William Orbit

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William Orbit
Birth name William Mark Wainwright
Also known as William Orbit
Born (1956-12-15) 15 December 1956 (age 57)
Origin Shoreditch, Hackney, London, England
Genres Electronica, trip hop, ambient, house, downtempo, IDM
Occupations Composer, record producer
Instruments Keyboards, guitar
Years active 1982–present
Labels IRS, EMI, Virgin, N-GRAM, Maverick, Sanctuary, Kobalt, Decca
Associated acts Torch Song, Bassomatic, The Supernaturals
Website www.williamorbit.com

William Orbit (born William Mark Wainwright, 15 December 1956) is an English musician, composer and record producer. In the early 1980s he formed synthpop act Torch Song with Laurie Mayer and Grant Gilbert. In 1987 he released the first of his Strange Cargo album series, containing ambient music.

Towards the end of the 1990s Orbit started to work with bigger name artists, producing songs on Ray of Light and Music by Madonna, 13 and Think Tank by Blur and Saints and Sinners by All Saints. His work with Madonna led him to win three Grammys. He worked again with Madonna on her 2012 album MDNA producing six songs.


1956–1980: Early life & first work[edit]

William Orbit was born William Wainwright in London's East End in 1956. His mother, of Italian and Swedish descent, and his father, from Yorkshire, were both schoolteachers.

He did not have a formal education, having left school at 15 and being entirely self-taught. Aged 16, squatting in Norwich and working as a strawberry picker in the summer, he started to devote himself to guitar playing. He then lived in squats around Europe and worked at various jobs including hotel kitchen worker, motorbike messenger, at a ladies shoes factory, as an accounts clerk (in the days before computers), a night shift worker at the old Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam and junior draftsman at a North Sea oil rig design company.[citation needed]

In these early years he was creatively frustrated, with no means to bring his ideas to life. But an opportunity to work as an assistant at Basing Street Studios just off the Portobello Road in West London gave him a first glimpse into the world of recording.

Aged 23, he met Laurie Mayer who had just moved into a squat in an abandoned primary school in Paddington. This semi-derelict Victorian building was the perfect environment for live music to flourish, with bands such as Throbbing Gristle performing there. Meyer and Orbit held mini-festivals in the deserted classrooms and workshops of the old school, known as Centro Iberico.

It was around that time, in 1980, that William was asked to model clothes for the designer Takeo Kikuchi in Tokyo and this experience opened his eyes to the world of fashion and the visual arts. On that same trip was also the young Hamish Bowles, now International Editor at Large for Vogue magazine.

His (very modest) participation in the design of the Shell North Cormorant North Sea oil platform led directly to him being able to afford to almost clear out the entire musical instrument stock of a second hand shop in Paddington, yards from the old school.

1981–1993: Torch Song, production & remix work[edit]

Laurie Mayer and William Orbit formed the band Torch Song. An experiment in audio cassette soundscapes that also included the graphic designer Neville Brody.

Record label owner and publisher Miles Copeland signed the band to his IRS label in 1982.

William went on to work with Miles on his new Strange Cargo album series.

Laurie and William have been close friends and creative collaborators ever since, with Laurie this year writing the melodic top line for Madonna's track "Falling Free" from her twelfth album MDNA.

Encouraged by Laurie's creative zeal, he went on to build a commercially viable recording studio in Little Venice called Guerilla Studios (later situated in Crouch End, North London) A variety of clients booked the facility, including: The Cocteau Twins, Colour Box, Stewart Copeland, Belinda Carlisle of the Go Gos, Etienne Daho, Howard Devoto, Erasure, The Fall, The Frank Chickens, Goldie and Metalheadz, Martin Gore, Kemistry and Storm, Laibach, Lords of the New Church, Daniel Miller, S'Express, Gary Numan, Renegade Soundwave, Les Rita Mitsouko, Sting, The Swans, 23 Skidoo, The Waterboys, Jah Wobble.

He began to create remixes for a long list of artists. At first for free, then later on, as word spread, for considerable sums. Remixed artists include: Prince, The Cure, Seal, Nitzer Ebb, Peter Gabriel, Depeche Mode, & The Human League

1990–1992: Guerilla & Bassomatic[edit]

Orbit founded Guerilla Records at the beginning of the 90s, releasing vinyl discs from artists such as Leftfield, Underworld, Felix Da Housecat and DJ Pierre in the then-new genre of 'Progressive House', and hosting illegal rave parties in disused warehouses in Central London, before forming the band Bassomatic, Fascinating Rhythm being their biggest hit.

1993–present: Strange Cargo III & Madonna[edit]

Orbit then moved to California, living in the surfer haven of Hermosa Beach, and had a radio program on the Southern Californian radio station KCRW since he had always had a fascination for radio in all its forms.

At KCRW he met the actor and radio star Joe Frank with whom he collaborated on the track "Montok Point".

He also began recording his album Strange Cargo III, including the track 'Water From A Vine Leaf', written with his ex-girlfriend Beth Orton.

After traveling the world, and encountering different cultures and worldviews, he met Madonna in New York in 1997 and they recorded her multi Grammy Award winning seventh album Ray of Light. The two have remained friends since, and created tracks such as "Beautiful Stranger" (1999) and other tracks for her eighth album Music (2000). In 2012 William co-wrote and co-produced six tracks for her twelfth album MDNA, including the song "Masterpiece", that won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song at the 69th Golden Globe Awards.

He has said on many occasions that he remains truly grateful to Madonna for seeing what nobody else saw at the time, and giving him a global platform for his work.

Since then he has written and recorded with a wide range of artists, from Andreas Scholl, Jocelyn Pook and 'The Sixteen' in the classical world, to Beck, Pink, The Cure, Kraftwerk (a project with Ralf Hütter), Blur (the album '13'), All Saints ('Pure Shores' (winner of an Ivor for most played song on UK radio), 'Black Coffee', 'Dreams' and other songs), Katie Melua, Robbie Williams, Sugababes, Ricky Martin and the late Malcolm Mclaren.

He lived at the Leonard Hotel just behind Oxford Street in London for three years where he recorded most of Bono's vocals for "Electrical Storm", a track that he produced and performed on for U2.

He also had a house in Venice California, where he retreated to write a series of classical renditions 'Pieces in a Modern Style', from which came 'Adagio For Strings, Ferry Corsten mix'.

In 2007, Orbit composed an orchestral suite for full orchestra and choir, in nine movements. It debuted on 8 July 2007 with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. There is also a 'remixed' version of the work. As yet unreleased as a commercial recording.

DJ & Radio[edit]

William deejays occasionally, with a hardcore techno set, in various locations around the world such as Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Ibiza, Thailand and Novosibirsk, Siberia, and even at HM The Queen's private staff and family Christmas party at Buckingham Palace. He has described his mission as 'to get everyone on their feet, despite what they usually listen to'. He conducts lectures, master classes and appears on BBC Radio and the BBC World Service discussing his work and guest editing music and arts programmes. He has a lifelong interest in poetry and recently collaborated with David Thewlis, to create a words and music tribute to Alfred Tennyson on Radio 3.

Recent work, Location & Interests[edit]

He primarily records in London, Los Angeles and at The Palms Casino's in-house studio in Las Vegas.

Orbit now lives in North London and Los Angeles and has his office and studio at Hoxton, London.

He spends much of his free time working on cartoons and drawings, and photography. And curating his collection of antiquarian books.

Recent activities include co-writing and co-producing the Chris Brown international hit 'Don't Wake Me Up' (twice ASCAP AWARD winner, including track most played on US radio), and the single from Welsh Indie band The Joy Formidable 'Silent Treatment'

And co-writing and co-producing work on Britney Spears' new 2013 album Britney Jean including the song 'Alien'.

A joint talk with Pharrell Williams in Hong Kong on topics ranging from Furniture to Submarine Sonar Systems to the philosopher Krishnamurti.

His favourite synthesisers remain the Roland Juno 106 and the Korg MS20.

His first encounter with a synthesiser was a Korg in 1974 when he was working as a roadie for a band in Norwich. His 'pay' was to use their instruments when the band weren't rehearsing or performing.

In May 2013 he started his own YouTube channel in order to experiment with filmmaking and to release new music. The channel includes "William Orbit's A to Z of Sound"

He is planning to take a live show 'on the road' in 2014. He will be performing a prototype concert in Shoreditch on 9 November 2013 as part of the London Electronic Arts Festival (LEAF). This event will include the use of cybernetic and mechanical musical devices that he has been developing with his friend and fellow Torch Song member Rico Conning out in the Mojave Desert in California.

He has a new album due for release at the beginning of 2014.

Orbit told in an interview to M Magazine, that he will have 'some writing' with Adele, for her third studio album in early 2014.


William Orbit discography
Studio albums 15
Compilation albums 3
Singles 9

More details and information about his discography can be found when exploring external links


Studio albums[edit]

Year Album Chart positions
1987 Orbit
Strange Cargo
  • Labels: I.R.S.
1990 Strange Cargo II
  • Labels: I.R.S.
1993 Strange Cargo III
1999 Pieces in a Modern Style [A]
  • Labels: N-GRAM Recordings (1995 release), WEA (2000 release)
2 33 198
2006 Hello Waveforms 136
2009 My Oracle Lives Uptown [B]
  • Labels: Kobalt
2010 Pieces in a Modern Style 2 [C]
  • A^ The original 1995 release was credited to the Orbit alias 'The Electric Chamber', but was withdrawn from sale almost immediately. Re-released in 2000 with additional tracks taking the place of un-cleared tracks from the first release.
  • B^ CD release has 4 additional tracks which are not available as a digital download
  • C^ Released on single CD and double CD including notable remixes, and a digital version with a bonus track


  • The Best of Strange Cargos (1996, I.R.S.) – A compilation from Orbit's first three Strange Cargo albums, highlighted by two versions of "Water From A Vine Leaf", another collaboration with Beth Orton
  • Strange Cargo Vol.1–3 (2000, EMI Records) – 3 CD Box Set
  • William / Orbit (2002, Universal) – U.S. two-disc publishing CD set to support William Orbit's publishing catalogue[5]


Year Single Chart positions Album
1987 "Feel Like Jumping" Orbit
"Love My Way"
1993 "Water From A Vine Leaf" (William Orbit featuring Beth Orton) 59 Strange Cargo III
1999 "Barber's Adagio For Strings" 4 23 13 Pieces in a Modern Style
2000 "Ravel's Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte" 31
2003 "Feel Good Time" (Pink featuring William Orbit) 3 7 8 Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (OST)
"Dice" (Finley Quaye & William Orbit) Much More Than Much Love (Finley Quaye album)
2009 "Purdy" My Oracle Lives Uptown
"Optical Illusions"


Year Album
1990 Set the Controls for the Heart of the Bass
1991 Science & Melody
  • Labels: Virgin

Strange Cargo[edit]

Year Album
1995 Hinterland[7][8][9]
  • Labels: N-GRAM Recordings

Torch Song[edit]

Year Album
1984 Wish Thing
1986 Ecstasy
  • Labels: Y II Records
1987 Exhibit A
  • Labels: I.R.S.
1995 Toward the Unknown Region
  • Labels: N-GRAM Recordings

DNV 2012

Other online, production and live performances[edit]

He often DJs at various locations. Additional information concerning the dates and places of his live performances appears[10] on his webpage.

‘Odyssey' is a compilation of 42 tracks, including some of William Orbit's own exclusives. The album was released in January 2010 and is divided into 3 discs; Discs 1 and 2 are unmixed, with many tracks reinterpreted to a greater or lesser extent, while Disc 3 is a continuous DJ mix by William Orbit.

  • Orbit Streamcast

Orbit has recently enabled an internet radio (streamcast) which allow listeners to hear more than 10 hours of his music, completely for free. In the playlist are variations of his well-known tracks, as well as released material. In addition, and what's more appreciated by fans, unreleased and rare material can also be found in this streamcast.[12]

  • Latest productions

He produced Katie Melua's fourth album, called The House. It was released on 24 May 2010 and had a remarkable chart performance (Gold in Germany[13] and United Kingdom,[14] as well as Platinum in Poland[15]).

He also produced a track on Nadine Coyle's debut solo album "Insatiable" released on 8 November 2010.

In September 2011 it was confirmed that Orbit will collaborate on Madonna's 12th studio album MDNA. On 3 February 2012 Orbit confirmed on his Twitter account that he produced six tracks – "Gang Bang", "Some Girls", "I'm a Sinner", "Masterpiece", "Falling Free" and "Love Spent".[citation needed]

Orbit produced the track "Alien" for Britney Spears' album, Britney Jean, released on 3 December 2013.

  • Solo career

In August 2010 Orbit released Pieces in a Modern Style 2, on Decca, which is follow-up a to the successful Pieces in a Modern Style. The two CD version containing some notable remixes of interpretations of Vaughan Williams Violin Concerto – Lark Ascending.

Orbit is working as part of the art collective Luxor, with former English National Ballet dancer Anna-Mi Fredriksson and the artist Pauline Amos.


  • Stereo Odyssey – 4-CDR set of KCRW radio show William produced circa 1996
  • Rare Orbit Vol.1 – A 3-CDR collection of rare & unreleased material & productions. 2008, source unknown. Contained unreleased sessions with Madonna, and some new material.
  • Essential Mix – 2-CDR set of UK BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix, 6 February 2000
  • XFM 2003 – 30-minute CDR of UK XFM Radio 'Superchunk', a mix/mashup collection of special rare and unreleased material, 17 August 2003
  • XFM 2006 – 30-minute CDR of UK XFM Radio 'Superchunk', another mix/mashup collection, 12 March 2006
  • World Odyssey Mix – 25-minute CDR of UK BBC Asia Network Radio 'Pathaans Musical Rickshaw', a diversified mix/mashup collection, 17 May 2009
  • KCRW 2009 – 40-minute CDR of Los Angeles KCRW Radio Station show 'Morning Becomes Eclectic', a two piece live session with Laurie Mayer and interviews with Jason Bentley – 2 July 2009
  • In 2010, some of the rare tracks were made public on www.orbitstreamcast.com.[16]


  1. ^ a b "Chart Stats: William Orbit". ChartStats.com. Archived from the original on 19 January 2013. Retrieved 2011-04-29. 
  2. ^ Tobias Zywietz. "The Official Zobbel Homepage". Zobbel.de. Retrieved 2012-04-18. 
  3. ^ a b "Discography William Orbit". Australian-Charts.com. Retrieved 2011-04-29. 
  4. ^ "William Orbit > Charts & Awards > Billboard Albums". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-04-29. 
  5. ^ Discogs.com
  6. ^ "William Orbit > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-04-29. 
  7. ^ "Hinterland – William Orbit, Strange Cargo : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards : AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 16 May 2013. 
  8. ^ "Hinterland: Amazon.co.uk: Music". Amazon. Retrieved 16 May 2013. 
  9. ^ "Strange Cargo Discography at Discogs". Discogs. Retrieved 16 May 2013. 
  10. ^ "FA-18 Hornet breaking sound barrier – from Wikipedia]". williamorbit.com. Retrieved 2012-04-18. 
  11. ^ "Ministry of Sound "Odyssey"". williamorbit.com. 18 January 2010. Retrieved 2012-04-18. 
  12. ^ Orbitstreamcast.com
  13. ^ "Gold-/Platin-Datenbank (William Orbit)" (in German). Bundesverband Musikindustrie. 
  14. ^ [1][dead link]
  15. ^ "Bestseller charts and awards :: Polish Society of the Phonographic Industry". Zpav.pl. Retrieved 2012-04-18. 
  16. ^ Orbitstreamcast.com link

External links[edit]