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The Electric Version
Ladytron may be dark and moody, but don’t call them Goth
“The key to working with a group of people is learning what not to put in,” Reuben Wu says. “You’ve got to take the egos back a bit. We work very democratically.”
Wu’s perspective comes from experience and justified pride. The Englishman, one of the founding members of Ladytron, and his band mates have come up on 10 years’ worth of writing and performing together, releasing a string of impressive albums and turning into a fierce live unit along the way.
While the group’s initial work, most notably the entrancing early single “Playgirl,” showcased a serenely cool synth-pop approach, last year’s Velocifero was one of the strongest fusions of electronics and feedback-heavy dynamics since the heyday of Curve. It’s something the band will showcase this Saturday at the Grove on their co-headlining tour with the Faint.
“We’d known of each other for a long time,” says Wu of the Omaha neo-synth-rock notables. “Four years ago, we did a shared show at the Palladium up in Los Angeles that was really fantastic, so when the idea of a tour came up, we were excited. We haven’t done that many support shows for other bands over the years, and we decided to be alternating headliners on this tour. That’s nice because that means half the time, we’ll be done early!”
Following this tour, Ladytron will be moving to an even-higher-profile series of gigs. They’re scheduled to open for Depeche Mode’s European shows, an extremely apt combination given both bands’ deft touch with rock noise and industrial-strength beats, not to mention darkly dramatic performances and sonic styles. And much like the members of Depeche have long insisted about their own work, Wu resists classification as a “Goth” band.
“We never sought to be anything like that,” he says. “It’s all been very natural, very organic, over time—the whole ‘scary, creepy’ thing and being talked about as being Gothic maybe has relevance because we’re wearing black and not moving around much onstage. It’s a little impossible to bounce around while playing keyboards!”
Wu speaks knowing the peril of facile classifications. When Ladytron started, they were readily shunted into a catch-all of early-2000s acts awkwardly tagged “electroclash,” as a variety of newer acts reworked a range of early-’80s styles to their own ends. Wu sees the band’s success as a working unit as key to shaking off such labels.
“With every band, as you start working together, you end up becoming more comfortable as artists,” he notes. “It was almost as if we became the band we were trying to be by the third album [2005’s The Witching Hour]. A lot of bands have no time to develop their own identity, and many rarely make it past their second album.
“We know that one song one of us writes might need a certain bass line from someone else; another might need a melody. Everyone works on every track now, and getting to know how to work with one another that way means something very different than working on your own.”
The band’s persistence and increasingly distinctive sound have attracted some high-profile admirers: Depeche Mode may not be surprising, but earlier this year, Ladytron followers were startled to learn that Christina Aguilera was not only a fan, but had also already worked with the band on a variety of songs to be released in the near future.
“We went in with no expectations; the whole thing was a massive surprise,” explains Wu. “But it was incredible. She was so musically talented, a vocalist who really knows her voice. The first takes sounded really amazing, and while we’d made demos, it was only when her voice was on them that it all came to life. It’s nice to talk about them, we’ve been sitting on this for a while!”
Wu says the band are hoping to score a film—“We’ve been thinking about it for a few years!”—and that, even given the music business’ travails at present, there’s still always something to look forward to, whether on the road or elsewhere.
“We’ve had to deal with difficult situations, but so has everyone,” he says. “Things will change really quickly soon, but in five to 10 years, most artists will be satisfied.”