Literally meaning “Witches’ Dance Floor” in German, ‘Hexentanzplatz’ is the evocative title of the second album from Alice Hubble, formally of ARTHUR & MARTHA and COSINES.
Channeling her inner Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram and Sally Oldfield, ‘Polarlichter’ was a fine avant pop debut that captured an earthy musical aurora. Named after a mountain located just over 70km south west of Magbeburg located in what was the former DDR, ‘Hexentanzplatz’ begins with a gorgeous filmic set piece entitled ‘West Reservoir’ that could be best described as a watery wash of aural morning dew.
But the album gets serious with ‘Power Play’, an statement on the #MeToo movement reflecting Alice Hubble’s embracement of collective digital activism and serves as an electro-organic protest song.
With a subtle similarity in theme but bursting with assorted electronic moods and rhythmic pulses, the ‘Hexentanzplatz’ title song recalls some of the more recent work of Sarah Nixey on ‘Night Walks’, while our heroine stares in awe at the named mountain and surroundings, although using the view as a metaphor about fighting the patriarchy.
One of the glistening highlights on ‘Hexentanzplatz’ comes with the rousing indie synthpop of ‘Projections’, successfully combining emotive Mellotron strings and a catchy countrified chorus like NEW ORDER’s ‘Love Vigilantes’ but without the ghostly war story, instead a love song for the confused.
The laid back ‘Summer Smoke’ provides another of Alice Hubble’s earthy yet otherworldly offerings, while ‘Make Believe’ plays within a magical cavern of its own that is all strange off-beats and wobbling synths.
Another highlight comes with the optimistically romantic ‘My Dear Friend’ where subtle drums and a whirring cacophony of varyingly tuned synths recalls LADYTON and ‘Mirage’ in particular.
Meanwhile, ‘Numb’ musically comes over like a carousel ride run by The Brothers Grimm before the closing instrumental ‘Gleichfalls’ motorises itself into an enjoyably frantic NEW ORDER stylisation.
A worthy follow-up to her similarly Pagan spirited ‘Polarlichter’, Alice Hubble has immersed herself in the mystic air of the old Saxon cult site that is ‘Hexentanzplatz’ and emerged with a melancholic but positive body of work celebrating nature, inclusivity and acceptance.
Alice Hubble 2021 live dates include: London Folklore (7th October), Nottingham Old Cold Store (8th October), Leeds Wharf Chambers (15th October), Brighton West Hill Hall (23rd October), Cardiff The Moon (31st October)
Following her acclaimed 2019 debut album ‘Polarlichter’ which was released on Happy Robots Records and gained the support of Lauren Laverne, Steve Lamacq and Gideon Coe from BBC 6Music, synth earth mother Alice Hubble will issue its follow up ‘Hexentanzplatz’ this Autumn.
Named after a Harz mountain located just over 70km south west of Magbeburg, Hexentanzplatz literally means “Witches’ Dance Floor” in German and accurately captures the mystic air of the old Saxon cult site where legend has it, ancient fertility rites were practiced and sacrifices took place.
However, the second single from the album ‘My Dear Friend’ is more optimistically romantic having been inspired by the discovery of a collection of love letters written by Alice Hubble’s mother to her father around the time that they first met. “My mother passed away when I was in my teens” she said, “these letters gave me a real insight into who she was as a person, her ‘newly in love’ giddiness jumping off the page”.
The hazy kaleidoscopic black and white video for ‘My Dear Friend’ directed by Alice Hubble herself captures an immersive hazy feeling while the song itself, with its combination of understated drums from Matt Kelly and a whirring cacophony of varyingly tuned synths, recalls the electro-organic pagan ritual of LADYTON’s ‘Mirage’ from the ‘Gravity The Seducer’ long player which is now 10 years old.
While the already premiered ‘Power Play’ with its important statement on the #MeToo movement reflects Alice Hubble’s embracement of collective digital activism and serves as her protest song, one of the glistening highlights on ‘Hexentanzplatz’ comes with the rousing indie synthpop of ‘Projections’.
One of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s Songs Of 2019 was ‘We Are Still Alone’ by ALICE HUBBLE and it 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, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK 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 ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’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 ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK 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’”.
MOOD TAEG are a detached combo split between Düsseldorf and Shanghai.
From the likes of CAN, CLUSTER, NEU! and HARMONIA to more recent exponents of the form like CAVERN OF ANTI-MATTER and IMMERSION, MOOD TAEG follow in the tradition of instrumental kosmische experimentation.
Just like those records of cosmic yore, their debut album ‘Exophora’ on Happy Robots Records comprises of five lengthy tracks exploring the rhythmic hypnotism of Apache beats, half speed guitar and expansive electronic soundscaping.
With a heart that is both analogue and metronomic, over the course of just under ten minutes, the mantic opening number ‘2MR’ pays respectful homage to ‘Hallo Gallo’ from the first NEU! album. Running at just six minutes, ‘Deictics’ adds a synthy rumble to proceedings with schizophrenic voices before a bass guitar run morphs in, adding to the mind bending trance laden effect.
The frantically motorik ‘Corpora’ comes closest to being a pop tune despite the gargoyle grumblings and glistens with a cristallo shine that has pulsing electronic keys acting as a melodic engine room as well as a rhythmic one.
‘Interrogative’ displays an affinity with HARMONIA using a offbeat and a psychedelic vibe, but ‘Mood Block’ changes tact with a delightful rhythm unit on a speedy Schaffel setting while Mellotron derived pipe passages add a blurry haze to the spacey cocoon of bleepy sound.
This music is not wholly avant garde, so if a blended cacophony of drifting textures and occasional melody over some tightly rigid rhythm construction appeals, then ‘Exophora’ will satisfy the ears and minds of many kosmische enthusiasts, sitting nicely not far from the most recent FUJIYA & MIYAGI.