While the democratization
and rapid distribution of music via the Internet has been a boon to many
independent bands, there's no denying that it's compromised the ability of
groups to grow organically over time, crafting a sound that improves from
album to album.
"It's actually pretty rare for a band these days to develop over three
albums, because people just expect that it will be here and then it's gone,"
says Ladytron keyboardist and vocalist Daniel Hunt. "The appetite for indie
rock at the moment is so voracious that things are just getting soaked up
faster than they can be produced. A band like the Artic Monkeys comes out
straight away and has such a big success on the Internet, they're barely
even given the chance to make their first album, let alone a third!"
Taking its name from
Roxy Music and drawing inspiration from the strangely non-mechanical sounds
of early synth-pop artists such as Kraftwerk, Gary Numan and Devo as well as
vintage '60s pop, Ladytron was formed in Liverpool in 1998 by Hunt and
fellow club DJ Reuben Wu, who recruited Bulgarian vocalist Mira Aroyo and
vocalist-keyboardist Helen Marnie.
The group has yet to
broach the mainstream, and its music is a treasured secret for a dedicated
underground following. In addition to numerous singles and EPs, Ladytron has
given us three full albums of exquisitely crafted, unforgettably melodic
electronic pop: "604" (2001), "Light & Magic" (2002) and last year's
"We had been on tour for
a long time with 'Light and Magic,' and we had the opportunity to continue
touring it -- Marilyn Manson asked us to support him on tour; things like
that. We had made some progress, but we were quite naive, especially about
the U.S.A., because we did one tour here [in 2003] and a trip around
Coachella and thought, 'That's enough. We've done it now; we've sold out the
Henry Fonda [Theater] in L.A.' We skipped all of the crappy little shows
that people normally have to do.
"We wanted to get off
tour and start the next record, because we thought that was more important.
But in retrospect, the record was delayed so much that we could have toured
for longer with the last one. We just wanted to get back into the studio and
demonstrate what we could do; we already found with the previous albums that
we liked them, but we knew we could make something closer to what we heard
in our heads."
"Witching Hour" is
indeed the group's strongest offering yet, with songs such as "International
Dateline" standing as perfectly realized pop gems. The disc has an overall
darker vibe that makes the gorgeous vocals and indelible melodies seem even
more mysterious and seductive.
"I think it's more
emotional," Hunt says. "I don't know if you've seen a little film of when we
went to China -- just some footage that a friend took -- but she started the
video with 'The Last One Standing' and ended with us playing 'USA vs. White
Noise' live in Shanghai. She said that she took it in the opposite direction
of how she perceived the album: as stark, pretty and solid, and then
becoming more emotional.
"I was watching TV the
other day and there was a documentary about illegal immigrants trying to get
from West Africa to the U.K. I thought, 'God, this is really, really sad,'
and then I realized they had 'All the Way' [the album-closing instrumental
on 'Witching Hour'] as the music underneath it!"
As for "International
Dateline," Hunt says the tune came together in the group's new home studio,
which eschews computers in favor of older, more distinctive analog
synthesizers and instruments.
"I had this really bad
little Casio keyboard that I actually bought for five pounds off a Chinese
guy in a cafe. It had this really nice distorted sound, and you could only
play two notes at once because it wasn't polyphonic. It was a bit like [the
punk-era electronic duo] Suicide. The song just came about with the chord
sequence from the keyboards; there were variances with the vocals, then the
guitar part went on it, and that turned it into what it is now. The lyrics
just came pretty instantaneously."
This underscores a
common misperception about the band: Despite its futuristic image and
fondness for fanciful sci-fi instrumentation, Ladytron maintains the
spontaneous spirit of all great rock bands, and unlike many electronic
groups, its focus is always on songs rather than sounds.
"I think with this
record, a lot of people who have had the opinion of us as automatons before
might have revived it," Hunt says. "Sometimes people can only go on what
they've heard, their perceptions of it and things they read. And I feel
similarly: If someone described a band to me that was all about style over
content, I would just be going, 'I am going to murder them!' But that's not
us at all."
REASONS FOR LIVING
While it's unlikely to
match the excitement generated by the Intonation or Pitchfork music
festivals, International Pop Overthrow is the musical event of the year for
lovers of harmony vocals, chiming guitars and old-school power pop, and it's
celebrating its fifth year in Chicago with shows that kick off tonight and
run through May 6 at several clubs around town.
One of the reasons IPO
has never garnered more attention is that it champions "pop" sounds that
have never been all that popular. Another is that it offers too much music
over too long a stretch. But there are certainly many highlights on its
Things kick off at 8
tonight at Gunther Murphy's, 1638 W. Belmont, with Barry Holdship, Cyclones,
the Hatch, Majesty, Kelly's Heels, Missile and the Cells ($10 cover), and
continue tomorrow afternoon at Wise Fool's Pub, 2270 N. Lincoln, with Frank
Tribes, 8889, Serilian, the Humbugs, Dad Factory, the Prime Ministers and
Other prime offerings
include Braam and the Millions at the Abbey, 3420 W. Grace, on Tuesday
night; the Foster-Walker Complex at Gunther Murphy's on April 28; Cats and
Jammers at the Abbey on the afternoon of April 29 and Million Yen, Enuff
Z'nuff, Pezband and an acoustic performance by the Chamber Strings at the
same venue later that evening; Windbreakers veteran Tim Lee at the Double
Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, on May 2; and the Goldstars and Ted Ansani
(inset above, whose old band Material Issue wrote the song that gives the
fest its name) at Gunther Murphy's on May 5.
For more information
about all of the shows and the full list of more than 150 bands, visit