Berlin-based Sebastian “Hyboid” Hübert is a bit of a synthesizer nerd who harbors an affinity for synth-heavy genres ranging from Italo Disco, new wave, and 80s synth-pop to space electro, cosmic disco, and the various manifestations of Tangerine Dream. He’s also enjoyed the synthwave genre, but never before has he recorded a full-on synthwave record.
That changes with Wired at Heart, his new album released today via his label, Astro Chicken. Both Hübert and the label are Valerie friends and, if they aren’t already, they will be on your list after experiencing this record.
To celebrate the release of Wired at Heart, I’m publishing an interview we did recently. Hübert touches on a lot of topics, such as genre restrictions, the art of creating synth-based music, the inspiration of the city of Berlin, and his bespoke synthesizer made just for Wired at Heart, among other subjects.
Vehlinggo: Let’s discuss Wired at Heart, your new album which I enjoy immensely. You have called this record a nod to the “80s-centric synthwave craze.” What was your motivation/inspiration behind these songs?
Sebastian Hübert (AKA “Hyboid”): I have done a lot of different things in the past, music-wise. Some tracks that I did years ago could be called “synthwave” by today’s standards, but I have never done a purely synthwave-oriented release. Now it was time to go full-on ’80s style for the length of an entire album.
What inspires me? Well, I listen to a lot of ’80s synth-pop, new wave, and Italo Disco. Other than that, the sci-fi movies and TV shows that I loved as a kid have been eternally influential for me. Of course I also follow the synthwave scene, but I am not influenced too much by what is being released today.
How different was your approach to writing and recording this release compared to previous ones, like your most recent album, 2016’s Terrör of the Üniverse, which was fairly ’80s-nostalgic in composition? (And is it easier or harder to write a synthwave song?
My previous album featured a lot of hand-played synth lines, pads, and chords. For Wired at Heart I still did a lot of live playing, but there is more sequenced material on it. The Roland MSQ-700 — the first ever MIDI sequencer from 1983 — was my main sequencer for this album.
“Any genre can be terribly restricting (or constricting) if you stick to the rules. That’s why I don’t like genre restrictions.”
Last year I finally got my hands on a Linndrum, which also made a huge impact on the sound of the Wired at Heart album. The Linn simply sounds that good! I also used more digital/hybrid synths than on my earlier releases: the Kawai K1m, Korg EX-8000, and Ensoniq Mirage sampling keyboard.
Making a synthwave song is not a problem in itself, but if you are trying to make an entire synthwave album you want to avoid being repetitive and boring. It’s easy to fall into that trap. Any genre can be terribly restricting (or constricting) if you stick to the rules. That’s why I don’t like genre restrictions.
Now the real challenge is to explore the boundaries of the genre and to come up with something you haven’t heard a thousand times before, right?
You’re selling a special “Synth Gadget” edition of Wired at Heart that comes with what is essentially a small synthesizer shaped like a heart. Tell me more about that awesome synth. How’d that come about? Who made it and how does it work?
This synth gadget idea came from my friend Tobias Münzer of www.tubbutec.de, who develops MIDI extensions for vintage synths as well as Eurorack modules. So we sat down together with an interface designer, Phirol, and came up with the design for the “Wired Heart” gadget a couple of weeks later.
It’s basically a little heart-shaped, digital, six-oscillator synth with touchpads to manipulate the sounds — which are rather experimental by the way. This little synth comes with my “Wired at Heart” Synth Gadget special edition, but it can also be ordered separately via tubbutec.de.
What do you want people to get out of your new album?
I expect the general synth music fandom to do whatever they enjoy doing while listening to my album (on vinyl, if possible!). I hope to expand my fanbase to include more synthwave-heads, of course. And the “Wired Heart” digital synthesizer that is included in the “Synth Gadget” special edition should appeal to the synthesizer nerd as well.
Summing it up: Party like it’s 1985!
I’m going to switch gears here. What’s the story behind Astro Chicken, your record label?
Back in 2008-09 I was part of a netlabel collective called Welovetoemerge. When that went belly up I thought: I can do better that that! So I founded my own label Astro Chicken in 2010 as a platform for space electro and cosmic disco. In the years before that I had amassed enough material for several releases; by other artists as well as my own stuff.
I took the name of my label from a computer game series called Space Quest by Sierra Adventures. “Astro Chicken” was a little arcade game you could play inside one the Space Quest games. I’ve always loved that name and it was a logical choice for my label.
We are looking at the eighth release on Astro Chicken this year! Lately I have been busy releasing my solo work, so there is hardly any time or resources to expand the artist roster at the moment.
I sometimes think of Astro Chicken as a German Valerie Collective, because both entities have been around a while and exist in some ways as their own, vital scenes. Do you agree and why?
Comparing Astro Chicken to Valerie Collective is very flattering, indeed! J’adore Valerie, oui!
“Cosmic brothers in arms, we are.”
When I founded Astro Chicken I was already totally into Valerie, the nostalgic air about them, their unique visual style and high-class releases and mixtapes really stood out.
Honestly, I would have loved to do something similar with Astro Chicken back then, but the lack of a local scene where I was living back then — the Rhine area of Western Germany — made it very hard to actually meet like-minded fellow musicians, or to organize parties and so on. I do think that the underlying theme of Astro Chicken is quite similar to that of Valerie, the overall mood, so strangely familiar.
Meeting Valerie boss David “College” Grellier in Paris before we played a show together in 2013 was a very nice experience, by the way. He’s so down to earth! I still contribute mixtapes for Valerie from time to time. Cosmic brothers in arms, we are.
You live in Berlin, which for decades has been the center of some of the most influential electronic music movements. What sort of effect does Berlin have on your work?
Indeed, Berlin has spawned some of my favorite German bands, like Tangerine Dream, The Twins, or Spliff. This is a great place for artists to hook up with like-minded people. There is always something interesting synth-related going on here: it never gets boring! On top of that, it’s damn practical to have awesome synth stores like Just Music or Schneidersladen just around the corner.
I have made some close friends here in Berlin who are either synth or music nerds. We regularly hang out in my studio and jam with my synths and drum machines. I always record what we play and it would be great to release some of that music some day.
Why does everyone love synth music these days?
I don’t know, but I can tell you why I listen to it: Cause it’s eternally awesome!
(Editor’s Note: This interview was condensed and edited for style.)
You can purchase Wired at Heart in digital and various vinyl forms via Bandcamp.