Familiar Aliens: Ladytron “Team” DJ set
14 May 2002: Tribeca Grand Hotel New York
Terms like “nu-wave”, “Electroclash”, and “tech-pop”, have recently been thrown around a lot by the media, record labels, promoters, artist themselves, and fans, when describing the recent trend of ‘80s-inspired electronic dance music. Although these are not unlike most genre titles that have sprung in the last few years, I can’t help but feel silly using any them. You end up sounding like a promoter, record label, or an NME staff member. More retro terms, such as “new wave”, “electro”, and “synthpop” seem to describe the music well, but they are better at describing something that was happening two whole decades ago, a time when (I can only guess) the players weren’t thinking in such a tongue-in-cheek manner—not to mention “electro” was a hip-hop term more than anything else. No matter what you call it, though, it seems this trend is in full swing, as new acts are still popping up, while the kings of this fad, Fischerspooner, have signed a £2 million deal with Ministry of Sound Records. Also, super swank hotels like the Tribeca Grand have been hosting DJs and parties that cater to girls with retro-lopsided, new-waver hairdos, and wearing all things ‘80s from head to toe. And dudes sporting checkered Vans and mullets, of course. This was the scene we experienced the evening the Ladytron DJ “team” came to town.
To get the things rolling (or spinning), a number of NYC DJ’s were spinning mostly recent electro (and, as far as I could tell, I didn’t hear any old-school “electro” like Mantronix ). None of these DJs sparked my interest too much, as the sets were safe, non-stop electronic dance music that fostered a light crowd on the dance floor. Not bad at all, but very forgettable. That is, until the unknown DJ who played before Ladytron managed to slip in some curve balls, including a bizarre Latin reworking of Air’s “Radio #1”. He finished the set with the bombastic “House of Jealous Lovers” by NYC’s post-punk loving band, the Rapture.
When Reuben Wu of Ladytron got up on the stage, I was surprised to find out that there was in fact no “DJ team” as had been advertised, but only this one member of the Liverpool band. As he hit the decks, he opened with “1984”, the synth-drenched intro to Van Halen’s album with the same name. I was expecting him to let the record proceed into the next track, “Jump”, but instead he launched into a full-on electro set, employing some numbers I recognized, while others were most likely limited white labels or just didn’t recognize. These included songs by Vitalic, a Kylie Minogue bootleg, A1 People’s “Casio Rock”, Dakar & Grinser cover of the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” (which trainspotters credit for the whole “new wave-electro” hype that surged in 1999), a remix of the Detroit techno classic “Shari Vari” by Number of Names, a bootleg of Prince’s “Kiss”, and Ural 13 Diktators’ “Disko Kings”.
Although I enjoyed many of these tracks, I couldn’t help but feel slightly electrocuted by the end of the night. Not in a cool way, but in the way a faulty lamp electrocuted me when I was a little kid, which just shocked me and then made me really tired. I had to go home and listen to Neil Young to recalibrate my ears, as well as to get over the experience of over-indulgence in retro-electro. Putting aside the fact that I went to this show to write about it, I find it very difficult to be in these gatherings and not analyze just what is going on. Should we describe this (re)appropriation/ regurgitation of the past as “uncanny”, perhaps an “interesting costume ball”, or maybe as “refreshing”? We have seen this all before, we know its finality just like we know the lines from The Breakfast Club, and yet there’s this generation of hipsters in their early 20s who have made this rehashing their job. The problem with this predictability is that it is not fresh and exciting, but rather stale, or at least it is now. The revival has lasted only a short while and it already seems to be tiring itself. We could say it’s the media fault for over-exposing it too much and too rapidly (what with Fox’s That 80s Show, etc.), but we need to wonder about the scene itself, those girls who spend hours with the curling iron and the blue eye-shadow, and the coked-up boys with the retro dance moves. Are they conscious of their performance, or do they see it as an expression of their essence? I confess that I have a lot more faith in the music than in the scene as a whole. I imagine a lot of the mentioned artist simply aren’t as concerned with emulating an ‘80s aesthetic, rather just making music they like.