First Issue Revisited: Ladytron on “604” | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, September 27th, 2022  

Ladytron in Los Angeles, CA in 2008.

First Issue Revisited: Ladytron on “604”

Built to Last

Aug 18, 2022 Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern (for Under the Radar) Issue #69 - 20th Anniversary Issue
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As part of our 20th anniversary coverage we thought it would be interesting to conduct brand new interviews with some of the artists interviewed in our very first issue way back in December 2001. We weren’t able to talk to everyone for a variety of reasons but luckily many of the first issue artists were game for a catch up to discuss their albums from the early 2000s and what they’ve been up to since. With each new interview we’ve included a small image of the layout of the first page of each artist’s original article from our first issue. These articles originally ran in our 20th Anniversary Issue, but are now being posted online. Here’s a First Issue Revisited interview with Ladytron.

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Ladytron’s debut album, 604, proved that you can acknowledge your musical influences whilst at the same time bring something fresh and exciting to the table. Despite being tagged as part of the electroclash movement, the reality is Ladytron offered something much more nuanced, sophisticated, and substantial than the latest à la mode musical fad. They were built to last.

Formed in Liverpool, UK in 1999, the band—Mira Aroyo from Sofia, Bulgaria and Helen Marnie from Glasgow, Scotland, alongside Daniel Hunt and Reuben Wu, both from Merseyside, UK—have celebrated the 20th anniversary of 604 via a repressed limited edition double LP in colored vinyl. It’s an artfully crafted album full of playful, seductive, minimalist electronic pop, featuring a number of propulsive instrumentals, as well as vocals by Marnie and Aroyo (who, at times, sings in her native Bulgarian). It’s certainly a body of work that didn’t follow the musical trends of the day and yet didn’t sound in any way regressive. Quite the opposite in fact.

Hunt, the band’s principal songwriter and producer, certainly considers 604 to have been an album that was pretty unique back in 2001. “I’d be tempted to say it was of its time,” he reflects, “but then there were not actually that many similar-sounding records around back then. Parts of it stand up. I’m glad it is still well regarded.”

Lead vocalist Helen Marnie agrees. “It’s a memento to a time,” she says. “Personally, it has a naivety that I’d never be able to recreate. I guess that in itself is a charm. There is a delicacy in the way I sang.”

Ladytron were always sonically and visually arresting, including their Manga-inspired cover art notably on the Mutron EP, “Playgirl” single, and 604, drawn and designed by Wu (the re-released U.S. edition of 604 had a completely different cover and conveyed an almost post-Soviet Orwellian feel). The band certainly arrived with what appeared to be very carefully planned atheistic from the outset, with everyone dressed in matching black uniforms. “I think the greatest effort was probably finding Atari jackets on eBay, to be honest!” laughs Marnie. “The uniforms were made by a friend, so that was easy.”

The music of German electronic pioneers Kraftwerk, as well as the darker side of 1980s synth pop, was often referenced in the press coverage of 604, but Hunt’s recollection is that wasn’t really in their thinking when creating the album. “We wanted people to hear past that,” he insists. “Plenty of that album, if played in isolation, would not be associated with the 1980s at all. It was a stab at modernity using the tools and influences at our disposal, and that’s probably what set it apart.”

Ladytron feature from Issue #1.
Ladytron feature from Issue #1.

Although the band didn’t exactly embrace the electroclash tag at the time—a supposed genre that included the likes of Peaches, CSS, Goldfrapp, and Fischerspooner—in retrospect Hunt can see the positives of that scene. “Electroclash was someone else’s idea, in which we were included, and we didn’t willingly play along,” he says. “But it was a fun ride, it was a colorful moment, and it was influential on the direction mainstream pop music would take in the years and decades since. We met kids on the road, in remote, unfashionable places, whose lives had been changed by that scene, whatever you want to call it. It was unlike anything that had happened for quite some time and broke through what seemed a rather gray moment in popular culture.”

Twenty years later, and many of the songs on 604 are still firm favourites with fans. “I still love ‘Discotraxx,’ ‘Commodore Rock,’ and ‘Playgirl,’” Marnie reflects. “That’s probably down to the reception they’ve had in the live arena. There’s a great energy to those tracks, and they don’t sound like anyone else.”

Hunt agrees, with many of these songs entwined with the excitement of a band releasing their debut album to pretty much universal acclaim. “Everything was new. All of it felt that way. ‘Mu-Tron,’ ‘Another Breakfast With You,’ or ‘The Way That I Found You’ aren’t remembered like ‘Playgirl’ is, but they all seemed like we had hit another level when we recorded them. But that record was the culmination of about three years of work, it wasn’t instant. The last few things we did for it were a world apart from the early tracks that were included, and have a lot more in common with what came after and since.”

And just before 604’s release, Marnie still vividly recalls the excitement and anticipation. “I remember having my old ’70s radio with a built-in record player on in my flat in Liverpool and hearing tracks being played by John Peel and Radio 1’s Evening Session,” she reminisces. “That got me super excited. Having a song played on the radio was such a great feeling.”

Hunt felt sure that 604 would make its mark. “We knew it was good, unique at that time, and it was getting a positive response already, so I’d say we were pretty confident.”

The fact that Ladytron have stayed together for 20 years, releasing five more critically acclaimed albums (including their last album, 2019’s Ladytron), and all with the original line-up, would appear to be quite an achievement, but Hunt doesn’t particularly see their longevity as unusual. “I find shorter lived projects stranger, to be honest, as I don’t understand how you can just switch off the ideas. Both have a place.”

At the time of our interview, Ladytron were working on their seventh studio album, which has been delayed due to the global pandemic. “We were recording in Castle of Doom, Mogwai’s studio in Glasgow, mid-March 2020,” reveals Hunt. “But three days into recording it became apparent what was happening and we decided to abandon the sessions. It was that eerie moment we all remember, when nobody really knew how it would be.”

“We worked sporadically and remotely since,” adds Marnie, “but it was only [last] summer that we were able to finally start putting together album seven, in Liverpool, where the group began.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 69 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, our 20th Anniversary Issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]

www.ladytron.com

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