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When they first appeared in the early 2000s, Ladytron were wrongly included in the era's electroclash trend, but their body of work proved much more enduring and influential than that movement. Instead, Ladytron combined the fundamentals of classic synth pop -- crystalline melodies enveloped in icy textures and rippling arpeggios -- with touches of indie pop, shoegaze, disco, and industrial music. While they never deviated much from this sound, they still conjured distinctly different moods on each album, spanning the hook-laden simplicity of 2000's 604 to the darker feel of 2005's landmark Witching Hour to 2011's meditative Gravity the Seducer. Just how well they bridged the gap between synth pop's original '80s heyday and its renaissance in the 2010s was proven by 2019's Ladytron, which fit in perfectly with their previous albums as well as the work of artists like Chvrches, Robyn, and Austra.
Ladytron formed in 1999 when producers/DJs Daniel Hunt and Reuben Wu -- a pair of friends who met in the mid-'90s -- settled in Liverpool after traveling and spinning records in Japan. Taking their name from the Roxy Music song, they recorded their first single, "He Took Her to a Movie," for 50 pounds. Inspired by Kraftwerk's "The Model" and featuring vocals by Lisa Eriksson (also of the band Techno Squirrels), the single introduced Ladytron's bittersweet yet edgy electronic pop and earned critical acclaim when it was released that July. Soon after, Wu and Hunt met vocalists/keyboardists Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo. Originally from Scotland, Marnie was working towards her Bachelor of Arts in pop music at the University of Liverpool; Aroyo was a Bulgarian postgraduate research geneticist at the University of Oxford's Department of Biochemistry.
Ladytron's first release as a quartet was December 1999's Japanese release Miss Black and Her Friends, which they followed with the Commodore Rock EP in June 2000 and that October's Mu-Tron EP. Written largely by Hunt and co-produced by him and Lance Thomas, the band's debut album, 604 -- which was named after an area code for British Columbia -- appeared in early 2001 on Hunt's own Invicta Hi-Fi label in the U.K. and on Emperor Norton in the U.S. The album's singles found some success in Ladytron's homeland, with "Playgirl" reaching number 89 on the U.K. Singles Chart and its follow-up, "The Way That I Found You," peaking at 88. In October 2001, Ladytron contributed a version of "Open Your Heart" to the Carrot Top Records tribute album Reproductions: Songs of the Human League.
The band began work on their second album, recording in Los Angeles and Liverpool. Light & Magic, a darker, more streamlined set of songs, was released in the U.S. in September 2002 and reached number seven on Billboard's Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart. It was released in the U.K. that December. Along with earning strong reviews, the album's singles continued to chart: "Seventeen" reached 68 on the U.K. Singles Chart; "Blue Jeans" hit 43; and "Evil" peaked at 44. In 2003, Ladytron issued Softcore Jukebox, a mix album featuring songs by artists ranging from Wire to Lee Hazlewood as well as the band's cover of Tweet's "Oops (Oh My)."
When the Light & Magic tour ended in September 2003, Ladytron started writing and recording songs for their third album. However, as the band were recording in Liverpool with co-producer Jim Abbiss, their U.S. and U.K. labels encountered financial troubles. Late in 2004, Ladytron signed to Island Records, which released Witching Hour in October 2005. Mixing the band's trademark synth pop with elements of shoegaze and industrial music, the album was another critical success for Ladytron. It reached 81 on the U.K. Albums Chart and number seven on Billboard's Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart; meanwhile, the singles "Sugar" and "Destroy Everything You Touch" -- arguably the band's signature song -- reached 45 and 42, respectively, on the U.K. Singles Chart. The following year, Ladytron released Extended Play, an EP of B-sides and remixes that included a DVD documentary of the band's 2004 Chinese tour.
Late in 2007, Ladytron signed to Nettwerk Records. The band recorded in Paris with co-producers Alessandro Cortini and Vicarious Bliss, whose work for Ed Banger Records was in keeping with the harder-edged sound Ladytron wanted for their fourth album. The results were May 2008's Velocifero, which reached number 75 on the U.K. Albums Chart, number three on Billboard's Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart, and also marked the band's debut on Billboard's 200 Albums chart, where it peaked at number 131. The following year, Ladytron released Velocifero (Remixed & Rare) and performed with Brian Eno at the Sydney Opera House. They also produced and co-wrote a pair of songs that appeared on the deluxe edition of Christina Aguilera's 2010 album Bionic.
In March 2011, the band released the compilation Best of 00-10, which included "Ace of Hz," the first taste of the band's fifth album. Recorded in Kent, England, with co-producer Barny Barnicott, that September's Gravity the Seducer featured a softer, more atmospheric sound than Ladytron's previous albums. It peaked at number 72 on the U.K. Album Chart -- a career best for the band -- and hit number six on Billboard's Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart and number 112 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart. Late that year, Nettwerk issued collections of remixes and rare tracks from 604, Light & Magic, and Witching Hour.
Following the Gravity the Seducer tour, Ladytron went on hiatus. The band's members went their separate ways: Hunt moved to São Paulo, Brazil, and turned his attention to film scores including 2013's Would You Rather, a collaboration with Bang Gang's Barði Jóhannsson. His other projects included playing with the reunited post-punk band Pink Industry and producing Lush's 2016 EP Blind Spot. Wu made Chicago his home base and concentrated on his work as a photographer, with clients including Google and Apple and credits such as the artwork for Zedd's singles "Stay" and "Get Low." After relocating to Glasgow, Marnie embarked on a solo career under her surname and released 2013's Crystal World (which was produced by Hunt) and 2017's Strange Words and Weird Wars. Aroyo remained in London and became a documentary producer, occasionally collaborating with artists such as John Foxx and the Projects.
While the band released a collection of Gravity the Seducer remixes in 2013, no sign of new music from Ladytron appeared until 2016, when they began work on their sixth album. A reunion with Witching Hour producer Abbiss that featured Sepultura's Igor Cavalera on drums, Ladytron appeared in February 2019. The album reached number ten on Billboard's Independent Albums Chart and number 13 on the Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart. ~ Heather Phares
- Liverpool, Lancashire, England
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