The weird world of Ladytron
If Kraftwerk and The Human League had found themselves marooned in a crumbling apartment block in late-1970s Eastern Europe with only an old synthesiser and a worn videotape of the film Christiane F for company, they might well have given birth to children who grew up to be Ladytron. Especially if Giorgio Moroder and David Bowie were sharing the flat next door. And Suicide were the in-house band at the local hotel bar, while Marc Almond got arrested for lewd behaviour down the street.
Carrying the fantasy further, the two boys and two girls that Kraftwerk and The Human League spawned would grow up on a diet of consumer durables, technology and processed food, listening to Detroit techno on cheap personal stereos while spending their days wandering aimlessly around the empty aisles of the local state-run department store. Their parents would make their children wear black uniforms and, Von-Trapp style, form a band and sing about their lives. At least, that's how it should have been.
"If someone really didn't want to like us, they could quite easily point to our influences", says Danny Hunt, the founder member of the group along with his Liverpudlian childhood friend Reuben Wu. "But part of the reason for the sound is because of all the travelling we've done in Europe, and we don't feel like an English band. Perhaps it's the melancholy, the emotional tonality of our sound that gives us that European feel".
Singer and keyboard player Mira Aroyo agrees: "We feel affiliated to European music and we don't have any connection to American music and the indie-rock tradition it has created. Europe in the 1970s was much greyer than America, and consequently our influences are from much more pessimistic bands than all of that hippie stuff. People like Can and Kraftwerk, who didn't want to sing about how wonderful everything was, because it wasn't".
Ladytron's real story is almost as good as the one they should have had. Danny had the idea of being in a band called Ladytron before he actually was, and, having spent his teenage years picking up vintage synthesisers at car-boot sales, he finally got around to calling up Reuben, who shared his interest in electronic music. They met Helen Marnie in a bar, and Mira, a Bulgarian genetics scientist currently living in Oxford, under circumstances no band member will fully divulge: "You can say that we met on the Bulgarian national railway", says Mira, somewhat mysteriously.
"We never put an ad in the paper asking for like-minded black-haired individuals", adds Danny, "but we did get the uniforms made to go further with what was already there".
The dark electro-pop of their debut album, 604, looks set to convince a new generation that Berlin circa 1981 was the only place to be. Ladytron's first two singles, "He Took Her to a Movie" and "Playgirl", were both NME singles of the week and Playboy magazine described "Playgirl" as "post-coital music that your girlfriend would like", which the band were pleased about. Europe is accepting them with open arms.
"In Sweden we're play-listed on national radio, and in Germany I thought we could never get away with it because it would be like coals to Newcastle, but they loved it", says Danny. "And in Spain they just love everything because they're on pills 24 hours a day".
Whether their vision of grey cities and consumer culture will appeal to the average Coldplay fan is another matter. While most bands sing about broken hearts and no-good girls, Ladytron like to write about their favourite buildings. "Architecture is a big influence. We all love the TV Tower in Berlin and a number of European train stations", says Mira. Unsurprisingly, they don't get out on that many strolls in the countryside. While Mira says that she does enjoy looking at trees and fields from the safety of the inside of a train to Liverpool, Danny sees Ladytron as a product of city life. "We're all city people. The album was recorded right in the middle of Liverpool, with drunken idiots on the streets outside and bad house music coming from every direction".
Along with adaptations of patriotic songs from Mira's Bulgarian youth, as well as an ode to the Bulgarian national football team, the album does feature love stories of a kind. On "Paco!", the theme tune to Are You Being Served? is the basis for a song in which Mira tells her lover/victim: "I saw your face on a black-and-white machine/I got your name from the checkout machine".
"Consumer culture is getting more and more extreme", she says, "and we wanted to reflect that". But it has come full circle - Ladytron's music is currently being used to sell Ivy League-style clothes in the American chain Abercrombie and Fitch. "They're really horrible", says Danny. "I wouldn't want our music to encourage people to buy clothes like that. At least I suppose you could say we're subverting things from the inside now".
7 Mar 2001