Pop: What goes around...

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IS THIS how techno ends, not banging but whimpering? The musical revolution that began in the Summer of Love has been transplanted to the safe environment of a municipal hall, where red-coated local authority stewards man the exits, their ears plugged with cotton-wool. What once came across as sonic transgression now seems almost cosy.

Phil and Paul Hartnoll of Orbital - named after the M25 motorway that took so many early ravers to illegal parties in muddy fields - are engaged on a national tour whose destinations include the civic halls that only a few years ago would have been disparaged as beyond the pale. Playing stand-up music in a sit-down venue, Orbital were hamstrung right from the start, but despite the difficulties the show worked, more or less. If you stood up and danced, the performance could perhaps be counted as a success. For those of us sitting in the stalls, however, it was like watching paint dry, coat, after coat, after coat.

Orbital were preceded by a sound system whose ambient-techno mix reminded you of old Paul Hardcastle tunes (a retro-connection that refused to go away all night). Then a fanfare from A Clockwork Orange signalled the progress of the brothers into their enclosure of computer and keyboard work-stations, with the duo's trademark torchlight goggles providing a much-needed visual stimulus. Soon, great granite-like slabs of synthesiser chords filled the air, with bass frequencies so loud they resounded in your chest cavity. Instead of being dangerous, however, the sound was almost indecently clean and healthy, especially for techno.

The problem for the audience in the half-full hall was how to react. Should they go totally mental from the start, or ease into fully fledged mania incrementally? At first, they remained almost touchingly shy, with only the most out-of-it boys coming to the front to dance, but after a while even the most reserved left for the front, or half-shimmied by their seats, hedging their bets.

Orbital's music was accompanied by a multi-screen film-show that seemed to have something to do with the millennium. Clocks wound forward; binary codes scrolled, and at the end fingers pressed buttons that may well have been sending Stealth bombers off on some final, apocalyptic mission. It would have looked great in a tent, but from a comfy municipal seat it was just like watching television. All that was missing was the pipe and slippers.

Tours to Sun 28 March