February 28, 2003
BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC
Plenty of hip indie rockers pay homage to the groundbreaking synth-pop
band Kraftwerk, but few come as close as the Liverpool quartet Ladytron to
matching the pioneering Germans' mix of innovative electronic soundscapes,
ultra-danceable beats and unforgettable pop melodies.
The group recently followed its promising 2001 album "604" with an even
stronger disc, "Light & Magic." Now it's touring the States for the first
time, with the core members of keyboardists, vocalists and DJs Daniel Hunt,
Reuben Wu, Mira Aroyo and Helena Marnie augmented by a bassist and a
drummer. I spoke with Marnie by phone from the United Kingdom before the
start of the tour, which brings them to Metro tonight.
Q. There hasn't been a whole lot written about Ladytron in the
States. Take me through how you came together.
A. Daniel and Reuben kind of knew each other from Liverpool from
DJ-ing around, and they had gone to university there. They wanted to do
something together and have a band, but they didn't really know what it was
going to be like or what shape it would take. Danny met Mira at a club they
were DJ-ing at, and they met me very shortly thereafter through mutual
friends. I was kind of into the same sort of music, and I was DJ-ing, but I
used to live in Oxford. We met up and got along straight away, and I think
that was the main thing. We enjoyed what we were doing and we very much took
it one step at a time. We'd do a song and try and release it. This was about
four years ago, and the first album came out two years ago. We'd been
releasing singles for a long time before that.
Q. As strong as "604" was, it seems as if the group took a
quantum leap with "Light & Magic."
A. The first one was more of a collection of songs, and some of
them had existed for a long time. This one sounds like more of a record
because it was done in a much shorter time and it was done to be a record,
whereas the first one we were just doing song by song. With this one, we had
more of an idea of what we wanted to do, and also, because we got to know
each other better over time, all of our personalities come through more. It
just seems to work better.
Q. There seems to be a fascination for all of you with the New
Wave era and elements of the sound of acts like the Human League and Gary
A. To be quite honest with you, we're not fascinated by that era
very much. We're fascinated by the '60s much more than we are by that era.
The whole aesthetic thing is more like late '60s/early '70s, a lot more so
than '80s. I think people identify with the '80s because of the synths. They
came out in the late '70s or early '80s, and out of those came the New Wave
things you're talking about. I love Cabaret Voltaire and stuff like that,
but I'm not actually in love with Gary Numan. I like Kraftwerk, but they
were a really weird band that was making really, really good pop tunes.
Basically, we use old synths because we like the sounds that they make.
Q. The sound is marked by your use of vintage analog
synthesizers. Is it difficult traveling with those instruments and
converting the currency?
A. It's really difficult traveling, because the synths tend to
break down quite a lot. We did a two-week tour of England at the end of last
year, and I think we had about three of them dying in the space of two days.
They can be fixed, but it's just a bit worrying when you know you're relying
on something that's 30 years old and you haven't got another and it's really
difficult to find another one of that type. But it's also really difficult
when you play because we're not relying on amplifiers, so everything is
DI-ed [direct-injected into the sound system], and it's a really complex
thing to get it like the records sound live because everything goes through
the P.A. There's a lot of technical [crap] like that.
Q. You could use modern samplers to replicate those sounds.
A. Of course we can sample them, but it just doesn't really feel
proper. And also when you sample sounds, you're relying on what you've
sampled, but when we do stuff live, we're playing around with filters and
stuff like that, and you can't do that when you're using samples. It's more
organic our way. We bought this mini-Korg thing, which looks like an old
vintage instrument and we thought, "OK, we're gonna sample all this stuff
down on to it so in case something happens we have it," but it's just not
the same thing. If you have a late-'60s Les Paul, you wouldn't be happy with
like a [cheap] Encore [guitar], you know what I mean?
Q. Synth pioneer Brian Eno always talked about the beauty of
the early analog machines and their ability to surprise you with the turn of
A. Yeah! They change as well. There's no way that you can get the
same sound twice. Sometimes it's irritating, and sometimes you get these
really great sounds. You can be really frustrated because you haven't got
the time to spend 10 minutes before a song trying to get exactly the right
sound, but sometimes it cuts through. Like if there's bit where I want it to
sound like a really nasty sort of electric guitar, sometimes it really cuts
through and fits really good, but other times you press the key and it's
this weird noise that's really irritating. Plus they tend to go out of tune.
Q. So there are some headaches.
A. Yeah, there are a lot of headaches! After the show, we're
always going over what went wrong, but hopefully we can cure the headaches.
Q. I remember having a similar discussion with Tim Gane and
Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab a decade ago. Do you feel kindred spirit with
A. We've got the same [roadies], the backline people. [Laughs] But
yeah, definitely. They kind of approached pop songs in a way we liked. But
otherwise, beyond that, they use quite a different format. I think we're
maybe a bit simpler in our approach to electronics than they are. I think
they're more avant-garde and we're more common and not as clever.
Q. For Ladytron, it seems to be about the song rather than the
sound in the end.
A. Yeah, for us it's all about the song. I really liked Stereolab
when they were all about the song and not trying to be so clever. And we're
all about rocking a bit more as well. I think that kind of comes across more
live when we're thrashing about.
Q. You've recorded some amazingly effective tunes--singles such
as "Seventeen," "Blue Jeans" and "Playgirl." When do you know you've written
a song that works?
A. When you live with the melody in your head before you've
actually written it or gotten to record it. And other times, I used to get
this when I used to smoke--if I needed a cigarette after a song, I knew I
Q. Like after sex!
A. [Laughs] Yeah. But now that I'm not smoking, it's kind of
really frustrating. But you just know it, I guess. I like all the songs that
we've done, but obviously some of them work more as pop hits than others.
But you don't think of whether it's going to work or not; you get an idea
and you put it down, and if you like it, then you go with it and hopefully
it works for other people as well.