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Little Fluffy Clouds


Staff member

How we made the Orb's Little Fluffy Clouds

Dave Simpson

An interview with Alex Patterson of the Orb

We started making acid house tracks before it was called acid house. It was electronic indie dance music, really. I was sharing a council flat with Alex in Battersea, which had a bedroom studio. Jimmy Cauty from the KLF, who’d been in my band Brilliant, came round a lot and Andrew Weatherall lived upstairs. Alex and I started a label called WAU! Mr Modo, which stood for weird and unusual. It became a community.

Me, Jimmy and Alex were DJs at the Land of Oz, this amazing club night at Heaven. Working-class football hooligan cats came in from all over London, on ecstasy for the first time. They were big heavy guys who’d normally be beating the crap out of each other, but suddenly they’d be playing with a pocket calculator for half an hour, then give you a hug.

We set up the first chillout room there, the White Room, playing ambient music and film soundtracks. No one danced; they were all lying down. There were five or six turntables, and we’d play different records all at once. We thought: “Why don’t we do this in a studio?”

Jimmy and Alex started making records as the Orb, including the single A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld, which was built around a sample of Minnie Riperton’s Lovin’ You. People described it as ambient house for the E generation. Jimmy and Alex were making an album called Space when they had a big argument. Jimmy stormed off, took all of Alex’s bits off the record and released it under his own name. Alex was mortified. I told him not to worry – we’d make a record that was even better.

A fan who worked in a record shop in Birmingham sent me a tape with a note saying it would be perfect for the Orb. On one side, Pat Metheny was playing Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint. On the other was an interview with Rickie Lee Jones. Someone asked her: “So what were the skies like when you were young?” and she launched into a trippy monologue about stars and clouds. I sampled it and put it over a basic pulse. That was the start of Little Fluffy Clouds.

Youth and I went to school together, and I was one of the pallbearers at his father’s funeral. You don’t get closer than that. So when Jimmy and I fell out and Youth said we could make a better record together, it was a challenge.

He plays a bassline and a keyboard riff, but Little Fluffy Clouds is basically a song made from samples. I took a whistling harmonica from an Ennio Morricone soundtrack, some of the Steve Reich song and some drums from Harry Nilsson’s Jump into the Fire, but slowed them right down. I kept that secret for years. And not many people know that Lee “Scratch” Perry’s on there, either. I’m not saying which of his tracks we used, so good luck finding it.

Rickie Lee Jones wanted lots of cash for her vocal. But Steve Reich​ was a proper gentleman
Youth had just had a massive hit with Blue Pearl’s Naked in the Rain. When the record label Big Life signed Blue Pearl, they wanted a second act to develop and chose the Orb. Youth and our sound engineer Thrash made a short version of Little Fluffy Clouds to release as a seven-inch single. I thought it was too poppy, but people loved it.

Once it was a smash, Rickie Lee Jones wanted some cash for our use of her vocal, so the record company coughed up $5,000. Years later, we got a letter from Steve Reich’s lawyers, but he was a proper gentleman: he wanted 20% from then on and asked us to do a remix of one of his tunes, which we did.

It’s a song that follows me around. There’s a beer named after it, and I just found an Italian bread called Little Fluffy Clouds at Brixton market. When I moved house, I came across the original cassette tape that fan sent to Youth. Some time ago, the record company even suggested I interview Rickie Lee Jones. It’s a shame it never happened. My first question was gonna be: “So what were the skies like when you were young?”

• Celtic Vedic, by Youth’s collective Dub Trees, is out on 10 June. The Orb’s single Alpine Discomiks is out 29 July. They play Electric Brixton, London, on 29 July.

•This article was amended on 7 June 2016 to change a photograph. The earlier one did not show Alex Paterson with Youth, as the caption said, but with another Orb collaborator, Thrash.

Stop Bill C-10