George Philip

INTERVIEW WITH LADYTRON'S RUEBEN WU

 


Electroclash made it impossible to go to a party without bumping into leg warmers and mullet haircuts. How is it still possible to make successful '80s electronic melodies without all that electroclash charm? Well there is Liverpool's one and only Ladytron. The group's second release “Light & Magic” (Emperor Norton/Invicta Hi-Fi) is a collection of missing nostalgic fever. Their intoxicated electro-beats, frozen angelic automated vocals, rocking baselines, church organ moog trails, and razor sharp synth tunes are not lost from their first release in 2001, “604”. Rather they are refined and hold almost all the elements for a successful Pop album. (The first EP released under Emperor Norton Records, “Commodore Rock”, already put them in the front of electro movement, but they never claimed themselves as part of it). “Light & Magic” covers all areas from Visage, the Human League, Georgio Moroder, Kraftwerk, and Joy Division. From their chiseled post-human profile to their ecstatic melodies, they are doing it right. George Philip: Did you ever anticipate such a success when “He Took Her to a Movie” became a hit single?
RW: No, not at all. We just did it, and a few copies got sent to NME, and we got “single of the week”. And it all started from there.
GP: What's your say on Ladytron's image as a futuristic fashionable joke?
RW: I don't think we've ever been a joke. I think it's always been something that people have had on there mind when they think of us as this kind of weird sort of fashion image, which is highly wrong, because we're not fashionable people. We think that it's important for a band to look appropriate, look good, whether it's wearing uniforms or not. In our cases, it's more appropriate. It's almost like school uniforms, it cancels out any kind of competitiveness and it's a lot more egalitarian.
GP: How did you stumble upon Daniel Hunt?
RW: I met him through DJ-ing in Liverpool, back in '95 or '96. We were playing the same kind of music, we went to the same record shops, and we were both into DJ-ing. But we wanted to go beyond that, the scene was getting a little frustrating.
GP: At first, did you guys struggle with the vision of where the band should go?
RW: It was all kind of organic, through discussions with each other. Just the idea of having two vocalist, and the idea of wearing matching uniforms, and stuff, it kind of grooved on that. This is my first band and Danny has been in bands before, so he sort of knew more about what to do.
G: Do you think Ladytron would've produced a different sound if one of you guys grew up in the US?
RW: I don't know, probably. Things would've been different if anything else had been different. That's only one kind of permutation, isn't it? If I'd come directly from China, things might have been different. Ladytron has a distinct global feel to its music. That's only because we're not a guitar band. If we sounded like Coldplay, that would seem like we're an English band. But the fact that we don't do that kind of music, and because we're not entirely English anyway, negates that. People just don't think that we have characteristics of one certain place.
GP: Where does “Light & Magic” stand next to “604”?
RW: “Light and Magic” is a better album, because it was written in a short space of time. It works better as an album because there is a narrative in there, and there is a lot more process to it. On the other hand, “604” is less re-dimensional. (There are songs in there, which are probably attempting the same kind of thing).
GP: Do you mean repetitive?
RW: No, basically there is just a lot more variation on “Light & Magic”. Every song is created from each other, and tries to do something completely different.
GP: Was the second album harder to come up with than the first?
RW: Not really. The first album is almost like a collection of songs that has been written over period of years, where as the second album is written within a period of a year. Basically 70% was done in Liverpool and about 30% was done in LA, so there is a bit of LA in there.
GP: Did Ladytron have an initial intention to move towards the nostalgic '80s electro-Pop scene or to influence it?
RW: No, we've never been revivalists of any particular era, Everything that we do we feel is new. The only real thing that connects us to that era is the instruments that we use, that fact that we use synthesizers-and it's quite an obvious reference point, I think. But there is a lot of stuff in the '80s, which I really want to forget.
GP: Like?
RW: Just all the vulgarity of the era, you know the clothes and the kind of “looks” people had. It was all bloated and decadent. We're not about that, we're trying to do something that's completely new. There are melodies and stuff that popped back from melodies from the '60s, like soul and that kind of thing.
GP: Why does Ladytron claim to stay away from the electroclash scene?
RW: We have very little resemblance to the acts in that movement, because first of all, we're a band, and there are no acts in that movement which are, like, a real band. We play our instruments live on stage, and we also have a very traditional approach to song writing, where as quiet a lot of bands from the electroclash scene, tend to take their references from techno and DJ culture, and produce tunes directly for the dance floor, whereas our tunes aren't very good for mixing.
GP: Well there are groups like A R E Weapons and they have a live bass player.
RW: They are very Suicide aren't they.
GP: What's your opinion about them?
RW: I'm not really keen on their music. They just seem to be very much trying to be like Suicide, talking back to an old era, which is all good music, but there is no need to reproduce that now.
GP: Does this have anything to do with the reason why you guys believe in minimal live performances in New York?
RW: No, we don't feel that we want to play minimal live performances. We just got a drummer and a bass player. Obviously, the four of us play synths and two of us sing. That's basically the reason why we haven't been playing in the US so far, because when we do play live, it's going to be amazing. There is going to be a proper band on stage, and we're going to be generating all the energy that you might expect from a real live show.
GP: The idea of representing Ladytron through DJ-ing, was this also a part of your intention from the beginning? And how is this benefiting the band?
RW: It's a precursor to the live show. It's not in anyway a replacement. It gives us an opportunity to play people things that we like, and things that influence us.
GP: To set up a mood?
RW: Yeah, set up a mood and to tell a story to people.
GP: How do you find the breakthrough of laptops and their use in performances on stage?
RW: They do their job, but you can't really rock with a laptop. You can't really compare a laptop to a guitar because the guitar almost has the physical performance on it. The guitar has been around for such a long time, and the guitar does one thing, and the laptop does a million things.
GP: What do you think is going to be the next movement?
RW: The new rave scene. The New Rave.
GP: Where is that coming from?
RW: I don't know. In the UK, in dance clubs anyway, there has been a distinct nostalgic habit of playing old rave hard core tunes in the middle of sets. I've been doing that, and I think it's just because House music is an unlucky character, and people have found that electro has different dimension, but it's just not enough, and there are other things out there as well. Super clubs in England are dying out because they are just staying with one kind of music. It's just a little thing I'm into at the moment.
GP: From “604” to “Light & Magic”, what direction is Ladytron moving towards and for how long?
RW: It's all very long term. We're not going to try and steer in any particular direction or anything; it's all going to be a natural evolution. There is a vast difference between the music of “604” and the music of “Light & Magic”. It's characteristic of our band, it sounds like us, and we're going to continue doing that.
GP: What are some of the previous shows you've been to?
RW: Not that many actually. I don't go to gigs that much because I'm always kind of disappointed. I did see Jeans Team and Peaches.
GP: How was that?
RW: Peaches is great. Even though there is obviously, no live band, she is the exception. The fact that she does generate her energy and she does become a lot more than what there is physically on stage. She is a great performer and a great character. With Jeans Team, they've been around Berlin doing their music for years and years and I'm really impressed with what they do. It was a good performance.


George Philip
New York, New York
2002