So-cool U.K. quartet Ladytron brings electropop to Gothic
Some electro-pop bands excel at exploring the icy territory between logic and emotion, accessing humanity by eschewing it.
Think Kraftwerk, or later, Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode — groups that in their own way interpreted and toyed with circuit boards as neurotransmitters, slipping pop sensibilities into sounds that could have easily devolved into a series of chilly, synthesized gurgles.
Ladytron, a dark U.K. quartet initially pegged as part of the ill-fated electroclash movement, might just be the successor to that digital torch. The act, which visits the Gothic Theatre on Tuesday, has been grafting contagious, too-cool-to-live melodies over post-industrial beats and fuzzy keyboard lines for almost 10 years.
New album "Velocifero", which also drops Tuesday, nearly perfects the set-up. Vocalists Mira Aroyo and Helen Marnie switch up moody, '80s-leaning club melodies while Daniel Hunt and Reuben Wu provide electro-organic backing tracks.
The eyeliner-heavy effect is one of simultaneous detachment and engagement.
"Tracks like 'Burning Up' (on 'Velocifero') are probably a little more familiar to people who have listened to the first two albums, almost like a bridge", Wu said over the phone just before playing the Astoria Theatre in London. "It's really great to play even when people have never heard the song before. It has a kind of impact on the audiences that you can actually detect from the stage".
Ladytron has been spending an increasing amount of time on stage, opening for Nine Inch Nails and the Chemical Brothers and touring in previously closed-off locales. Thanks to an online cult following, the shows have done surprisingly well.
At concerts in Mexico City, Guadalajara and Tijuana, for example, the band played at large, sold-out venues, despite the fact it has never signed to a record label — or even issued a record — in Mexico.
"The whole of the audience knew all the songs and was singing along", Wu said. "It was very, very strange to come to a country where you'd never think people would be into the band, but there's a massive following there".
It helps that Ladytron's appeal transcends borders, affecting a universally cool DJ pose with fussed- over, matching black outfits and typically expressionless countenances. The band does as well in Shanghai, China, as it does in São Paulo, Brazil.
"It's all bound to MySpace and file sharing", Wu said. "In some countries it's the only way a band can get an outlet".
Ladytron's forward-thinking promotional tack included streaming all of "Velocifero" on its MySpace page two weeks before the album's release. The advantage is a stronger audience reaction to the new material, as well as incentive for fans to buy the album after the show.
"It's like beta testing", Wu said. "It works really well for us when the crowd is energetic and enthusiastic".
But for a group that carefully mines the depths of electro-rock despair, is enthusiasm and energy even possible at a live show?
As any fan knows, that's a ridiculous question. Ladytron concerts are always giant dance parties.
"We're becoming more streamlined as we continue to write music and play live", Wu said. "It's almost as if the concerts used to have their own life, while the studio side was parallel but separate. We sounded a whole lot more raw and powerful on stage, but I think after (2005's) 'Witching Hour' we got to a level where the two kind of met in the middle".