Ladytron - The Need For Speed
The wait is over. Über-cool uk synth act Ladytron are finally heading to Australia as a live band, new album Velocifero in tow. 3D’s Cyclone chats with ‘lady’ Daniel Hunt.
Ladytron may be the definitive electro-clash band, but they’ve survived the hype, reaching their fourth album in Velocifero. Daniel Hunt, Reuben Wu, Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo bonded in the late-’90s in a series of accidental encounters. In the tradition of Kraftwerk, the UK outfit projected a stark uniform image, but their music – created with vintage synths and drum machines – referenced Sheffield’s ’80s bands, notably The Human League, and glam rock.
Ladytron, currently divided between Liverpool and London, appropriated their handle from an early Roxy Music number. Ironically, when a cool Hunt met Bryan Ferry, instead of trading musical insights, he was lost for words.
“I’m very much of the philosophy ‘Keep your idols at arm’s length’,” he rues in his Scouse accent. “I’m really useless when I meet anybody who I admire. I sustained a conversation with him for about two minutes.”
However, Ladytron have won the praise of The Human League’s Phil Oakey. Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine once attended a gig and John Foxx recognises them as part of the same continuum of cutting-edge electronic music.
Ladytron premiered in 2001 with the artfully playful 604, encompassing their deceptively charming He Took Her to a Movie. From the outset, these retro futurists beguiled the press. Unlike the flamboyant Fischerspooner, they avoided gimmickry. In bringing a postmodern irony to synth-pop, Ladytron also proved subversive. The Bulgarian Mira, she of the deadpan voice, flipped Communist children’s propaganda on Commodore Rock. (The Scottish Helen, by contrast, sings with soulfully icy Annie Lennox tones.) Ladytron’s second foray, Light & Magic, home to Seventeen, established them in club circles. With Witching Hour, Ladytron put an urban darkness into shoegaze pop. Destroy Everything You Touch was gothic disco.
This year they returned with Velocifero, the title meaning “bringer of speed”. Daniel feels that Velocifero is more textured and the songs more developed – it’s a “more concise” work. The band applied lessons learnt from experimenting on Witching Hour. “When we did the last album, that felt like more of a departure to us.
“We look at the tools we make the record with – the synths and the guitars and the effects and the vocals and everything – and think, ‘OK, well, that’s what makes us’. It’s just that [this time] we introduced a lot more layers.
“The plan with each album has been to make an album better than the last. This one is the first where I feel like, OK, if I was just gonna play one record to somebody as a definitive album, it would be this one, rather than a compilation of tracks across the eight years.
“I suppose if you put the albums together, they all make sense in the end. But the biggest test is that we can still listen to this record all the way through. The first two albums especially, about two weeks after they were out, I just couldn’t even bear to hear them anymore!”
The dynamic in Ladytron has subtly changed with all four hands-on in the writing process. Hunt directed the band earlier on. “I think every band normally has one person driving it along, and that’s how we started, but now we all are,” he says. “And, because all four of us are creating, it feels a lot more powerful – and a lot more healthy.
“We split everything in this band four ways. Normally bands have one person who’s earning all the money – [but] we split everything totally equally. That’s really important to us as well. That might be why we’re still together.”
If anything, the Brits, who last year opened for Nine Inch Nails in one of their few supports, delve deeper into industrial on Velocifero. Ladytron teamed with NIN keyboardist Alessandro Cortini as well as Ed Banger’s Vicarious Bliss, aka Andy Gardiner, in Paris for recording sessions. Daniel stresses that Ladytron produce themselves, the outsiders akin to “extra band members”. In the past, others have unwittingly been credited for what the band do.
Ladytron are yet to cross over as Goldfrapp have done. They remain on an indie label, the Canadian Nettwerk. And that’s how Ladytron prefer it.
“When we started, being a pop band was like a concept. We weren’t really that serious about it. It wasn’t what we actually wanted. It was just, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if Seventeen was the biggest thing ever-’ It wasn’t something we were actively pursuing. Personally, I found it funny.
“But now it’s not just [us] being ambivalent about it, I really don’t think we want to be that kind of huge crossover band at all. It’d be the kiss of death for what we were doing.
“That’s a strange situation to be in – where you’re in a band and you’ve been going for eight years and you’ve done four albums, playing to bigger and bigger rooms, but you don’t wanna be famous.”
Ladytron already have plans for their next excursion.
“When we were putting Velocifero together, we had another set of songs that were more downbeat and more abstract. We wanted to group them together into a single album, rather than have them just be interludes – which is where they would have existed on previous albums. We wanna make a record like that with a different mood.
“It might not be the new Ladytron Ladytron record, but it might be a companion to [Velocifero], or it might just be one of those ‘in between stages’ [projects]. But it’d be interesting. We’re excited about breaking from any kind of expectation at all and doing something quite spontaneous and with a specific mood.
“I don’t know when we’re gonna do that – when we get some time off. I don’t think our record label knows about it yet,” he laughs.
In fact, Daniel briefly pushed for a double-album. Alarmed pals talked him out of it. “Everybody I spoke to was like, ‘You do realise you’re opening yourself up to a world of hurt by doing that-’”
“[I said] I understand it’s a bad idea. Everyone will think it’s a bad idea – the manager, the label, the audience, everybody... I don’t know anyone who’s ever got away with it, to be honest!”
At any rate, Ladytron are finally performing in Australia, its members previously touring as DJs. (“It was meant to be a reconnaissance mission for the live tour,” Daniel says.) Ladytron all DJ, except Helen. Nevertheless, DJing is an adjunct to the group.
Indeed, Hunt maintains that contemporary club culture has limited influence over Ladytron’s music. “We’re not making albums designed for the dancefloor, we’re making them more universal – and [making] something that would hopefully last more than dance music traditionally does ’cause the turnover is so quick.”
Retro futurists forever.
WHAT: Velocifero through Nettwerk / Shock / Play The Metro Theatre
WHEN: Out now / Monday 29 September, Tuesday 30