In 2001, the first fruits of what would become the new electronic-rock movement began to fall. Ladytron’s debut, 604, was an integral part of that first strike. A pristine, analog adventure of sound and substance, the album would go on to influence the genre itself, while the group quietly made a global impact both visually and stylistically.
Hits like “Playgirl” and “Seventeen” (from their 2002 follow-up, Light & Magic) quietly rebelled against the bratty, disingenuous motifs of the time, instead invoking the sonic storytelling of groups like Air, Stereolab, and My Bloody Valentine. Ladytron’s counterbalance of emotional vulnerability and psychological ingenuity–personified by the opposing vocals of Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo—created their own world that had yet to be fully explored.
Their live performances immediately set them apart: “We wanted to play all these exotic instruments live,” says Mira of the mountain of antique synths the group brandished on stage. Daniel Hunt adds, “Not many people ever performed that way, besides Emerson, Lake and Palmer or something. It felt like hanging around at Bell Labs in 1970.”
A year’s worth of touring and experimentation led to the creation of Witching Hour, Ladytron’s most sonically complex production to date. It retained the unmistakable, mechanized warmth of their Korg MS20s, but Reuben Wu’s dynamic programming coupled with Hunt’s shoegazey guitar layers in tracks like the intoxicating single “Destroy Everything You Touch,” “International Dateline” and “High Rise” flexed a more indie rock tenacity. While the album showed distinct creative growth, their resilience outside the studio provided a different kind of maturity; the group took to
the road on the strength of their massive cult following, booking sold-out tours across North America and Europe, and playing for capacity crowds in China and Latin America. Without any real label support, Ladytron toured exhaustively over the next two years, performing for over 4,000 people in Bogota, Columbia—where their show was eventually shut down by local military—and opening for Nine Inch Nails in early 2007 at the request of Trent Reznor…only their second opening slot in seven years. “We found ourselves completely independent, yet everywhere we went the crowds only got bigger,” says Reuben. “It made us feel like things were really in our hands. Like we were tapping into something.”
What transpired in the studio as a result of that confidence and freedom enhanced the vision they achieved on Witching Hour, and in doing so, has simultaneously redefined and escaped the genre. Produced by Ladytron with assistance from Vicarious Bliss (Ed Banger Records) and Alessandro Cortini (Nine Inch Nails), Velocifero fully transcends the confines of electro-pop with a fresh wave of distorted soul. Mira and Helen—whose disparate vocal styles already provide considerable depth—have evolved both as musicians and songwriters, lending provocative harmonies to songs like “Runaway” and “I’m Not Scared.” While, rhythmically, there are moments reminiscent of their old favorites Os Mutantes and the Birthday Party.
“We’ve gotten to know each other’s strengths a lot better,” explains Mira, who earmarks albums by Grace Jones and Dr. John as influential to her in the recording of Velocifero. “With previous records, the sound that we imagined wasn’t quite there.” “Black Cat” rips the album open with a buzz saw bass line and a pounding, distorted kick/snare cadence. Mira’s vocals—sung in her native Bulgarian—echo the track’s foreboding sentiment. Traces of Ennio Morricone appear on the galloping “Ghosts,” as Helen repeats the unapologetic chorus, “There’s a ghost in me who wants to say I’m sorry. Doesn’t mean I’m sorry.” “Kletva,” a cover from a 1970’s BG children’s movie, turns a simple shuffle groove into a swirling mix of drums and keys, while additionalcollaboration on “The Lovers” from Columbian group Somekong adds even more dramatic timing and energy. It’s this diversified, rhythmic palette and labyrinthine layering of effects and synths that galvanizes Velocifero, and should finally put an end to the mistaken comparisons.
“It can be good to have a chip on your shoulder when you’re making music, it is an energy for some,” Daniel admits, “but that doesn’t need to manifest itself in an emotional way. It’s like putting down ‘Black Cat’ as the first track. It’s setting the scene for the rest of the album. It’s a statement of intent.”
Mixed by Michael Patterson (Beck, P.Diddy, BRMC), Velocifero cycles through a wide swath of emotion, from sentient and blissful (“Tomorrow”) to forthright and impassioned (“Deep Blue”). “Predict The Day,” which starts off with a faint, whistled melody and crescendos into a bounce-rock onslaught of programmed hi-hats, background vocals, and jagged guitar, typifies the album’s graceful charge against the status quo.
Attach whatever imagery you like to the album’s title. “It’s just a word, rather than a translation,” says Reuben. “Velocifero literally means ‘bringer of speed.’” The album named itself during a meeting with Brazilian-born installation artist Eli Sudbrack, the mastermind behind the art collective Assume Vivid Astro Focus (avaf) that created the artwork for the album, marking the first time avaf has ever worked on an album cover. “At no point have we ever responded to anything that’s been going on outside,” says Mira. “There are always going to be people who want you to remain in the same place forever, but that’s not the way you make music, or anything else. It’s obvious that you
have to be allowed the benefit of the doubt to do whatever you want, because ultimately when you started out, there was no one there to tell you what to do. You just did it.”
With a full slate of European and North American tour dates planned for early summer— including the Bonnaroo Festival in June—audiences will have ample opportunity to take in Ladytron’s synthesis, and see for themselves how the group has redefined the genre they helped establish.