Mythical Beasts and Masterful Beats
"We're just going to go out and get drunk now", says Ladytron's Daniel Hunt, having recently approved the final master of the band's fourth record. "We've been organizing these album-wrap drinking sessions for about two weeks, and even though we hadn't finished the record, we just kept having them anyway. But this one's going to be definitive".
Ladytron have good reason to celebrate. When the Liverpool quartet emerged in 1999, their suits, synths, melodies, and Teutonic trappings clearly evoked techno pioneers Kraftwerk, leading many critics to deem them a nostalgic novelty act. Then came electroclash, a short-lived, New York-based fad that produced a flurry of like-minded bands, many of questionable quality. Ladytron and other such European acts were reluctantly lumped into this category, but Hunt and his bandmates Mira Aroyo, Helen Marnie, and Reuben Wu were able to weather the subsequent electroclash backlash by disproving their detractors; the band has consistently perfected their live shows and their studio productions.
"The biggest shame about dropping that track was the name", says Aroyo. "It seemed to have a kind of urgency that we thought was relevant to the record. One of the guys who did our album cover thought that it sounded like a dinosaur. Or maybe some mythical beast".
Whatever its totem animal may be, Velocifero certainly has sharp teeth and a vicelike grip. With its assertive synths and rhythmic punch, Ladytron have moved away from the shoegazer echoes that resonated across their 2005 album, Witching Hour, producing a cleaner sound. While Hunt and Wu concentrate solely on their array of keyboards and consoles (save for a little gong action, courtesy of Wu), the ladies in the band continue to do double duty, playing synths and dividing vocal duties. Aroyo delivers her trademark bilingual deadpan (in English and Bulgarian), and Marnie provides her equally powerful yet relatively girlish counterpoint. But while the vocals and melodies have held steady, the rest of the album's sonic atmosphere appears to be in flux.
"It might be more of a departure than we actually realize at the moment", says Hunt. "It feels like a combination of the lessons we learned on the last two albums".
"On Witching Hour, we found a sound that we were happy with for the first time, but as a whole, it wasn't very diverse", adds Aroyo. "We hit on a formula of how to incorporate live drums and bass and guitars, and that's definitely still there—it gave us a lot of confidence and made us push ourselves a bit further. But with this one, we've tightened up some of the rhythmic elements and played with a wider variety of synth sounds, rather than relying on effects, reverb, and lots of washed-out guitars".
Recorded at the Studio de la Grande Armée in Paris, Velocifero was largely self-produced, with assistance from Andy Gardiner (aka Vicarious Bliss) of France's influential Ed Banger label, who had already remixed Ladytron's "Soft Power", from Witching Hour. Though Ladytron give their seal of approval to Ed Banger and the recent wave of hot French electro and hip-hop (Justice, Medhi, TTC, etc.), they're careful not to affiliate themselves with that scene, memories of electroclash still in the backs of their minds.
"We've never really cared about or been part of any trendy movements or felt competitive with other bands", says Aroyo. "We've got our way of working and we push ourselves within that space".
Hunt feels that the most significant outside contribution to the record came in the mix, by Los Angeles engineer Michael Patterson, whose credits include Beck's Midnite Vultures and several P. Diddy discs. But what really steered the band in a different direction was their own creative drive, not only to explore new sonic terrain, but to sidestep repetition.
"The worst situation to be in, if you're in a band, is to feel like you have to make the same record again and again", says Hunt. "That's gotta be soul-destroying".
"We have to amuse ourselves and reinvent ourselves, otherwise it's hard to keep this up over eight years", adds Aroyo. "But when you've been around for four albums, you also have the confidence and the freedom to change, so it becomes easier".
Ladytron's business matters have never failed to keep the band on their toes, with the constant folding of labels and forging of new deals on both sides of the Atlantic. In North America, Witching Hour was released by Ryko, which had bought out their previous label, Emperor Norton, but Velocifero has been picked up by the eager team at Nettwerk.
"The thing that really helps weirder bands like us is college radio", says Aroyo. "That's something that doesn't exist [in the U.K.]. Playlists on national radio are incredibly rigid, and very much orientated towards guitar rock bands with an NME story and lots of gossip behind them, or pre-fab pop, or hip-hop and R&B. [American] college radio is a lot more open-minded".
It also helps that Ladytron tend to tour the U.S. to death, filling up their aftershow time and days off with DJ gigs that allow them to meet even more fans than they would otherwise. With 31 dates set for North America alone to promote the June release of Velocifero, Ladytron have a lot on their plate this year. Clearly, the appeal of playing live hasn't worn off.
"I've enjoyed the last couple of tours a lot more", says Aroyo. "When we started, we thought we'd just make records. We had jobs, we had other things to do, so touring was really far down on our priorities list. Little by little, we realized that we needed to get good live. When we got good live, it really helped us to develop sonically, and touring became a lot more fun. A lot of people who come to shows don't really understand the kind of band we are until they see us live, and then things kind of click into place".