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William Orbit

Ambient pioneer, studio master, and popular dance remixer William Orbit emerged in the early 1980s, first as a member of synth group Torch Song, before releasing both his solo debut, Orbit, and the first of his Strange Cargo series of LPs in 1987. Merging ambient, pop, world fusion, and dance music in collections of mostly spaciously arranged instrumental tracks, he eventually invited guest vocalists including Beth Orton and Cleo Torres into the Strange Cargo universe. In the meantime, he formed the short-lived house project Bass-O-Matic in the early '90s and produced and remixed artists ranging from Prince to the Cure before his name recognition got a boost when he pushed Madonna in more innovative directions as producer of her Grammy-winning hit album Ray of Light (1998). Two years later, his own Pieces in a Modern Style -- which reworked classical pieces by the likes of Beethoven, John Cage, and Henryk Górecki -- went all the way to number two in his native U.K. as well as the Top Five of the Billboard classical and classical crossover charts; Ferry Corsten's trance remix of Orbit's take on Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings was a surprise hit. Orbit landed on the Hot 100 in 2003 with a featured role on "Feel Good Time" by P!nk. His ninth solo album, 2010's Pieces in a Modern Style 2, later returned him to the classical charts as his remix discography grew to include such acts as U2, Blur, and Sarah McLachlan, among many others. Still an in-demand DJ (including for a Buckingham Palace staff Christmas party) and festival participant as well as lecturer into the 2020s, William Orbit released his 12th album, The Painter, in 2022. Born in suburban London in 1956, William Mark Wainwright, soon to be known as William Orbit, left school at 16 and quickly found an outlet for his creativity when a roommate was trying to start a recording studio. By 1980, he had formed alternative dance band Torch Song with Laurie Mayer and Grant Gilbert. During the creation of the group's first three albums -- 1984's Wish Things (I.R.S.), followed by 1985's Ecstasy (Y II Records) and 1987's Exhibit A (I.R.S.) -- Orbit remained in the studio to learn the ropes in the fields of production and mixing. He concurrently recorded his own material, releasing his first solo album, Orbit, in 1987. That same year, he inaugurated the ambient project Strange Cargo. Laurie Mayer contributed to a pair of tracks on Strange Cargo 2, which followed in 1990, the same year Orbit delivered Set the Controls for the Heart of the Bass (Virgin Records), his first full-length for house project Bass-O-Matic, a music collective produced by Orbit and also featuring Mayer. Around this time, Orbit also contributed to the English progressive house explosion by founding one of the scene's most notable labels, Guerilla Records, with Dick O'Dell and John Gosling. It gathered such British progressive acts as Spooky and React 2 Rhythm alongside Chicago producers like Felix da Housecat and DJ Pierre. Bassomatic only released one more album, Science & Melody, which saw release in 1991. Orbit returned to his series for 1993's Strange Cargo III (Virgin), this time featuring vocals by Beth Orton, Cleo Torres, and Mayer, among others. He then issued a solo album, Hinterland, under the confusing alias Strange Cargo in 1995 before taking an extended break from the moniker. With distribution by Warner, Hinterland was released on another Orbit label, N-GRAM Recordings, which also issued the fourth and final Torch Song LP, Toward the Unknown Region, that year. Meanwhile, Orbit had remixed singles for such A-listers as Sting and Belinda Carlisle and produced albums for pop-rapper Betty Boo (1990's Boomania), Beth Orton (1993's Superpinkymandy), and singer/songwriter/cellist Caroline LaVelle (1995's Spirit). By that time, he had completed the classical crossover work Pieces in a Modern Style, though it wouldn't be released until 2000. The album, which featured electronic interpretations of classical pieces, drew angry protests from composers Arvo Pärt and Henryk Górecki, and they helped block the album's release. In the meantime, in 1998, after over 15 years of behind-the-scenes studio work, Orbit's name hit the mainstream thanks to his helming the Madonna comeback album Ray of Light (Orbit not only produced the entire LP but co-wrote many of the tracks). The album won four Grammy awards, including Best Pop Album and Best Dance Recording (for "Ray of Light"), and its success led to a host of remixing and production work, including Blur's 1999 album, 13. In February 2000, Orbit finally released Pieces in a Modern Style, and the album became an unexpected hit in no small part thanks to Ferry Corsten's trance remix of "Barber's Adagio for Strings." Orbit produced output for All Saints, No Doubt, U2, and Orton in the early 2000s before appearing on the Hot 100 with his featured credit on P!nk's 2003 single "Feel Good Time," a song he produced and co-wrote for the Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle soundtrack. While it missed the Top 40 in the States, it went to number three in the U.K. and reached the Top Ten in places like Australia, Norway, and Ireland. His seventh solo full-length, Hello Waveforms, eventually followed in 2006 on the Sanctuary label. Comprising songs written by Orbit either alone or in collaboration with Mayer and Rico Conning, it featured Sugababes and Kenna on the track "Spiral." His next album, 2009's My Oracle Lives Uptown (Kobalt) included a reworking of Torch Song's "White Night." That year also brought Ministry of Sound's release of the three-disc Odyssey, which collected rarities, demos, remixes, and Orbit productions performed by other artists. In 2010, Decca released Pieces in a Modern Style 2, which didn't sell as well as the first installment, particularly in the U.K., but still reached number eight on the Billboard Classical Crossover Albums chart. That year also saw the release of Katie Melua's The House, which Orbit produced, and he rejoined Madonna in the studio for half of the songs on 2012's chart-topping MDNA. He co-wrote and co-produced a track ("Alien") for Britney Spears' 2013 album Britney Jean before returning in 2014 with Orbit Symphonic, a commissioned work captured live in 2007 in Manchester with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and Manchester Chamber Choir. In 2014, he also shared the limited stream Strange Cargo 5 and contributed to the Queen compilation Queen Forever. Orbit re-emerged in 2018 with production work on select tracks for All Saints' Testament, a Top 20 U.K. hit. Following the short-form Starbeam EP: Original Mixes in 2021, he would revisit two of the tracks from Strange Cargo 5 -- "I Paint What I Can See" featuring Beth Orton and "The Diver" featuring Natalie Walker -- on his 12th solo album, 2022's The Painter. Among its guests were Polly Scattergood, Ali Love, Tanzanian musician Hukwe Zawose, and again Beth Orton and Laurie Mayer.
© Marcy Donelson & John Bush /TiVo

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