Holly Dicker finds out how this revered noise and industrial act started making waves in the techno scene.
I met with the pair in Amsterdam in August ahead of their performance with Justin Broadrick at Katharsis, one of Reaktor's more adventurous events at Warehouse Elementenstraat. DVS1, Tommy Four Seven and Paula Temple all dished out hard-as-nails techno, while everyone else on the bill—Fixmer / McCarthy, Broken English Club, In Aeternam Vale and Ulwhednar—pushed more experimental sounds. A party like this simply wouldn't have happened a decade ago, and Orphx have been going for more than two.
Sealey, Oddie and the original third member, Aron West, all met in high school. They released their first set of recordings as Orphx on West and Oddie's cassette label, Xcreteria, in the early '90s. Back then their sound was noisy, raw and tactile, as documented on Archive 1993-1994, a compendium of those tapes reissued by Mannequin and Hospital Productions earlier this year.
Now Orphx are best known for their rhythmic noise on HANDS and industrialised techno for Sonic Groove. In concert, they bring elements of both to the table, with Sealey working the modular synth and Oddie manning the rest, picking up the mic on occasion. Last year, Berlin Atonal commissioned a collaboration between Orphx and Broadrick for the festival's fourth edition at Kraftwerk. Thankfully, their partnership has endured. At Katharsis the trio delivered one of the best live sets of the weekend, which brought the split of ravers and electronic cognoscenti to share one mind on the dance floor.
Why did you rerelease material this year from your first set of Orphx tapes? Is there a reason for the timing?
Richard Oddie: It feels like there's a bit more interest in that kind of sound now than there might have been in the past.
Christina Sealey: And it's a different sound, too.
Can you describe what the old Orphx sound was like?
Richard Oddie: It was very improvised, using a real assortment of cheap gear, pedals and mixers, and feeding stuff back into itself.
Christina Sealey: What we could afford at the time.
Richard Oddie: Scrap metal, whatever we could find... Radios.
Christina Sealey: Random instruments.
Richard Oddie: Some of the tracks I don't even remember how they're made.
Christina Sealey: Oh, there's the Mirage sampler.
Richard Oddie: An 8-bit sampler, and tons of reel-to-reel. Just a very physical way of working, which is still the case with us with all the modular gear and hardware, but we also rely on a lot on software these days.
Christina Sealey: I feel like over the years we've been writing music together, things have gone in these waves. We started with this really improvisational approach, really hands-on, then we gradually got into having more control and using computers—especially for live shows.
Richard Oddie: And software.
Christina Sealey: And software, right. Then in the early 2000s we wanted to get back into being hands-on again. But I've never thought, we can only do analogue, or, you can only do digital—just use whatever tools you have.
I really enjoyed the vocal dimension on your last album for Sonic Groove and HANDS. Is this a new thing or part of this cyclical development that's been going on since the beginning?
Richard Oddie: Well, the early material has vocals—more screams and some spoken word—but yeah, that was a really conscious decision with that record. And in terms of genre-blending, I think it was more of an opening. With some of the Sonic Groove records, for example, we got closer to techno than we've ever been before. With that album, it was about bringing in more of a post-punk influence.
Christina Sealey: We've been talking about adding vocals for years, wanting to get back into that, but not feeling like we were in the right moment to do so. And this just... came together.
I'm a big Marie Davidson fan, and I thought she brought a whole new dynamic to the record. How did she get involved?
Richard Oddie: Christina met her at her show.
Christina Sealey: I don't know how I first heard about her, but she was playing and I really wanted to go see her.
Richard Oddie: And then Marie said that she's a big fan.
Christina Sealey: So we just hung out and talked about music. Pierre [Guerineau] asked us to do that remix for Essaie Pas, which was super fun—we really liked working with them. Then we played a show for them in Montreal.
Will you be doing more with her?
Richard Oddie: I'd like to.
Christina Sealey: It's fun to collaborate with other people, you think about things differently.
Richard Oddie: I think it would be cool when we do another album to have more guest appearances like that. We also had Aron [West] on there, who was with us at the beginning. I do another project with him called Oureboros, so we're always in touch, and he helps us a lot with technical stuff.
What brought the three of you together in the first place, and what happened when Aron decided to leave?
Richard Oddie: We all met in high school.
Christina Sealey: He's a metalhead. Doom and death metal.
Richard Oddie: And grindcore.
Christina Sealey: Yeah, we all liked that. Crawl/Child.
Richard Oddie: Oh yeah, Crawl/Child. So we were just all really into this industrial, extreme metal—
Christina Sealey: He liked Skinny Puppy, too.
Richard Oddie: And SPK. So that was the glue. Just discovering that stuff and—
Christina Sealey: Vromb.
Richard Oddie: So we were all passing records back and forth, and then starting to work together. I think Aron and I started messing around one summer. We had some really rough sketches, and then Christina started adding reel-to-reel recordings to them.
Christina Sealey: I also sampled, too, like classic Skinny Puppy-type samples. But because they're on reel-to-reel, you could screw around with them. We did the first couple of tapes within a year, and we started a little tape label where we were releasing stuff from friends.
Richard Oddie: Yeah, that was Aron and me. I guess after a couple of years he was still really focused on extreme noise, so he started this other project called Tropism with a friend of ours. Meanwhile we were getting more into drone and rhythms.
What about Dave Foster [Huren], is he another high school friend?
Richard Oddie: We had a friend, Himadri [Ghosh], who did Teste with Dave. Himadri was at our high school, so we met Dave—who was at another school, just a few kilometres away—through him.
Christina Sealey: But we knew Dave from Cheapies record shop, where he worked. He had these big rubber gloves he'd wear, like, rubber dishwashing gloves. He wouldn't touch the records, he would only pick them up with these rubber gloves. We knew he was someone really interesting and weird, and we were like, "I gotta know that guy."
Richard Oddie: I remember going to Himadri's—he had a little studio in his parent's basement. I had one synth and he had like ten.
Christina Sealey: He had everything.
Richard Oddie: And then I heard Teste's music. They had this really deep, dark sound, and that was one of the acts that really turned me onto techno.
Christina Sealey: And your aunt also picked up that compilation.
Richard Oddie: Yeah, my aunt was in Berlin or somewhere in Germany, and she bought back this Transmat compilation. We were also going to warehouse parties in Toronto—that was a big thing for us. We didn't actually make it to Detroit, I was just 18 or 19 or something and I wasn't sure. But at those parties we heard Basic Channel and Plus 8, and from there started to discover the kind of techno we were excited about.
How did you connect with Udo Wiessmann and HANDS? They were pretty monumental in breaking Orphx.
Richard Oddie: We did a CD on Malignant Records [Fragmentation] in '96, which was heard by HANDS in Germany. We did a 10-inch [Nullity] and the record [Vita Mediativa] with them. That allowed us to come over to Europe and start playing, because HANDS had these annual festivals [Maschinenfest and Forms Of Hands].
Christina Sealey: We met Adam [Mitchell, AKA Adam X] through HANDS, too. At Maschinenfest—
Richard Oddie: In 2008.
Christina Sealey: Adam came to Maschinenfest. After we played, he came up to us.
Richard Oddie: He was like, "Did you hear somebody screaming out there? That was me." We ended up talking for hours. He was saying how he's been trying to do these parties, and the label, and his own music, and consciously trying to combine techno and industrial music. He invited us to release with Sonic Groove, and things just went from there.
Christina Sealey: Adam was really instrumental in helping us move into the techno scene, because there's always been such a divide. Not now, but there was at that time.
Richard Oddie: That same year we did a retrospective CD on HANDS [Teletai - Rarities And Remixes], and for that I wanted to get remixes. I got some people from the rhythmic noise scene, but then we also wanted to get people from the techno scene involved. I wrote to Sleeparchive, Surgeon and Fluxion. That was kind of our first attempt to connect with that world. Then we met Adam a few months later. He used the Surgeon remix for the first 12-inch on Sonic Groove.
Did having Sonic Groove as an outlet affect the way that you made music?
Richard Oddie: I think we learned new ways of production. We were definitely making dance music of a kind before, but we learned from Adam how to produce a track that's gonna be more effective on dance floors.
Christina Sealey: Also in 2008 I got into modular synths, so that was a new element for all of the Sonic Groove records we made. I should also add that from '98 to 2008 there was a ten-year period where Rich was really writing most of the recorded music. I was maybe contributing some sounds, but he was doing most of the recording and production. I was still performing live with him. But I'm a painter as well, so I was putting my focus into that at the time.
How come you didn't take on Orphx as a solo project, Rich?
Richard Oddie: I dunno, we'd always played together.
Christina Sealey: We liked doing the live performance. But it is a good question, why didn't it just become a solo thing?
Perhaps it never even crossed your mind?
Christina Sealey: I was always involved in the decision-making. But 2008 was the year we decided to split as a couple, and then I think I gained my own identity. We had been together for 16 years at that point. We met in high school, and you know how you grow up with a person, you become this one unit. After, I became more confident in my own contributions—having a separate identity. Also when we were a couple, sometimes it was hard to work together. There was this couple dynamic, and then there was the music. There's a crossover, but sometimes it doesn't work so well. When we weren't a couple anymore, we were actually much better musicians together, I think.
Richard Oddie: Yeah, it was easier to work together.
That's interesting. And what about your individual projects—I know you have various other music outlets, Rich. Christina, are you still painting?
Christina Sealey: Yeah. I also teach at OCAD University in Toronto. It's good to have other artistic outlets, because they feed off each other.
Rich, how come it took so long for you and Dave to release music together as O/H?
Richard Oddie: We were wondering that ourselves. We kind of lost track of each other for a few years.
Christina Sealey: Dave was drumming for Junior Boys, full-time touring. Actually, I was involved in O/H in the beginning, too, before realising there was no chance I could keep it up after a few performances together.
Christina Sealey: Because there were just too many parts to try work on at the same time. Also Rich and Dave really connected. I love Dave, and we had fun working all together, but Rich and Dave had a special connection.
Richard Oddie: We kind of developed a sound. Dave and I started to get something going where it became more focussed on rhythms and his vocals.
Christina Sealey: I love the O/H rhythms.
What's special about them?
Christina Sealey: There's an intensity—
Richard Oddie: Slower.
Christina Sealey: Really heavy. Super heavy. You've done so many awesome shows, but that show at Cinecycle in Toronto, I was like, "Wow, this is amazing." It's great to be able to hear your partner do a different kind of thing, but be really excited about it.
Richard Oddie: Well thanks, I didn't know you liked it so much.
Christina Sealey: So good.
When's the next O/H record out? Future Ready was a while ago now.
Richard Oddie: We have a lot of recorded material, but it has to be edited, and we probably need some new stuff. We have a couple of live recordings that I want to do something with, but again it's this issue of time—and so many different projects.
What other projects are you focusing right now?
Richard Oddie: At the moment, the Justin one. We're working on some studio recordings, which is exciting.
I thought it was supposed to be a one-off collaboration?
Richard Oddie: Right, but we were all happy with it.
Christina Sealey: Just hit it off, and then—
Richard Oddie: We were like, "Let's do more shows." We have a recording of the Atonal sets, so we've been working on a release with that. And then we thought, well, let's do some studio work, too. So yeah, it's good. I was a big fan as a teenager—I guess you were too, Christie?
Christina Sealey: Yeah! We're also working on an Orphx 12-inch for the new year and developing a special performance for LIVELab, a research centre at McMaster University in Hamilton that studies the cognition of music and sound. We worked with them last year. Now we're designing a second audio-visual performance for LIVELab's surround sound theatre.
Are you both still based in Hamilton? Have you ever wanted to relocate to Europe for gigs?
Christina Sealey: It's hard not to be jealous of the people who can play every weekend, right? Because you can fly to anywhere in Europe within an hour or two.
Richard Oddie: Last year I was really on about moving to Berlin, but we have our life here, our families. Christy has her teaching job, and I was teaching up until a year or so ago.
Christina Sealey: And to be honest, I really like living in Canada. As time goes by, I like it more and more when I see what's going on in the rest of the world.