handmade posters pasted around the city, and on college radio stations. It was a bit more challenging to get in touch with other people and get your music heard but it was also more rewarding in some ways because it required a bit more creativity and effort.

06. ‘With its sonic and lyrical imagery of watery depths, lost love, and transmutations, Orphx’ sound offers a sonic landscape that is clearly inspired by personal and social turmoil but points towards the possibility of creative transformation.
What kind of emotions do you try to channel in your music?

Rich: I think that describes it really well. Our music has a cathartic quality to it and it’s often inspired by difficult situations and emotions: social and environmental problems that concern us as well as personal problems. Sometimes the emphasis is more on ecstatic experience or simply losing yourself in the physicality of the music but there is almost always some reference to this core idea of working through difficult times and emotions to try to find healing or, you said, “creative transformation”. A lot of the imagery and ideas are inspired by reading about perspectives on this idea from psychology and different religious or spiritual traditions. The idea of descending into the underworld to gain wisdom is a central part of the Orphic tradition that inspired our name.

07. Let’s talk about your relationship with the studio.
Is it always a ‘’happy place’’ for you or do you have periods of inactivity and/or frustration?

Rich: It’s usually my favourite place to be though I do have moments of frustration. I’m working pretty consistently but I’m not always happy with the results. I’ve found it particularly difficult to find inspiration over the past year.

Christie:  I can say that I definitely work in waves: sometimes really frenetically and at other periods very intermittently. There is often frustration. But I think that this is ultimately a good thing and part of the challenge. For me, if it was really easy, I wouldn’t be interested in it and it wouldn’t have the same kind of addictive draw for me.

08. Generally speaking, does your approach tend to differ when you are working solo versus working together?
What are the musical things you both agree on? And what do you disagree on?

Christie: I think that we often work best when we are improvising together. I guess I work the same way on solo stuff, at least in the initial stages, since I often spend hours creating sounds and patterns with the record button on. It is hard to determine what things always agree or disagree on. That seems to change. But I think in general we are in agreement on the directions that we want to go in and the qualities that make a good sound. We do often disagree on things though: stylistically, structurally or conceptually. But I think that this is also a good thing because more often than not we inspire each other and push each other out of our comfort zones and this drives our work.

09. In 2020, your non self-released album Fragmentation (originally issued by Malignant Records in 1996) was remastered and re-released courtesy of Hospital Productions, with a boatload of additional material for completist fans.
While the original Fragmentation is an obscure enough release to justify putting it out in its original form, the new version has been shored up with a massive number of compilation tracks, rarities and live cuts, elevating the release to something of a time capsule of the era for the band. How does Fragmentation compare to your previous albums?

Rich: Fragmentation had more complex compositions and a much stronger focus on rhythm than our earlier releases. That album involved all the gear and techniques we had been exploring during the first few years of the project: reel to reel tape machines, contact microphones, effects pedals, feedback circuits, location recordings, and a small collection of synths and drum machines. I think it was a big step forward from the early cassettes and you can hear the beginnings of the turn toward techno in a few of the tracks. I’m still really happy with that album and it was a great experience to revisit that material.

10. When you look back to your career with all its highs and lows, can you imagine having done things differently? Is it more fate or choice?

Christie: I don’t think I could imagine things differently. Either way we can’t go back and change anything anyway and I am thankful for all of the amazing experiences we have had and the people that we have met through this project. I don’t think that either of us could possibly stop making music so it will be interesting to see what we are doing in another 30 years.

11. What do the short term plans for Orphx look like?

Rich: Like most people, this past year has been a struggle for us. The loss of income from touring has been hard and we’ve both had to deal with personal challenges that have been created or worsened by the pandemic. So we have a long list of projects to complete. Fortunately I think we’re both finding more inspiration again. At the moment we are working on a lot of new studio material: two separate albums and some extra material that will likely be released first as a 12”. We’ll also be reviving some of our side projects and collaborations over the next few months. Beyond that, we’re really looking forward to touring again.

12. Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us, we greatly appreciate your courtesy

Thank you!

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