As a late arrival to the English electronic band Ladytron, I’ve commented that they sound like the truest and most direct descendants of ’80s synthpop—which turns out to be a deeply unoriginal take. But it’s so obvious to draw a line from dance floor legends like Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” or Yaz’s “Situation” straight to Ladytron soulcrushers like “Seventeen” or “Destroy Everything You Touch” and think, of course that’s where music wanted to go, as effortlessly as water or electricity. Also, they sound like they’re from another planet, or that we are, or that they’re visiting from both the past and the future— and if that doesn’t make sense, watch their new film for “Deadzone,” or just watch the video for “Seventeen” a few more times.
Lyrically, it’s more hard-hitting now than it was when released in 2002, and sonically—well, it seems silly to say “synthpop” anymore, since EDM has reached pop ubiquity and “synthpop,” insofar as genres still have meaning, is as mainstream now as it was in the ’80s.
Ladytron was one of the unfortunate bands to have a new album trapped by Pledge music in the moment it imploded, making international news, a topic the band politely declined to comment on. It’s worth noting that Ladytron recued their record. In their email to Pledgers from July: “We now have legal ownership of the Pledge Music stock that has been trapped in limbo at the fulfillment company warehouse since January. … In order to obtain ownership of the stock we had to pay off all Pledge Music’s debts for the cost of the album CD and vinyl production.” As shocking as uplifting, Ladytron offered all participants their records, only charging the cost of shipping, but it remains to be seen what the story will do to crowdfunding in the future, or more specifically, how Ladytron will bring out their next work.
The “record business” aside, Ladytron’s self-titled record is as poised as ever, and sounding perhaps more current than ever now that George Orwell’s imposing Telescreens have been replaced by tiny ones we happily surrender our will to. I caught up with Daniel Hunt via email to ask about the current dystopia before their upcoming show Oct. 2 at Brooklyn Steel.
I stumbled across an old interview where Mira calls the sound “electro with a fist,” which seems still apt years later — do you think that’s still fitting? The term “electroclash” has fallen out of favor.
That said, it was also a brief, brilliant, once-in-a-generation moment which actually did change popular music. That’s the part to remember.
What Mira was referring to was actually something that this Irish guy bellowed into our dressing room after a show. It was his succinct appraisal.
I’ve been reading David Epstein’s Range, which argues the benefits of broad interest and experimentation over specialization. Do you have any specific stories or lessons about how your other artistic endeavors informed this record?
I think the break did us good generally, but yes, we’ve worked in different creative areas, film, photography, writing. I did some film scores and collaboration with other artists. Helen also released two solo records.
I’m not sure what precise effect any of this had on the process of making this album but the recording did feel quite painless, easier than I remembered. Perhaps our experiences in other areas helped us approach it with clearer objectives.
What about the album cover photograph’s creation? It resonated here with the fires in California, and now weirdly mirrors the Amazon fires, and echoes back to recent volcanic eruptions in Hawaii and Bali. But is it correct to assume it was intended more symbolic than literal?
It was of course more symbolic. And the artwork pre-dated the California fires of 2018. Naturally some will assume that some kind of satirical point or even prophecy is being made about something specific. I think the cover speaks for itself. There are some Easter eggs in there too.
Marnie has spoken about the “surprisingly positive effect” the long separation has been,but were there any concerns about getting the band back together on the road after so much time apart?
Well, when you’ve spent 10 years consecutively writing, recording and touring, then obviously a break is going to do you good. When you come back, most of it is muscle memory. The shows have felt great. You just have to remember how things work.
Paraphrasing what Marnie told Papermag about the lyrics to “The Island,” she called them literally “quite dark, I would say — quite bleak,” but then added, “I think the lyrics are like juxtapositions. There’s a lot of different things sitting together, but they’re not necessarily agreeing with each other.” Wondering if you can elaborate on that, because it sounds like a textbook definition of cognitive dissonance, which might be the most basic survival mechanism in this Trump/Brexit historical moment. You could almost call it “Doublethink.” Are you showing us the darkness or hoping for light?
There were flashes of this historically, when the heroic stories we were being told about events had an immediate counterpoint — coverage of imperial wars and so on. But now this dissonance is almost a societal default, and unfortunately such uncertainty has been weaponized.
And I live in Brazil, where we are experiencing something frightening and significantly worse than Trump or Brexit.
Pitchfork called you “a dystopian band for dystopian times,” which sounds cool but doesn’t really say much. I would disagree that the album is “nihilistic.” No doubt, there’s a great resurgence in dystopian fiction, TV, and film. Did you think “dystopian” in making this record? And more specifically, are we really living in dystopian times?
I’m a Socialist.
I’ve long felt that much of the dystopian fiction I used to enjoy was now obsolete because we are already there. It all now seems less warning from history, more instruction manual.
And there’s always someone who will point to an earlier moment, when the kind of sci-fi dystopias people now regularly cite were already in effect, depending on your location and conditions, and they’re often right. In industrialized societies we were always living under varying shades of dystopia, more perceive it now because it touches them directly.
One of the most socially useful pieces of popular dystopian sci-fi in recent times, I thought, was Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium — a modern parable. Right now there’s a film out I really love called Bacurau, by Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles, which is a kind of near future dystopia, and as close to perfect a metaphor for what is being done to Brazil (and Brazil is a lesson for the world) as is possible.
Without hope we are ruined, of course. I’m generally an optimist, even in times like these.