‘We Are Still Alone’ by ALICE HUBBLE was one of The Electricity Club’s Songs Of 2019 and is now released in its own right as a single by Happy Robots Records.
The solo vehicle of Alice Hubley, best known for fronting ARTHUR & MARTHA and COSINES, her synth earth mother persona embraces the endearing instrumental influence of Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram with the forlorn vocal style of Sally Oldfield.
With a lilting bass and elegiac transistorised melody, ‘We Are Still Alone’ was the highlight of ‘Polarlichter’, a debut album with an avant pop heart swathed in wonderful musical aurora. With synthetic strings recalling ASHRA and OMD, Hubley is sadly resigned that she “couldn’t find the way to make me better”. Although originally released in 2019, in the context of 2020, ‘We Are Still Alone’ now reflects the fears and anxiety of isolation prevalent in the minds of many.
The suitably complementary video accompaniment, directed by Alicia Britt and edited by Hubley herself, beautifully uses stark shadow puppetry techniques. It was inventively realised at Britt’s home using a white bed sheet and two spotlights attached to wardrobe doors to create a shadow studio.
In keeping with the aura of varying colour and complexity hinted at by its title, over eight tracks, ‘Polarlichter’ was a soundscape of pastoral solace. “The whole ALICE HUBBLE process has been a dream, being solo means you can work at your own pace and can be quick at making decisions” said Hubley, “It can get lonely at times, but I make a point of working with people I enjoy being around and try to have fun with it.”
The five track download bundle includes two sub-50 second ‘Theme’ reworkings of ‘We Are Still Alone’ by Happy Robots Records label mate Roman Angelos whose album ‘Spacetronic Lunchbox’ was released earlier in the year and a remix by PYE CORNER AUDIO.
There is nothing like the other side of life. As a companion to its favourite 25 Classic Synth B-sides, The Electricity Club presents a listing looking at the 21st Century equivalent.
B-sides often take on a cult following, provoking discussions among fans about why they might have missed inclusion on the parent album.
On why artists occasionally overlook a track when it is clearly good enough, Richard Silverthorn of MESH said “Sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees”.
Then there are the occasional abstract studio experiments which often fail but occasionally work and the occasional cover versions which don’t always find favour with some listeners but are infinitely more preferable over pointless remixes of the A-side!
But how is a modern B-side been defined? There is a wider definition now due to digital and streaming formats, so they can include flipsides of vinyl, bonus tracks on CD singles and non-album tracks released as part of a download single or EP bundle. Despite all this, the term “B-side”, like “album” and “video”, still remains.
So for the purposes of this listing as before with the 25 Classic Synth B-sides, B-sides featured on the original issue of a full length album, or subsequently included on a new one are NOT included. However, those added as bonus tracks on later reissues, deluxe editions or compilations are permitted. Rules are good, rules help control the fun! 😉
So with a restriction of one track per artist moniker, presented in date and then alphabetical order within, these are The Electricity Club’s 25 Synth B-Sides Of The 21st Century…
LADYTRON Oops Oh My (2003)
LADYTRON surprised their audiences during live shows in support of the ‘Light & Magic’ album by closing with a feisty synthpunk cover of TWEET’s ‘Oops Oh My’. Co-written by Missy Elliot, the Timbaland produced original with a DEVO sample had been a hip-hop favourite but the aggressive Riot Grrrl styled take on this risqué song about self-love with lyrics like “There goes my skirt, droppin at my feet” added a rockier edge to their sound.
Available on the LADYTRON single ‘Evil’ via Telstar Records
“This was written in response to the Iraq War” said Sarah Blackwood aka Client B, “I remember endless discussions with Toast Hawaii boss Fletch about whether it was the right decision and with heavy hearts, watching endless shelling and firefighting, from the 24 hour news coverage on far flung European hotel TVs. It was the first time I had felt that disconnection and frustration with my home country, the ‘not in my name’ ringing loudly in my ears. Bit late to the party but that’s the story of my life.”
Available on the CLIENT single ‘Here & Now’ via Toast Hawaii / Mute Records
The eloquence and surreal atmospheres of the first GOLDFRAPP album ‘Felt Mountain’ may have taken a back seat on its follow-up ‘Black Cherry’ but the experimentation continued on the B-sides of the album’s singles. ‘White Soft Rope’ combined the unsettling imagery of bondage with a chorus sung a school choir, but ‘Gone To Earth’ was even more otherworldly. The reverberating bassline combined with swirling synths and dreamy glides while Alison’s alternate cosmic language startled with a spacey hypnotism.
Nathan Cooper who was in THE MODERN said: “The inspiration came from ROXY MUSIC’s ‘In Every Dream Home A Heartache’ which was about a blow up doll, we took that a step further and Model# 426 is about some kind of sex droid!! ‘Model #426’ was always the song that would get the audience talking because singer Emma would open a trunk on stage and lead a gimp out on a collar into the bemused looking audience!! I think it was actually that stunt that got us signed to Universal!”.
Interpolating KC & THE SUNSHINE BAND’s ‘That’s The Way (I Like It), the self-produced ‘Party Song’ was naturally a throbbing disco driven affair outshone the horrendous Diane Warren penned ballad ‘Numb’ which comprised the main act. Lyrically inspired by the classic Joan Collins and Leonard Rossiter fronted Campari adverts that, it began life as a dance cover of NIRVANA’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ suggested by Elton John and intended as a single for a new PET SHOP BOYS ‘Greatest Hits’!!
Originally the B-side of ‘Numb’, now available on the PET SHOP BOYS album ‘Format’ via EMI Music
‘Japanese Kiss’ was from the debut release on Happy Robots from Alice Hubley and Adam Cresswell. “This was the first track I wrote for ARTHUR & MARTHA” he recalled, “mostly recorded in the bedsit I’d moved into after splitting up with my girlfriend. I was absorbed in self-pity, comforting myself with Japanese-horror movies and the company of my ARP Quartet, Moog Rogue and the DR-55. Living my best life!”; 11 years later as Rodney Cromwell, Cresswell did a NEW ORDER inspired ‘KW1’ remix.
Available on the ARTHUR & MARTHA single ‘Autovia’ via Happy Robots
Basing its title on the well-known NEW ORDER tune, as with a number of the B-sides listed here, ‘Bizarre Love Duo’ outshone the main act ‘Ghost’. It all began with a pitch shifted groan sample repeated with hypnotic effect over some squelchy backing. But during the second half, the track built itself to a fabulous but abstract electrodisco number with a marvellously catchy refrain. While not quite a song and not quite an experiment, ‘Bizarre Love Duo’ was enjoyable tune in the MARSHEAUX canon.
Originally the B-side of ‘Ghost’, now available on the MARSHEAUX album ‘E-Bay Queen Is Dead’ via Undo Records
A cover of a cover, namely SHOCK’s take on THE GLITTER BAND’s 1974 Top5 hit; playing the role of the Latin lothario in response to the Annie song ‘Anthonio’, Sebastian Muravchik of HEARTBREAK and now SNS SENSATION remembered: “Richard X produced this version of ‘Angel Face’ as a side B in his single ‘Annie’. I sang both sides, which kind of shows two sides of Anthonio’s personality in a way. It was a fantastic experience – Richard is a great guy and über pro, so really a win-win.”
Available on the ANTHONIO single ‘Annie’ via Pleasure Masters
“Positive and negative can only attract” sang Victoria Hesketh on the bouncy ‘Catch 22’, a lesser known LITTLE BOOTS track which initially only appeared on the 7 inch single of ‘Earthquake’ in the UK. Gloriously synthpoppy, in hindsight along with other songs that did not make it onto the final tracklisting of her debut album ‘Hands’, it highlighted a possible direction that could have been taken, but which was ultimately watered down for wider acceptance after she was named BBC Sound Of 2009.
Originally the B-side of the single ‘Earthquake’, now available on the LITTLE BOOTS deluxe album ‘Hands’ via On Repeat Records
Continuing a great tradition among the synthpop acts of the past, VILLA NAH had ‘Benny’s Burning’ and ‘Daylight’ as part of their B-side armoury as well as the brilliant debut album ‘Origin’. Highlighting the inherent talent of Juho Paolosmaa and Tomi Hyyppä, ‘Benny’s Burning’ was a smoother and more atmospheric side of VILLA NAH compared with the uptempo technopop impressions of its A-side ‘Rainmaker’. The Helsinki duo later opened for OMD during the UK leg of 2010’s ‘History Of Modern’ tour.
Available on the VILLA NAH single ‘Rainmaker’ via Keys Of Life
Produced by Vince Clarke, ‘Never Let You Down’ was free of the many autotune treatments that Frankmusik had applied when helming the disappointing ‘Tomorrow’s World’ album in his attempts to make ERASURE sound more modern and contemporary. As a result, that heartfelt soul often associated with Andy Bell made its presence felt over a glorious galloping synthpop tune in the classic ERASURE vein, especially during the middle eight section in Spanish.
In their short career, MIRRORS left not only a great album in ‘Lights & Offerings’ but a body of wonderful B-sides too. Any number of them are worthy of mention but the nod goes to ‘Fall By Another Name’ as it was accessible enough to have been an A-side. Not as dense as MIRRORS’ usual pop noir hence its likely relegation to flipside, the bright pulsing melodies and James New’s Dave Gahan impression made this sound rather like a quality outtake from DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Speak & Spell’.
While the A-side was a faithful cover version of Peter Schilling’s anthemic ‘Major Tom’, ‘Dead Air Einz’ was a self-composed song by APOPTYGMA BERZERK mainman Stephan Groth that was eagerly welcomed at the time, thanks to it being his first original new track for four years. Utilising distorted radio broadcasts in its backdrop, it also featured some Korg MS20 from Jon Erik Martinsen and was something of a grower with its steadfast drum machine shuffle.
Available on the APOPTYGMA BERZERK single ‘Major Tom’ via Pitch Black Drive Productions
Making their initial impression with the mighty ‘Lies’ in 2012, Glasgow trio CHVRCHES actually became the mainstream saviours of synthpop that LITTLE BOOTS and LA ROUX had promised but ultimately failed to deliver on. ‘Now Is Not The Time’ was a fantastic midtempo tune with a great chorus that like ‘The Mother We Share’ sounded like Taylor Swift gone electro. However, it got relegated to B-side status despite being superior to several songs on their debut long player ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’.
Available on the CHVRCHES single ‘Recover’ via Virgin Records
In a pattern similar to the ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ boxed set only track ‘Oh Well’, the best song from ‘Delta Machine’ sessions was left out of the main act. ‘All That’s Mine’ featured a tightly sequenced backbone, electronically derived rhythms and a gloomy Eurocentric austere, all the perfect ingredients for a classic DM tune! While it was no doubt rejected for not fitting into the faux blues aspirations of modern DEPECHE MODE, it made up for the dreary notions of the A-side ‘Heaven’ which were more like hell…
Originally the B-side of the single ‘Heaven’, now available on the DEPECHE MODE deluxe album ‘Delta Machine’ via Columbia Records
OMD’s twelfth album ‘English Electric’ was notable for combining conceptual art pieces alongside supreme electronic pop in a manner reminiscent of their fourth long player ‘Dazzle Ships’ and KRAFTWERK’s ‘Radio-Activity’. Although four of these concepts made it onto the final running order of the album, one that didn’t was ‘Time Burns’, a intriguing sound collage comprising of clock movements, chimes and digital watch alarms over rumbles of sub-bass and profound computer generated speech.
Originally the B-side of the single ‘The Future Will Be Silent’, now available on the OMD EP ‘Night Café’ via BMG
A stomping electro disco number produced by Mark Reeder and Micha Adam, Elizabeth Morphew’s cooing Bush-like howls and breathy euphoria are a total delight to the ears while the mighty cavernous sound provided the heat! However, ‘United’ has ended up as the B-side. Reeder said ”I saw a piece posted on The Electricity Club about QUEEN OF HEARTS and I was curious. I really liked Elizabeth’s voice from the moment I heard the first couple of tracks.”
Originally the B-side of ‘Secret’, now available on the QUEEN OF HEARTS deluxe album ‘Cocoon’ via Night Moves
With an alluringly haunting vocal from Anais Neon, the eerily stark ‘Little Death Capsule’ saw VILE ELECTRODES tell the story of early space travel when these primitive craft were sent out of the earth’s atmosphere effectively sitting on inter-continental ballistic missiles, with burning up also a possibility on return. With pulsing instrumentation from Martin Swan, it featured the sort of sterling analogue treatments that would make KRAFTWERK and YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA proud.
A touching tribute to Messrs Clarke, Gore, Hütter and Schneider with hints of YAZOO’s ‘In My Room’, Johan Baeckström said of ‘Synth Is Not Dead’: “I guess I just wanted to reflect on the fact that there still IS a synthpop scene with some really great bands, both old and new. In another way, the song is sort of my ‘thank you’ to some of the artists that inspired me for several decades – some of them are mentioned in the lyrics, but far from all of course”.
Available on the JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM single ‘Come With Me via Progress Productions
METROLAND (We Need) Machines Without Romance (2015)
METROLAND’s second album ‘Triadic Ballet’ was a triumphant electronic celebration of the Bauhaus, art movement led by Walter Gropius. Gropius theorized about uniting art and technology and on the B-side of its launch single ‘Zeppelin’, METROLAND worked towards the 21st Century interpretation of that goal. Now imagine if Gary Numan had actually joined KRAFTWERK in 1979? Then the brilliantly uptempo ‘(We Need) Machines Without Romance’ would have surely been the result.
Originally the B-side of ‘Zeppelin’, now available on the METROLAND boxed set ’12×12′ via Alfa Matrix
Of the superbly rousing ‘Paper Thin’, Richard Silverthorn of MESH recalled: “Mark Hockings presented me with a demo at the time we were writing material for ‘Looking Skyward’. On first listen, I wasn’t too sure about the track as I thought it didn’t really fit with the overall feeling of the album so it kind of got shelved. The record company asked ‘what about the B-side?’ so Mark suggested ‘Paper Thin’ again. The bassline, drums and many other lines were changed and the new version came to life.”
After SCARLET SOHO, James Knights busied himself with a new Britalo inspired solo project. With hints of NEW ORDER’s ‘Subculture’ and found on KNIGHT$ debut EP ‘What’s Your Poison?’, he said “’So Cold’ is the second or third song I wrote as KNIGHT$. It’s a little darker than my other material, and the only song I’ve recorded using a marxophone (a fretless zither which I borrowed from my friend Alun Davies). It didn’t make it onto my debut album, but it’s still a song the audience enjoy, as do I.”
PSYCHE co-founder Darrin Huss said of ‘Truth Or Consequence’: “It started out under the title ‘Life On Trial’ and was about the Bradley Manning (now Chelsea) situation. It’s about the NSA surveillance, whistleblowers, etc. It’s also about the confusion between what is Truth, and what are the consequences of telling it, living it? Do we have safety in numbers? etc. It’s all in the lyrics. It’s a very PSYCHE song with even a nod to ‘The Brain Collapses’ with our use of that song’s drum machine the Oberheim DMX.”
That Marc Almond and Dave Ball reunited for a farewell gig and new material was a pleasant surprise. The frustration and anger expressed in ‘Guilty (Cos I Say You Are)’ with the lines “I can denounce you just because I can, I didn’t have the life I wanted, I didn’t do the things I dreamed” saw SOFT CELL continue where they left of in 2003. With dark resonances like ‘The Omen’ gone disco, its eerie gothique countered the celebratory electro-soul of A-side ‘Northern Lights’
INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP Another Brick In The Wall – Remoaner mix (2019)
Inheriting the mantle of THE HUMAN LEAGUE in the modern synthpop stakes, INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP impressed with their self-titled debut album. With the single release of ‘The Ballad Of Remedy Wilson’ was a timely Remoaner mix of PINK FLOYD’s ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ sung in German that made a bold musical and political statement. Headteacher Adrian Flanagan said: “I hope that statement is ‘I hate PINK FLOYD but love KRAFTWERK’ and / or – ‘I hate you but love the EU’”.
2019 was a year of 40th Anniversaries, celebrating the synth becoming the sound of pop when ‘Are Friends Electric?’ reached No1 in the UK chart in 1979.
While GARY NUMAN opted for ‘(R)evolution’ and two of his former sidemen RRussell Bell and Chris Payne ventured solo for the first time, OMD offered a 7 disc ‘Souvenir’ featuring a whole album of quality unreleased material to accompany a concert tour to celebrate four decades in the business.
That was contrary to DEPECHE MODE who merely plonked 14 albums into a boxed set in a move where the ‘Everything Counts’ lyric “the grabbing hands grab all they can” became more and more ironic…
MIDGE URE partied like it was 1980 with the music of VISAGE and ULTRAVOX, while SIMPLE MINDS announced an arena tour for 2020 so that their audience could show Jim Kerr their hands again. HEAVEN 17 announced some special showcases of the early material of THE HUMAN LEAGUE and got a particularly warm reception opening on tour for SQUEEZE as a trailer ahead of their own ‘Greatest Hits’ jaunt next year.
Celebrating 20 years in music, there was the welcome return of LADYTRON with a self-titled comeback album, while Swedish evergreens LUSTANS LAKEJER performed the ‘Åkersberga’ album for its 20th Anniversary and similarly GOLDFRAPP announced a series of shows in honour of their magnificent cinematic debut ‘Felt Mountain’.
Cult favourites FIAT LUX made their intimate live comeback in a church in Bradford and released their debut album ‘Saved Symmetry’ 37 years after their first single ‘Feels Like Winter Again’.
As a result, their fans were also treated to ‘Ark Of Embers’, the long player that Polydor Records shelved in 1985 when the band were on the cusp of a breakthrough but ended with a commercial breakdown.
Modern prog exponents Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson got back together as NO-MAN for their dual suite electronic concept record ‘Love You To Bits’, but an even more ambitious undertaking came from UNDERWORLD with their boxed set ‘Drift Series 1’.
After a short hiatus, the mighty KITE sold-out three gigs at Stockholm Slaktkyrkan and ended the year performing at an opera house, while GIORGIO MORODER embarked on his first ever concert tour where his songs were the stars.
Despite the fall of The Berlin Wall 30 years ago, there were more evident swipes to the right than there had been for a long time, with the concept of Brexit Electro becoming a rather unpleasant reality. So in these more sinister times, the need for classic uplifting electronic pop was higher than ever.
To that end, three superb debut albums fitted the bill. While KNIGHT$ offered quality Britalo on ‘Dollars & Cents’, the suave presence of OLLIE WRIDE took a more MTV friendly direction with ‘Thanks In Advance’.
But for those wanting something more home produced, the eccentric Northern electronic pop of the brilliantly named INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP continued the artistic lineage of THE HUMAN LEAGUE.
QUIETER THAN SPIDERS finally released their wonderful debut album ‘Signs Of Life’ which was naturally more understated and Denmark had some worthy synthpop representation with SOFTWAVE producing an enjoyably catchy debut long player in ‘Game On’.
On the shadier side of electronic pop, BOY HARSHER achieved a wider breakthrough with their impressive ‘Careful’ long player but as a result, the duo acquired a contemporary hipster element to their fanbase who seemed to lack manners and self-awareness as they romped around gigs without a care for anyone around them. But with tongues-in-cheeks, SPRAY continued to amuse with their witty prankelectro on ‘Failure Is Inevitable’.
Photo by Johnny Jewel
Italians Do It Better kept things in house as CHROMATICS unexpectedly unleashed their first album for six years in ‘Closer To Grey’ and embarked on a world tour.
Main support was DESIRE and accompanied on keyboards by HEAVEN singer Aja, the pair took things literally during their cover version of ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ with a girl-on-girl kiss in front of head honcho Johnny Jewel.
Other ITIB acts on the tour dependent on territory included DOUBLE MIXTE, IN MIRRORS and KRAKÓW LOVES ADANA. But the best work to appear from the stable came from JORJA CHALMERS who became ‘Human Again’.
Touring in Europe with OMD and MIDGE URE, TINY MAGNETIC PETS unleashed two EPs ‘The Politburo Disko’ and ‘Girl In A White Dress’ as fellow Dubliner CIRCUIT3 got political and discussed ‘The Price Of Nothing & The Value Of Everything’.
The King of Glum Rock LLOYD COLE surprised all with an electronic pop album called ‘Guesswork’ just as PET SHOP BOYS set an ‘Agenda’. HOWARD JONES released his most synthy work for years in ‘Transform’ and while CHINA CRISIS acted as his well-received support on the UK leg of his 35th Anniversary tour, their front man GARY DALY ventured solo with ‘Gone From Here’.
Sweden continued to produce quality electronic pop with enjoyable releases from the likes of MACHINISTA, PAGE, COVENANT, OBSESSION OF TIME and LIZETTE LIZETTE. One of the most interesting acts to emerge from the region was US featuring the now Stockholm-domiciled Andrew Montgomery from GENEVA and Leo Josefsson of LOWE, with the catalyst of this unlikely union coming from a shared love of the late country legend Glen Campbell. Meanwhile, veteran trio DAYBEHAVIOR made the best album of their career ‘Based On A True Story’.
However, Canada again gave the Swedes a good run for their money as ELECTRIC YOUTH and FM ATTACK released new material while with more of a post-punk slant, ACTORS impressed audiences who preferred a post-post-punk edge alongside their synths. DANA JEAN PHOENIX though showed herself to be one of the best solo synth performers on the live circuit, but artistically the best of the lot was MECHA MAIKO who had two major releases ‘Okiya’ and ‘Let’s!’.
Despite making some good music in 2019 with their ‘Destroyer’ two-parter, the “too cool for school” demeanour of TR/ST might have impressed hipsters, but left a lot to be desired. A diva-ish attitude of entitlement was also noticed by The Electricity Club to be disappointingly prevalent in several fledgling acts.
However, several of the sub-genre’s artists needed to rethink their live presentations which notably underwhelmed with their static motions and lack of engagement.
While promoters such as Outland developed on their solid foundations, others attempted to get too big too soon like the musical equivalent of a penis extension, leaving fans disappointed and artists unpaid. Attempting to turnover more than 10 acts during in a day with a quarter of an hour changeover has always been an odious task at best, but to try 15?!? One hopes the headliners were well paid despite having to go on at midnight when most of their supporters went home so as not to miss the last train…
Now at times, it was as if a major collective midlife crisis had hit independent electronic music in the UK during 2019.
It was not unlike how “born again bikers” have become a major road safety risk, thanks to 40somethings who only managed Cycling Proficiency in Junior School suddenly jumping onto 500cc Honda CMX500 Rebel motorcycles, thinking they were Valentino Rossi.
Something similar was occurring in music as a variety of posturing delusional synth owners indulged in a remix frenzy and visions of grandeur like it was normal behaviour, forgetting that ability and talent were paramount.
This attitude led to a number of poorly attended events where attendees were able to be counted on one hand, thanks to clueless fans of said combos unwisely panning their video footage around the venue.
Playing at 3:15pm in an empty venue is NOT performing at a ‘major’ electronic festival… “I’ll be more selective with the gigs I agree to in the UK” one of these acts haplessly bemoaned, “I’ve played to too many empty rooms!” – well, could that have been because they are not very good?
Bands who had blown their chance by not showing willingness to open for name acts during holiday periods, while making unwise comments on their national TV debut about their lack of interest in registering for PRS, said they were going to split a year in advance, but not before releasing an EP and playing a farewell show in an attempt to finally get validation for their art. Was this a shining example of Schrodinger’s Band?
Of course, the worst culprits were those who had an internet radio show or put on gigs themselves so that they could actually perform, because otherwise external promotors were only interested in them opening at 6.15pm after a ticket deal buy on for a five band bill. Humility wouldn’t have gone amiss in all these cases.
It’s a funny old world, but as The Electricity Club comes up to concluding its tenth year as an influential platform that has written extensively about not one or two or three or four BUT five acts prior to them being selected to open on tour for OMD, luckily the gulf between good and bad music is more distinct than ever.
Artwork by Heloisa Flores
The Electricity Club had a compilation released by Amour Records gathering some of the best music from the last 10 years and reached No2 in the German POPoNAUT charts.
It will be interesting to see if the high standard of electronic pop will be maintained or whether the influx of deluded poor quality artists will contaminate the bloodline.
So The Electricity Club ends the decade with a complimentary comment by a punter after TEC006 who had also been to TEC004: “You don’t put on sh*t do you…”
May the supreme talent rise and shine… you know who you are 😉
Despite her roles as a lead vocalist, this is the first time she has ventured out musically on her own.
With her forlorn vocal presence and endearing instrumental charm, courtesy of her array of vintage keyboards, ‘Polarlichter’ is an impressive solo debut that is a soundscape of pastoral solace.
Released on Happy Robots Records, home of RODNEY CROMWELL and TINY MAGNETIC PETS, the first single ‘Goddess’ has already been declared one of the singles of 2019 by BBC 6 Music’s Steve Lamacq, while the sub-OMD of ‘We Are Still Alone’ with its the lilting bass and elegiac transistorised melody is wonderfully glorious.
Alice Hubley chatted to The Electricity Club about the genesis of ‘Polarlichter’ and much more…
‘Polarlichter’ as a title is perfect for the album, but what inspired you to use that particular word, as opposed to other variants and languages?
The title track initially came from the artwork from the LP which I bought in a flea market in Berlin a few years ago. I like the way it sounds and rolls off the tongue, I probably don’t do the best job of pronouncing it though!
Some would say this is the album people have been waiting for from you since ARTHUR & MARTHA? Who were your key influences for this record?
That’s very nice of you to say. I do think this LP is very self-indulgent and it’s been the most fun I’ve ever had recording and putting out a record.
The tracks were generally influenced by places and people / personal interactions. I don’t necessarily set out to borrow from other artists, I enjoy seeing what people pick up on when reviewing the record.
There are definitely some surprises and Googling I’ve had to do, but I know I do wear my heart on my sleeve.
Was it the intention to make a half song / half instrumental album? What do you get as a musician from one form that you can’t get from the other?
I didn’t set out for that initially. When I first started the project, I was really looking to do more instrumental tracks and attack the writing process in a different way to how I have approached song writing in the past. I got a lot out of changing round my processes.
The song tracks developed along the way, mainly ‘cause they just come out of me. I think my instrumental tracks are representative of what I’m trying to get across when writing them, but it’s definitely easier to tell as a story with a song.
You began the compositional process on an iPad before bringing in analogue synths, which particular instruments did you use?
The main apps I’ve used are Tabletop and the Moog Model 15 synth app along with Garage Band and a few effects.
Where do you sit on that hardware versus software debate?
Ha, it is a contentious debate, I created a hushed silence in a room with a band (I won’t divulge who!) once when I said I liked the Moog iPad app! The thing I like about some apps is that they encourage a different way of thinking to playing a keyboard, recording can be quite immediate and you can come up with different ideas when things are more off cuff.
I personally feel if the sound fits the track and is good enough quality then why not use an app sound. I think I re-recorded the majority of the Model 15 tracks ‘cause they sounded better on the Prodigy, but the Tabletop sounds are very prominent on the LP.
‘Ruby Falls’ is a lively opening statement that paints pictures in the listener’s mind. When you go travelling, what sort of places do you like to visit and how does it stimulate your music?
I like to visit places of natural beauty and those more off the beaten path; this year, for contrast this year I’ve visited the Alhambra in Granada and a nuclear bunker in Prague. It’s nice to be taken out of the familiar, I’ve found travelling is inspiring and also triggers creativity for me.
The single ‘Goddess’ has had a very positive response, what was its genesis?
‘Goddess’ was one of the first tracks I wrote for the LP. I’d always liked the idea of writing a song called ‘Goddess’, it’s a word that is bold, beautiful and distinctly female. Through thinking about Goddesses and goddess worship came the idea of the destructive nature of the male gaze when taken to extremes, which the song explores lyrically.
I think the bass riff came in first before the song, it was written over such a long time. I then wanted to go for this chorused / filtering synth sound, which I remember worrying after it was done that it was too intense to listen to on headphones. I’m really delighted by the response it has got though, so I guess I was wrong!
The choral laden ‘Atlantis Palm’ is rather gorgeous…
The key track on the album is ‘We Are Still Alone’, it’s a bit like OMD meeting ASHRA?
That’s very kind, both bands are big touch points for me.
The main melodic theme of ‘We Are Still Alone’ reoccurs on ‘The Golden Age’ and ‘Still Polarlichter’, is this all part of a bigger story?
Ha, well spotted. The solo from ‘We Are Still Alone’ was at one point quite prominent in ‘The Golden Age’. It wasn’t intentional but it does help to pull the record together.
‘Kick The Habit’ goes all electro-glam, like a synthy Suzi Quatro?
Totally! I wrote the track after coming off tour supporting the psychedelic rock band BLACK MOUNTAIN, they have a lot of songs with big guitar riffs in them and this was my attempt at writing a big riff song.
There’s a lot of flute sounds on the album, are they real ones?
I wouldn’t be adverse to a real flute on a record, but it’s all the beautiful sound of the Mellotron.
Which tracks on ‘Polarlichter’ are your own favourites and why?
I like them all for different reasons, though I’m particularly fond of ‘Still Polarlichter’ and ‘Atlantis Palm’. ‘Still Polarlichter’ because we went on such a journey in the studio with that song, it’s so sinister and also I love playing it live. With ‘Atlantis Palm’, it just feels so different from anything I’ve done in the past, it’s so simple but a big statement.
You are undertaking a headlining tour having opened for DAMO SUZUKI and TINY MAGNETIC PETS earlier in the year. How were those experiences and how will your approach change as you move into the role of headliner?
Both shows were a lot of fun, it was such a great experience playing with Damo and TINY MAGNETIC PETS and they were both very sweet to me.
It is a bit daunting but I am looking forward to the headline shows, I’m not planning on bringing anyone into the band as of yet, but I am looking to expand the set in some ways. Come along and see for yourself!
Will there be more from ALICE HUBBLE in the future, how has the solo experience been for you compared to being part of a band?
Yes, there is definitely more ALICE HUBBLE in the works, I’m actually in the middle of preparing to go back into the studio in September to start recording for the next release.
The whole ALICE HUBBLE process has been a dream, being solo means you can work at your own pace and can be quick at making decisions. It can get lonely at times, but I make a point of working with people I enjoy being around and try to have fun with it.
The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to ALICE HUBBLE
ALICE HUBBLE is the new solo project of Alice Hubley, previously best known for fronting ARTHUR & MARTHA and COSINES.
Taking in the influence of Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram and Sally Oldfield, the avant pop heart of Hubley is now set free on her debut long player ‘Polarlichter’, literally translated in Deutsch as “polar lights” or auroras.
Recorded with analogue synths at home before being mixed at Big Jelly Studios under the co-production supervision of Mikey Collins who also contributed drums and guitar, ‘Polarlichter’ is undeniably escapist.
In keeping with the aura of varying colour and complexity projected by the album’s title, the opening instrumental ‘Ruby Falls’ offers mysterious octave shifts and pagan flutes while picturing North Sea islands painted by hand played keys.
Laced in Korg and Juno, her forlorn vocal presence makes its first appearance on the wonderful ‘Goddess’, a song about male obsession which has already been declared one of the singles of 2019 by BBC 6 Music’s Steve Lamacq. With its moody vintage synths and primitive drum boxes, there are also hints of BOOK OF LOVE, THE CURE, SPARKS and OMD.
Channelling German trailblazers Manuel Göttsching and Harald Grosskopf, both in their solo guises and together as ASHRA, the pulsing cosmic overtones of ‘Atlantis Palm’ offer beautiful synthetic choirs and airy fluty textures for a superb seven minutes of melancholic ambience.
Hubley’s earthy demeanour returns on the sub-OMD of ‘We Are Still Alone’, where the lilting bass and elegiac transistorised melody are glorious.
But when the synth strings respond in that ASHRA style, it becomes perfect avant pop where Hubley sadly resigns to herself that she “couldn’t find the way to make me better”.
‘Kick The Habit’ takes a jump in tempo and schaffels with live percussion for a charmingly enjoyable slice of electro-glam. Meanwhile keeping things to waltz time, ‘Hunt For The Blood Red Moon’ is electronic folk, solemnly dancing around a maypole of Moog.
Filmic instrumental ‘The Golden Age’ has its synths set to toy town, but more haunting Mellotrons weave their way into the wicker lattice with brilliant vibrato swirls before progressing into mutant funk and a collage of album segments to create an uneasy schizophrenic feel.
The chimes of ‘Still Polarlichter’ sees Hubble still alone, again echoing OMD with the string machine playing a variation on the ‘We Are Still Alone’ theme, but with more of a psychedelic vibe. At over nearly seven minutes, the mighty bubbles of synth, drum breaks and Germanic demeanour concoct a recipe of feisty feminine prog.
With the language of melody in common, ‘Polarlichter’ makes a fine voice-assisted companion to OBLONG ‘The Sea At Night’, an instrumental album of rustic organically farmed electronica released earlier in this year.
Over four songs and four instrumentals, ALICE HUBBLE makes the perfect synth earth mother with her endearing array of vintage keyboards. This is an impressive solo debut that is a soundscape of pastoral solace.