15 October 2012

Muzik interview (2002)

A grimy cafe in the worn-out Ancoats area of Manchester is not typical Ladytron territory. Not if you believe that they are the synth-pop saviours of the universe, all Prada-Meinhof chic and arch pop tunes beamed down from the coolest planet in the galaxy.

"Only the best for Ladytron!" chirrups petite, Scottish vocalist Helen Marnie, who is pushing soggy batter around her plate. Her fellow band members, Scouser Reuben Wu, Danny Hunt, who moved to Manchester 18 months ago because he "felt like part of the furniture in Liverpool", and Bulgarian former genetics PhD student Mira Aroyo, sip tea and eat crisps. The setting may be mundane, but Ladytron are anything but. Poised in the space between fashionably famous and properly, TOTP famous, they're out to prove that everything you know is wrong.

"Everything we've ever done has been to be different", says Wu. "We always had the desire not to repeat ourselves".

Since launching the acclaimed 604 on Liverpool indie label Invicta Hi-Fi two years ago, Ladytron have inspired Felix Da Housecat's Kittens and Thee Glitz, caught the fashion world's attention (for the requisite 10 seconds) with their modish uniforms and Eighties-leaning synth-pop tunes and anticipated the entire electroclash blip. Oh, and they're all stupidly attractive, in an elfin, paramilitary way.

"I was in LA throughout the summer", grins pop-obsessed, 26 year-old founding member Danny, "and I kept getting phone calls telling me this electro thing was going on in England. I came back at the tail-end of it all and thought, 'We've missed it, whatever it was'".

Reuben, 26, serene and serious in an art-swirl jumper, nods. "It's a good time for us to put out (new single) "Seventeen". The whole thing has died down and we want to book-end it".

"The fashion people latched onto us, but that's not what we are", says Helen, Mira adds: "I appreciate it, but I don't like it, They want to try and shape the music and that's a problem".

Throughout summer, when a square mile of London believed electroclash would take over the world, Ladytron, named after a Roxy Music track and Britain's leading exponents of updated synth-pop sounds, were silent. Apart from the profile-busting Reading and Leeds gigs, DJ gigs including, oh dear, New York Fashion Week and a suitably intellectual gig at London's ICA, where they provided a live soundtrack to Disney's Tron — a film whose visuals are as stunning as the plot is stupid — they've kept to the background, working on what comes next.

"People say we came round too early for all the electroclash stuff, so while we liked it, we decided to maintain a dignified silence", says Danny.

"We got a lot of press without actually doing anything", agrees Reuben. They look at each other and smile, in an inscrutable, Ladytron kind of way.

They've every reason to smile enigmatically too. Their new album, Light & Magic, leaves behind the monochrome, totalitarian sonics of 604, sounding as if the robots have been taken out of a studio and into late-afternoon sunlight. "Seventeen" may echo the first album's poisoned-candy pop with lyrics like "They only want you when you're 17 / When you're 21 you're no fun", but "Turn It On" sounds like it fell off Daft Punk's Discovery in a far brighter parallel universe".

"It was meant to sound like Salt-N-Pepa", says Reuben, "but ended up more like a booty bass tune". "The top layer sounds like Genesis", deadpans Danny.

"Black Plastic" suggests The Cure taken to Chicago circa 1986 and "Evil" sounds like Saint Etienne crossed with The Human League. It's still autobahn pop, but there's more bass. The speaker-busting album opener "True Mathematics" started as a techno tune ("Techno people like us!" declares Reuben), but will now soundtrack Friday nights at the coolest clubs, especially when the hotly-anticipated Soulwax remixes are released.

In March this year, the band were given a choice: record their album in icy Berlin with remixer Tobi Neumann or in sunny LA with Beck producer Mickey Petralia. "It didn't take us long to decide", says Danny — LA it was. "Not to slag the place off because people there have been making this music forever, but everyone is doing Berlin. Its nice to go against the flow", says Reuben. And to enjoy the sunshine. "The music changed a lot, things just grew", says Helen. Mira agrees: "We wrote most of the songs in Manchester but found that dark music sounds even better in the sun. Joy Division sounds great in an open-top car". Ladytron have successfully coupled this with the very English transformation of sex and enjoyment into a dark, guilty pleasure.

"Everyone said there was loads of bad sex on the last album", says Danny. "There was supposed to be better sex on this one but I think it's probably worse".

Recording in LA is a far cry from their beginnings. In Liverpool in 1998, Ladytron were just an idea in Danny's head. "I told people I was in this band for two years before it existed", he admits. The boys had known each other for years, a friendship cemented in Liverpool's record shops and clubs. Danny ran club night Liquidation at Le Bateau, where Reuben played. The band originally claimed Mira and Helen met on a train in Bulgaria, but, in truth, it was through mutual friends. Now complete, Ladytron speed-recorded the 15 tracks that became 604. The record came out, Britain swooned. Muzik made it our Album of the Month.

The effect was even more marked in America. "We only had about £500 to promote the album there", says Danny. "But it got good reviews and we sold quite a lot without playing live". Things are now set to get even bigger for the 'Tron. "Seventeen" was released in America on tastemaker indie label Emperor Norton (whose current roster includes Felix Da Housecat) and outsold 604 in three weeks.

If Ladytron are studiously mute about their lyrics — "even though they're about real things that happened, we'll destroy the magic if we explain them", says Helen — they're positively secretive about their live show. "We'll have sword swallowers", deadpans Mira. "Fire eaters. Go-go dancers — Helen and I will have perfected our backflips and cartwheels". Yeah, right.

They are more forthcoming about their ever-expanding DJ sideline. Reuben and Mira have just returned from a US DJing tour and Helen is about to join the DJ ranks, too. But if you go to see Danny DJ, beware: "I've got kamikaze instincts after the frustrations of doing a weekly night. Now, if you're not dancing, fuck you! I can go off at a tangent and want to (Master of the Universe voice) destroy all!". Watch out, world...

Source (pages 56, 57, 58, 59) | Scans