Biography

William Orbit (born William Mark Wainwright, 15 December 1956) is an English musician, composer and record producer who has sold 200 million recordings worldwide of his own work and his production and songwriting work, and is the recipient of multiple Grammys, Ivor Novello awards and and other music industry awards.

Early Life

William was born William Wainwright in London’s East End in 1956 to parents who were both school teachers. He has Italian, Swedish and English heritage. At the age of 15 he chose to leave formal education in favour of being self and world taught. Up to that point he had been a student of Minchenden School, a now demolished Grammar School in Southgate, London. He lived and traveled throughout the UK and Europe, living in squats, fruit picking camps and on a grain barge in Holland. He worked at a variety of occupations, the night shift at the old Heineken Brewery (now the Amsterdam Heineken Experience museum), a building site in Hackney, hospital porter, clerk at the Strand Palace Hotel, a stint in the Civil Service, and a trainee draftsman at the offshore oil rig design company Humphreys and Glasgow working on the Ninian Southern platform project in the North Sea. During this time he developed his guitar technique and spent some of these teen years busking in London and Paris, and playing jazz guitar at lunchtimes at the Kings Head Pub in Upper Street Islington. Upon returning to London and being employed as an assistant at Basing Street Studios by Portobello Road, he was exposed to the world of professional recording.

Torch Song

William teamed up with fellow musician Laurie Mayer in 1980. Along with another member, Grant Gilbert, they formed the electronic/synth group Torch Song, and focussed on experimenting with sound modeling and industrial rhythms. They initially self released them on an audio cassette series, generated from their home-built studio in a disused school in Notting Hill Gate alongside the Grand Union Canal. Neville Brody, the graphic designer and schoolfriend of William’s joined the band for a period. They also held mini-festivals in the deserted main assembly hall of the school building, which was known as Centro Iberico and was concurrently being used as the headquarters of a Spanish anarchist society. In 1980 William was spotted by fashion scouts at one of the gigs, and was hired to fly to Japan and model clothes for the designer Takeo Kikuchi in Tokyo. The experience nurtured his interest in fashion and art, and one of his fellow models was a young Hamish Bowles, now International Editor at Large for Vogue Magazine. Orbit and Mayer were also visual artists and created a series of art magazines called ‘The Ralph Hoover Guide’. In it he drew surrealist cartoons, and the issues were sold at various London galleries and at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in The Mall. Richard Law, who was the A&R for IRS Records, was a follower of their music and aesthetic, and took it to industry mogul Miles Copeland, who had discovered and managed The Police and The Bangles in 1981. When Copeland signed them to the label the deal enabled them to build their ideal studio.  There they recorded two albums and four singles, the most successful being the dance chart hit “Prepare to Energize”, which was featured in the film ‘Bachelor Party’. They also composed the soundtrack to the ice hockey movie ‘Youngblood’, starring the very young Rob Lowe and Keanu Reeves, and another song “White Night” which was used in ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’.

This first incarnation of Guerilla Studios had a Trident 80B mixing desk and Otari MTR90 MKII 24 inch tape multitrack housed in a back garden on the canals of Little Venice in Paddington, and they also ran it as a commercial enterprise.

Guerilla Studios

With the development of Guerilla Studios as a (rare for the time) small independent 24 track studio in Little Venice, Orbit had his first experience of producing other artists. This is where he trained himself as a producer, and Orbit’s increasing skills quickly gained popularity, and along with his friend, in-house producer Rico Conning, many artists of the early 80s were recorded there. The Cocteau Twins, Belinda Carlisle of the Go-Go’s, Etienne Daho, Howard Devoto, Tik & Tok, Erasure, The Fall, The Frank Chickens, Ricky Gervais, Martin Gore, Laibach, Lords of the New Church, Daniel Miller, S’Express, Gary Numan, Renegade Soundwave, Les Rita Mitsuko, Sting, Swans, 23 Skidoo, Jah Wobble.

He co-wrote and recorded a project there with comedians Harry Enfield, Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson called ‘Loadsamoney’ under the pseudonym Billy Beat.

By the end of the 80s, Guerilla Studios was in the full service of William’s burgeoning recording and production career, but still rented out on occasion. The studio moved premises several times over the years and for a while was located by Hampstead Heath in an English Heritage listed building that had been the home of the painter John Constable.  It was a dilapidated house that had a pronounced tilt to one side, a labyrinthine layout, with an extensive basement suitable for music making. This is where William worked with Malcom MacLaren, Willie Ninja and Mark Moore on ‘Deep in Vogue’. Simon Fisher Turner was a client at Guerilla at this time, where he composed and recorded soundtracks for Derek Jarman.

He also shared a second studio in St John’s Wood with the group Cocteau Twins, and worked at a studio he had built in Hermosa Beach, California.

Orbit took time off to travel extensively by motorbike in South East Asia, Northern Thailand, Malaya, Vietnam, Laos and having acquired one of the initial batch of entry visas to Cambodia after the civil war and spent time at Siem Reap studying the temples of Angkor Wat, and Angkor Thom at a time when tourists had yet to visit and United Nations personnel were still present.

In Phnom Penh Penh he commissioned those members of the Cambodian Royal Ballet who had survived the Khmer Rouge genocide – amongst the groups specifically targeted for execution had been artists and musicians – for the first full ballet production since the war, with full classic set design and costumes and the traditional orchestra, based on the Khmer pentatonic musical scale and gamelan instrumentation that had previously influenced his own music.

Guerilla Studio moved again to Crouch End in North London. This is where William’s new band, Bassomatic was formed, his first experience of having his own music in the national Top Ten with the single Fascinating Rhythm..

At Guerilla Crouch End, William did remixes and productions for Madonna, Prince, Lenny Kravitz, Peter Gabriel and many others. Ralf Hütter of Kraftwerk was a visitor, where the two of them worked on a remix version of their song ‘Radio-Activity.’

Goldie (Metalheadz) worked in a room upstairs where he developed his Drum-n-Bass style.

Orbit recorded most of his Strange Cargo series at the Crouch End studio, and the album ‘Pieces in a Modern Style’, and he also recorded another Torch Song album which had added Rico Conning to the line-up.

The Strange Cargo albums featured a number of guest artists, Beth Orton, Laurie Mayer, actor/writer Joe Frank and others.

During this time he began a relationship with singer-songwriter Beth Orton. He collaborated with her on one of his most successful tracks, ‘Water from a Vineleaf’, and also produced and co-wrote her first album Superpinkymandy, which contained an early version of the song ‘She Cries Your Name’.

Guerilla Records

In 1990, together with John Gosling, William’s partner in running the night club Riot in Lagos and a deejay, founded Guerilla Records with the initial purpose of distributing Bassomatic 12″ vinyl discs to the new wave of London pirate radio stations, and to specialist deejay stores such as Black Market Records in Soho. Designer Steve Cook from 2000 AD Comics, who had worked on William’s visuals for Strange Cargo, joined them to create a visual identity for the label. The label was successful, and eventually signed a deal with Virgin Records. Music business manager and entrepreneur Dick O’Dell was brought in to broaden the repertoire and to develop a comprehensive business model. The label released vinyl discs from artists such as Leftfield, Underworld, Felix da Housecat, Spooky, DJ Pierre, and other emerging Progressive House artists. The label no longer exists, and the catalogue was acquired by Ministry of Sound, but Orbit maintains an interest in vinyl production and Direct Metal Mastering cutting lathes, and has a continuing working relationship with mastering engineer Geoff Pesche, who is now based at Abbey Road studios.

Productions and Remixes

His earlier clients included  Prince, Depeche Mode, Human League Sting, Colourbox, The Cure, Seal, Nitzer Ebb, Etienne Daho, Peter Gabriel,, Malcolm McLaren, Sven Vath, and Dot Allison. Later collaborations and productions included U2, Britney Spears, Pink, Katie Melua’s album ‘The House’, Madonna, No Doubt, Ricky Martin, Beth Orton, Sarah Mclachlan, Queen, Joy Formidable, Robbie Williams, All Saints and Sugababes. When working with Beck, the two of them wrote a song for Pink, ‘Feel Good Time’, which William then produced for the soundtrack for the film ‘Charlie’s Angels’.

He produced the album ’13’ by Britpop group Blur, in London and Reykjavic, Iceland.

He was now living at a hotel, The Leonard, located in an 18th Century mansion behind Oxford Street in the West End. He had an extensive suite in the hotel for his recording activity and it was where he recorded most of Bono’s vocals for his production of ‘Electrical Storm’. He resided there for three years.

Television and Radio

Throughout his career, Orbit’s music has been present in soundtracks of numerous films and TV shows, including Heat, Gone in Sixty Seconds, Austin Powers, CSI:NY, Glee, Charlie’s Angels, The Beach, The OC (the New Years Eve scene from the series finale). A comprehensive list can be found on The Internet Movie Database (IMDB).

Having had a strong affinity for radio since earliest childhood, he has produced and created many broadcast shows. Encouraged by deejays Liza Richardson and Chris Douridas at KCRW in California he developed a weekly series for the station called Stereo Odyssey. He also created specially produced extended remix shows, what later came to be known as mash-ups for programs such as DJ Pathaan’s show on BBC’s Asian Network, Pete Tong’s Essential Selection on BBC Radio 1 and a production with his friend the actor David Thewlis of live music and spoken work based on the poetry of Tennyson at BBC Broadcasting House for BBC Radio 3. He has appeared on many other networks in the UK, including TalkSport , Classic FM and BBC Radio 4, and radio and TV internationally. He also presented and curated an arts and culture show for the BBC World Service, The Strand, with producer Rebecca Armstrong. Guests included V.S Naipaul, Amadou and Mariam, Anoushka Shankar, Roger Taylor of Queen, Katie Melua and Lionel Shriver.

Madonna

William had created remixes for Madonna previously such as Justify My Love and Erotica but he didn’t meet her personally until 1997. That summer and fall they wrote together and produced her multi Grammy/award winning 7th album “Ray of Light”. It was released on February 22, 1998 He performed the major part of the instrumentation. Ray of Light has been frequently ranked among the greatest albums of all time and is considered Madonna’s most “adventurous and spiritual” album. Orbit has recalled that when she was working on lyrics to the song ‘Swim’ she took a call in the studio from her friend Donatella Versace moments after her brother had been shot dead in Miami. On a happier note, her infant daughter Lola was frequently in the studio as they worked. Madonna’s lyrics reflected the range of her experience and life at the time. One the song ‘Drowned World / Substitute for Love’ she collaborated on lyrics with the architect and interior designer David Collins. Orbit performed with Madonna on stage that year, their first ‘surprise’ appearance at the Roxy Club in New York on Valentine’s Day, with just Madonna and William on the stage, and then subsequently a tour of television stations around the world, such as The National Lottery Show, and The Oprah Winfrey Show, with an orchestra on stage for the song ‘Frozen’. She was managed at the time by Peter Mensch and Cliff Burnstein of Q Prime Management (Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Muse) and Mensch provided considerable help and advice with William’s own career decisions during that period. In 2000 Orbit wrote further songs with Madonna for her album “Music”, recording at The Hit Factory in New York alongside French writer/producer Mirwais Ahmadzaï. He also co-wrote and performed the song ‘Beautiful Stranger’, with her at his home in Brentwood, Los Angeles. The were in the studio again for her 2012 album MDNA. Orbit co-wrote and produced six of the tracks on the album. He also arranged strings for an orchestra comprising members of the New York Metropolitan Opera, which was conducted by Abel Korzeniowski for the song”Falling Free” which he had co-written with Madonna, Laurie Mayer, and the American artist and producer Joe Henry. Another Orbit production on MDNA was “Masterpiece” which won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song in the Miramax movie “W.E.”, at the 69th Golden Globe Awards. Of their collaborative work on this album, Madonna has said “With William, I didn’t really have a discussion. We’ve worked on stuff for so many years that we kind of finish each other’s sentences. He knows my taste and what I like.”

Classical Work

Orbit’s appreciation and interest in classical music had long influenced his work, it had been the only music heard in his childhood home, from Schubert to Benjamin Britten, and he had been experimenting over the years with a fusion of classical and electronic styles, although possessing no formal training.

Inspired and encouraged by head of Warners, Rob Dickins, his first commercial release in this genre was “Pieces in a Modern Style”. It was originally released in May 1995 on Orbit’s N-Gram Recordings label, and then again in 2000 by Warner Music in the UK and Europe, and on Maverick in the U.S. The album reached No 2 in the UK album charts. The first single release from the album was ‘Barber’s Adagio for Strings’, and a dance remix of the track by Dutch deejay Ferry Corsten was hugely successful. The album reached number 2 in the national album chart. A follow up album,’ Pieces in a Modern Style 2′ came out in 2010, and was released as a two-disc set on the Decca label. He worked with German countertenor Andreas Scholl on an interpretation of Henry Purcell’s Dido’s Lament which was featured on the album.

In 2007 he took part in Alex Poots’ Manchester International Festival, and composed a symphonic work in nine movements ‘Orchestral Suite’ which was performed by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, augmented by additional harps, pianos and percussion, and with The Manchester Chorale, conducted by Alexander Shelley at Bridgewater Hall. He has worked with Harry Christopher’s ‘The Sixteen’ and with Nigel Kennedy and continues to compose for orchestra.

Live Performance/Media/DJ Work

With his band Bassomatic, Orbit toured throughout Europe and the UK, performing at venues such as The Hacienda in Manchester, Roskilde Festival in Denmark, Heaven in London and also deejayed using his extensive vinyl collection.

He performed his Strange Cargo repertoire with an ensemble of artists who had featured on his recordings at London’s now closed Astoria Theatre and at the Brixton Academy.

During the N’Gram period, he directed a showcase of the label at Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s Southbank along with Torch Song. Orbit included a range of power tools and axle grinders as part of the musical ensemble.

In 2001 he took part in the Stockhausen Electronic Festival at the The Barbican Theatre shortly after he’d had a supper with Karlheinz Stockhausen, the electronic musician, Aphex Twin, and festival promoter Alex Poots

In 2013 he took part in the London Electronic Arts Festival in Shoreditch, curated by Rob Da Bank and Ben Turner, in a lecture and multimedia music performance. The event was highlighted by the presentation of the ‘Gogobot’ a collaboration between himself and friend Rico Conning. The device is an cybernetic drum robot constructed from low tech components such as car lock actuators and signal relays, controlled by their own software. This is a venture that the two continue to develop in California.

He participated in the Liberatum International Cultural Festival in Russia, during which he lectured and performed in Moscow and Novosibirsk, Siberia. He subsequently joined the Liberatum Festival in Hong Kong where he conducted a joint talk on stage with Pharrell Williams. The two avoided musical topics and instead explored the world of sound and aesthetics generally, including submarine sonar and furniture design. He spent time with the writer V S Naipaul, whom he has interviewed in the past for the BBC, and his wife Nadira, on a tour of Hong Kong night spots, a challenge for them due to Sir Videa’s wheelchair and the stairs and elevators of the high-rise venues, but of significant cultural interest to all three. William also introduced Nadira Naipaul to Pharrell Williams as he was aware of Pharrell’s deep interest in the writings of Jiddu Krishnamurti and that Nadira Naipaul had known him personally.

Recently Orbit has deejayed at various clubs in London and Ibiza and at Buckingham Palace for Her Majesty The Queen’s annual staff and family Christmas party.

Recent Activity

In 2013 William worked with Britney Spears and Will.i.am on her album ‘Britney Jean’, with fellow songwriters Ana Diaz and Dan Traynor with whom he wrote and produced the track ‘Alien’. He was a writer and producer on the Chris Brown song “Don’t Wake Me Up” which was recorded at Record Plant in LA and for which he received an ASCAP award in 2014. The song has had 165 Million views on YouTube. This was followed by a production of the Queen track, ‘There Must Be More to Life Than This’, which featured archive vocals by Freddie Mercury and Michael Jackson. Orbit went on to produce another Queen song, ‘Let Me In Your Heart Again’. In 2015 his composition ‘The Name of the Wave’ was used in the Oscar winning documentary ‘Amy’, directed by Asif Kapadia.

He has recently performed in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and at a gala at Banqueting House in London’s Whitehall for the charity ‘Together For Short Lives’, a group that sponsors and supports children with terminal illness and their families.

He occasionally holds songwriting retreats during the New Years week at Studio at The Palms, a recording studio located within Palms Casino in Las Vegas.

He is a member of an improvisational drama group in London with his friend Professor Noreena Hertz.

William alternatively resides in Soho and by the beach south of Los Angeles. He is a longstanding member of The Groucho Club in Soho and hosts freestyle social events and dinners in the neighborhood for circle.

He is writing a book and painting with oils on canvas.