“Ladytron are, for me, the best of English pop music. They’re the kind of band that really only appears in England, with this funny mixture of eccentric art-school dicking around and dressing up, with a full awareness of what’s happening everywhere musically, which is kind of knitted together and woven into something quite new.”
This is a quote from Brian Eno. Lifted from Wikipedia and unashamedly so. A quote like that stops you dead. Brian Eno knows his eggs and rarely proffers his compliments so starkly. For anyone familiar with the work of Marnie, Wu, Hunt and Ayoro then the excitement of a return is enraptured in such a comment. For those of you who are not: welcome. They’ve been away, you see, and now the time is upon us to behold a band that was conceived, then born in Liverpool and brought up around the world. There are places in Glasgow, São Paulo, Chicago, Bulgaria, Italy, London and Bebington that have nurtured and developed the four-piece to the point where the ‘electronic pop’ (their own simplified tag) of Ladytron is more than just a sound. It’s an ology. A way of crafting distant and otherworldly artificial pop sounds that are actually none of the above. They are warm, defining and cultured. They are sweet, simple and dark. They are the sound you’d hear when crossing the International Dateline of space and time on a broken Korg.
We are on the cusp of the sixth Ladytron album, simply titled Ladytron. There’s been a hiatus, brought on by life and the merits of living in the moment. There’s babies (Mira), solo work (Helen), photography (Reuben) and production (Danny) that have all conspired to keep the creative flow of the band to a mere trickle over the last seven years. But all that has changed and a redefined, realigned and rebooted Ladytron are returning with an album of such heft and direction, it’s hard to believe the gap was that long. Danny is stood outside a cafe in Glasgow. It’s cold and he’s tired. Rehearsing is a bitch. But now the dust has settled on getting everyone back in the same room, Bido Lito! can ask the opening question that he’s probably sick of now: where the bloody hell have you been? He doesn’t sigh. He almost enjoys the bounce.
“When we wrapped up the last record [Gravity The Seducer], late 2011, we just stopped. Mira had a baby and stuff. We didn’t tour it as much as we’d have liked to as we couldn’t play live any more. We were ready for a break and we anticipated three years or something like that. A brief pause, I guess.”
It’s such a good record. A remarkable ‘comeback’ if you will. There’s a nod to new romantic on Tower Of Glass, there’s a fraught, post-punk nursery rhyme Paper Highways, there’s Michael Jackson pop electro-funk on Deadzone and the industrial seeping You’ve Changed. There’s a lot of ideas fighting for attention here. He continues. “It [the new album] wasn’t intentionally over-thought. It was a collection of our various ideas from the break that worked well together as a group. It was actually easy and therefore the most straightforward record to make. We had more material than we needed, but as we’d been working remotely, going in the studio was such a release. Remember we’d also been going back and forth to the UK and bouncing stuff around the four of us for a couple of years.”
Ladytron have had the luxury of being able to creatively mutate over the various record deals down the years, so it seemed right to plough on and plan. “We weren’t in a hurry,” Danny continues. “We’d done six or seven world tours and it was very intensive for a long time. This break has allowed us to hit reset.” This time he does sigh. Not a world-weary sigh, more a contemplative force of breath. “We had time to think about if we are going to do another Ladytron record, how do we go about it? We didn’t just think about chronology, like when we did on the first five albums, this time we wanted to move things on and approach it in a different way. It’s a Ladytron record in its purest form and there’s the addition of everything we’ve learned since we got together.”
The album backs that up furiously. There’s an argument that the previous album, Gravity The Seducer, was not a typical Ladytron record. Their need to push the boundaries suggested it had been pushed too close to the edge, and the pop sensibilities had been overcooked. This eponymous sixth has more than steadied the ship, it has plotted a course that suggests that there’s a future ahead. There’ve been hiccups along the way. Indeed, the time it has taken to produce Ladytron is not lost on the other band members, as Helen explains. “Seven years in the life of Ladytron compressed into a neat 13 songs. That was actually the hard part, pruning it down to a listenable amount of songs.” Electronic music production as topiary? Did it work? Did you argue? “Yes! Personally, I’m really happy with the album. It’s different to our previous efforts, but I think it needed to be. We needed to come back as a new, refreshed Ladytron and that is definitely expressed through this record. I’m not going to lie; having four members spread out across the globe is not always the easiest to negotiate. However, some things you just have to work around for the greater good.”
Helen’s comments are slightly at odds with Danny’s, but only marginally as both views are born out of relief. This has been more difficult to arrange than both members are giving us, dear reader, credit for. But the globalisation of technology, infused with the desire to make this happen has brought to the fore the need for an act like Ladytron to flourish. As pop music blands itself through its own advancement, the acts that grow in the margins are becoming more and more essential, or necessary, depending on your passion for the anti-mediocre.
The new album draws on the societal sources that have plotted the course of the majority of Ladytron’s oeuvre, especially since the first album. Ladytron have never been shy of exploring themes that are personal to their own world-view. But it’s been the ‘difficult’ sixth album, so what were the main influences both musically and, more importantly, culturally?
Here’s Helen Marnie: “Musically, we wanted to bring an energy to some of the tracks in order to create songs that were more danceable, or at least had more of an up tempo vibe. But at the same time we always want to create space and atmosphere with a record, and songs such as Run and Tomorrow Is Another Day do that well. It’s hard not to be influenced by the politics of today, but saying that, most of the songs I’ve written are more influenced by personal events as well as being injected with a little imagination. One track is a dreamscape, exploring that feeling of trying to dodge death as we always do within a dream.”
Danny’s side of the story has a more concrete base of influence. “Experience and wisdom, really. We were writing in that vein on the last two, but now, I feel, we are closer to the subject matter, especially when you consider we are getting older and we have had more experiences. I’m satisfied with the lyrical content of this one more so than any of the others. We’ve grown up more and life has shown us things that it possibly hadn’t before. I certainly wasn’t dissatisfied with the previous ones, but this one has something about ‘the moment’ to it. A small proportion of listeners would get it from the off, but we’ve gone out of our way not to explain a lot of it.”
Hold on, this is an interview! Explain it then. “No!” He laughs and mutters something about being out of sync with being interviewed. But the roller coaster has started its incline. “I’m not averse to going into detail, but I’d rather people listen and glean from it what they can. There are areas where you are over-emphasising and over-explaining when I’d rather the listener interprets it themselves and that’s where the wisdom is. You need footnotes, something to reference in certain types of situations or certain songs. That’s invaluable.”
The new record hasn’t quite got around to the full live experience. Only the two ‘singles’ – The Island and the utterly glorious bastardised pop of The Animals – made it into the set for the band’s three shows in late November (Glasgow, Liverpool and London). It’s worth noting that these were an overwhelming success as the quartet gingerly dipped their live toe back in the water. Glasgow was heaving, and a sold-out London Roundhouse proved the demand is still more than there. There were over eight hundred in Liverpool, the older songs being as enthusiastically received as some of the more ‘classic’ analogue tunes. Ladytron made sure all bases were covered, Helen gave it the full electro Dusty Springfield and Danny wigged out in true Will Sergeant style. The coloured visuals and dismembered hands dripped from the three screens and the synth bass dislodged confetti from the ceiling. The packed Liverpool Academy danced, listened, swayed and thrusted as a rejuvenated Ladytron powered through their strongest moments.
As the band exited the three screens came together to show a giant ‘¡No Pasarán!’ They shall not pass. A comment based on Danny’s life in the day-to-day political upheaval of modern day Brazil. With sweat dripping off the walls and the 30-something crowd baying for more, the lights came up and there was a palpable sense that there’s more of this to come. Especially in the Merseyside soul of its creator.
“With the Liverpool show, we just wanted to see a load of people we haven’t seen for a long time. But I do come back reasonably regularly. Liverpool produces so much unique stuff and has a better infrastructure in terms of labels and ‘scenes’ for want of a better word. There’s a whole bunch of folk that didn’t exist 20 years ago and I’m very proud of what’s happening here.”
With that he exhales, wishes me a good night and turns back towards the warmth of the cafe, the bosom of his band waiting to drink, laugh and row about the rehearsals. They needn’t have. The gigs were a success and 2019 sees our heroes take on America, South America and back to Europe, cradling an album that has been more than worth the wait. Ladytron are here for your pleasure and they deserve that embrace so much now more than ever. Welcome back. Don’t leave it so long next time.
Ladytron is released on 15th February via !K7.