It’s awfully fashionable to bemoan the way that categories arise and affect pop music. But if viewed with a critical eye, the labels that the music press slaps on can be quite telling.
Remember the millennial “garage” movement or, for the especially daft “nu-garage,” that arose notwithstanding the fact that these groups rarely played in actual garages? Did the White Stripes, the Hives and even the Strokes really present any unified garage-related front, aside from having blatantly swiped their sounds from previous bands?
The label becomes attached by default to any group from New York that has guitars.
The absurdity becomes evident with only the slightest dissection.
So why do these labels proliferate? The answer probably lies with some form of conscious or unconscious marketing. For a band, there’s a lot of security in being part of a genre label. It’s kind of like how every band in Alaska has to be either “like Blink 182,” Christian Rock or some kind of metal.
On a larger scale, if someone’s like, “Oh, I rather like the Hives, and it says here that both the Hives and Vines are ‘garage.’ Plus their names sound pretty much alike too, so I’ll pick it up,” then the whole label thing has done its job. That is, selling people on lesser bands by their association with good bands.
Ladytron is one of those good bands. They were around before “electro” or “electroclash” started being part of magazine vernacular, and they still tower above the rest.
Where electro strives to be disposable, trashy and minimal, Ladytron is well crafted and precious. It has been pointed out that early 2000’s electro has some parallels with late 1970’s punk. This comparison is more nuanced than one might expect: similarly unified fashion aesthetic, tendency toward lyrical shock tactics and on and on. However, the most profound and intrinsic similarity is the appearance that anyone can create this music.
In the late 1970s, anyone with a guitar and a drum could make the next “God Save the Queen.” Now there’s the reality that anyone with a drum machine or computer could make the next “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.”
But when listening to Ladytron, there’s the distinct impression that anyone can’t do this. Their skill is honed to a razor’s edge. Ladytron are truly masters at, well, being Ladytron. It’s not just some Eurotrash hussy, breathily spraying profanity over some corny dance beat; it’s ultimate pop music and clearly the product of years of sharpening their craft. Their sound is profoundly formulaic; twin female vocalists (one melody and one monotone), fat vintage synth-bass and organ and accessibly programmed beats.
And their albums seem overlong, one little gem after another following the formula, probably by brilliant design.