Ladytron still making indie waves


April 21, 2006


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 "Witching Hour."

"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."


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 calendar.

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 Anita ($6).

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