This study explores the construction of “authenticity” and related identity-competencies in popular electronic music through an investigation of the music group Ladytron during their formative first decade: 2001-2011. Textual analysis is used to examine the Ladytron narrative; the story that discursively emerges in/between industry and popular articles, music reviews, and band interviews. In developing the Ladytron narrative, the band's identity depends on negotiations between a “roots” concept of electronic music authenticity, performing artistic integrity, and interaction with audiences who participated in the perpetuation and maintenance of this alternative/indie identity. The Ladytron narrative shows how music artists might maintain an identity alternative to mass culture, while creating their own space within it.
Ladytron released their debut work in 2001. They are a British band composed of four members who met in the late 1990s in Liverpool, England.1 They create and perform electronic-based popular music, also known as electronic, electronic-rock, electro-pop, electronica, synthpop, among others, a robust genre within alternative/indie music. The group comprises two women, Mira Aroyo and Helen Marnie (on lead vocals and synthesizers), and two men, Daniel Hunt and Reuben Wu (on synthesizers, guitar, and occasional vocals).
Ladytron has maintained an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the electronic popular musicscape. Various sources that have conducted interviews with the band—from mainstream and industry press outlets (Rolling Stone, Billboard, The New York Times) to electronic music industry press (Electronic Musician, Mix, Remix), and the wide range of internet music sites (industry- and fan-based)—have mainly touted Ladytron's acclaim as a personification of electronic pop. These writings provide only minimal criticism of the band.
The respect Ladytron has garnered within electronic popular music across documentable materials indicates their success as an electronic pop band. More so, a large part of Ladytron's success hinges on how the band is seen as purveyors of an authentic roots-based electronic pop identity. Indeed, Ladytron's efforts to build their identity, or story, within the culture industry, lend clues as to how authenticity related to music identity is defined, maintained, and negotiated. We call this interaction and outcome the Ladytron narrative.
Our research on the Ladytron narrative is focused on what we see as their initial decade of active production years, from 2001 to 2011,2 before they took a long hiatus from production as a group (see Appendix: Discography). At the time of this writing, the band was in the process of releasing and promoting their first official release as a group, a decade later. This analysis on authenticity is important as it speaks to the initial cohesive body of work that distinctively identifies the band. It remains to be seen whether the new release takes a different trajectory.
In this study we use textual analyses of industry and popular articles, music reviews, and band interviews to explore the concept of authenticity in popular electronic music, focusing on the Ladytron narrative. In so doing, we analyzed discursive themes related to Ladytron's music, creative process, live performances, projects, press coverage and publicity. We contend that in the Ladytron narrative, Ladytron's identity depends on a negotiation between a roots concept of electronic music authenticity and performing artistic integrity. Their narrative, operating within artist-community dialectics, points to how music artists can maintain an identity alternative to mass culture while carving out a space within it.
ALTERNATIVE/INDIE MUSIC IDENTITY AND THE CULTURE INDUSTRY
As scholars in media studies and communication, we are particularly interested in Ladytron's identity—how they have been able to retain a certain alternative/indie identity while also growing in popularity within a mass music context. Here we define alternative/indie3 as a creative work that is outside the mainstream in popular music. This moniker speaks to audience members who think of themselves as tastemakers of music from the periphery or edges, more commonly known as fringe. Fringe is typically associated with independent labels, and together they have evolved to occupy distinctive spaces in music culture. The development of fringe or alternative/indie labels is expansive. Whereas an independent music label used to evoke images of dingy basements and stacks of 45 rpm singles, today's independent music labels vary in shape and size from self-distributing artists registering their own label, to small labels that manage multiple artists for digital distribution and full-artist management.
Ladytron started working with Canada's Nettwerk Music Group for managing the US release of Witching Hour,4 transitioning to a worldwide contract in 2008 for the release of Velocifero. Nettwerk Music Group was the home of Ladytron during a significant transition in the first decade of their career as the band moved from smaller to larger labels and representation. They are the umbrella company for Nettwerk Records, Nettwerk Management, and Nettwerk One-Publishing. In their company self-description, the Nettwerk Music Group maintains the image of a smaller independent label: describing its founding within a small Vancouver apartment, with founding members part of the 80s indie electronic pop band Moev. The company additionally promotes its ability to handle larger brands by namedropping the more mainstream acts it manages and by noting its worldwide branch locations in musically important cities that are (in some instances) also seen as somewhat hip:
Canada's leading privately owned record label and artist management company. Nettwerk is responsible for managing some of Canada's biggest artists like Sarah McLachlan, Avril Lavigne, Barenaked Ladies and many others. The label was founded in 1984 by Terry McBride, Mark Jowett, and Ric Arboit in McBride's small Vancouver apartment, initially to release albums by Jowett's band Moev. Additional branches of Nettwerk exist in New York city, Los Angeles, London, UK, Boston, Nashville, and Hamburg, Germany.5
Ladytron's association with Nettwerk reinforces their identity as an independent-alternative band, while also making an appeal for (creative and financial) success in the mainstream. It may seem that such aims are contrary, but they are realistic struggles within popular music. A broader notion of Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer's6 definition of the culture industry as a capitalist framework in which we produce and share mass art, is useful in understanding this dilemma. Indeed, most forms of mass art and popular culture, particularly within a global economy, have to contend with, or somehow negotiate, the culture industry.
For the mass art of reproduced music, whether physical or digital, negotiations with the culture industry can involve a variety of factors; from the production and consumption of music, to public interaction with various media. The latter includes newspapers, magazines, television/cable, and most important for music of the decade examined—the internet. Within this large public-involved mediascape are niche media, a media type that matches particular material with a like-minded or targeted audience.
A big part of a musician's success is based on navigating and using these different parts of music distribution and audience interaction, including a possible position within niche media. Herein lies the tie to Ladytron. Ladytron's maintenance of an alternative/indie identity enables them to demarcate their work from mainstream electronic music and connect with individuals or communities who recognize and participate in the maintenance of a similar identity. Our interest is in how Ladytron positions themselves, or is positioned, within their niche. We argue that such positioning for Ladytron occurs through negotiations of authenticity that frame an alternative/indie identity. Issues of identity and authenticity go further than music and musical performance—they are supported by interactive audiences (both in and outside of the culture industry). These audiences, which include components of music production and distribution, discursively co-construct qualifications of authenticity, which are then used to demarcate identity.
AUTHENTICITY AND MUSIC
Authenticity and music are an ongoing scholarly contestation of definition and meaning. In post-WWII popular music, there have been many discussions about authenticity and music as mass art, especially in the areas of rock,7 punk,8 and hip-hop.9 These arguments include discussions largely centered on performance, independent subcultures, and in the case of hip-hop, history and race. The areas of authenticity in electronic music are less addressed. One major work is by Sarah Thornton, who explores club music and club culture as subcultures oppositional to mainstream music.10
The discussions we are particularly interested in for the Ladytron narrative have links to authenticity within, and after, the age of reproducibility. Here, some definitions hold tightly while others transform and adapt. Walter Benjamin's11 lament for the loss of an aura in mass-produced art is countered by John Mowitt's assertion that to include how work by some contemporary musicians “can be understood as an attempt to communicate or socialize the general material character of the contemporary mode of reproduction.”12 Potter looks to digital and scratching repetition in hip-hop music13 through the eyes of Henry Louis Gates' concept of “repetition and difference.”14 Russell A. Potter applies this concept to hip-hop music, through which he asserts that repetition is not always the same but repeats each time with a difference, lending itself as a competency to the authenticity of hip-hop music.15 Susan McClary discusses contemporary music composition in the DIY (do-it-yourself) music of the 1980s, where anyone could “choose to reappropriate the means of producing art themselves.”16
Authenticity in a postmodern age (and whatever we are experiencing beyond that marker) incorporates (re)productions and (re)interpretations. Authenticity here can also demarcate a space within the culture industry as opposed to outside of it. Its nature is one of working within the system, whether it opposes this system through internal memetic insertion17 or simply carves out a space in which it can function. Lawrence Grossberg's examination of authenticity changing in a mass and multimedia environment (and post-modernity) is of interest to this research in that he calls for looking at how traditional notions of authenticity change in these environments.18
AUTHENTICITY AS INTERACTIVELY ACCOMPLISHED
We are particularly interested in how something is identified as authentic, with specific focus on the Ladytron narrative. While it may be seemingly simple to call authenticity a social construction interactively negotiated between members of the Ladytron community (the band, their followers and the media), its workings are fairly complex. Its basis is that of an internal logic-in-use by members where interpretive processes and external signs work in tandem in the sense-making process. Using an ethnomethodological19 lens, we see authenticity to be possible because participating members believe it to be so, and thus negotiate the conditions of its possibility with each other.20 It is the process through which members identify that certain quality of authenticity in the band. This process is influenced by members' understanding that:
There is such a thing as an authentic identity or sound.
There are cues that can be interpreted as evidence to support a claim for authenticity. Relatedly, there also exist cues that could deny interpretations of authenticity.
There is an intuitive awareness, brought about by the familiar, regarding claims for authenticity. This awareness works reflexively to provide a context for further interpretations of authenticity.
Awareness is an important feature of this process. Awareness is also discursively accomplished, as explained by Dorothy Painter, “since occurrences are reflected on, interpreted using group social knowledge, and then talked about, they become real through the talk, not through their happening.”21 It is indeed through interactions between the band, its followers and the media that this sense of awareness is accomplished. Moreover, in these interactions, members make each other aware of the organizing constituents of what counts as authenticity. This awareness, as such, operates as a kind of a social reality that guides and negotiates perception. In the case of the Ladytron narrative, perceptions of the band's identity depend on a negotiation between a roots concept of electronic music authenticity, performing artistic integrity as a competency, and interaction with an audience who participates in the perpetuation and maintenance of this alternative/indie identity.
We use textual analysis as the method through which we explore these notions of authenticity. This analysis is informed partially by the study of semiology and semiotics as later adapted by Roland Barthes' work with myth, symbol, rhetoric and narrative.22 This is accented by further work in discussion of discursive themes as discussed and demonstrated by David Bordwell,23 and checked against an overview of semiotic and narrative analyses provided by Peter Manning and Betsy Cullum-Swan.24 We gathered a range of media materials related to Ladytron and their music and focused our analysis on industry and popular articles, music reviews, and band interviews. Collectively, these media discursively formed what we refer to as the Ladytron narrative. Since our interests were in negotiations of authenticity in the Ladytron narrative, we used the following research questions to guide our analysis: What is the concept of authenticity within electronic popular music that is communicated through the materials? How does the Ladytron narrative provide (or not provide) competencies of this authenticity? What is Ladytron's identity as constructed through these materials? How is this identity maintained (or not maintained)?25
As part of background research, we listened and re-listened to Ladytron's five full-length studio recordings and sampled their EP recordings (which are largely re-mixes of previous singles). We also sampled work from a live CD released in 2009 and saw the band in live performance during that same tour. Although Ladytron's music was not a primary focus of the analysis, we felt that immersing ourselves in the music was a necessary component of our research process. We additionally viewed eleven music videos found through their official site and on the video-sharing site YouTube26 and fifteen video clips of live performances posted by fans, including fan comments.
In our main analysis, we examined 71 popular, press, and industry articles on the band. The print press included newspapers, entertainment industry magazines, such as Billboard, and industry publications specific to digital production and electronic mixing, as well as niche lifestyle magazines. These sources were mainly print or linked to a print parent company with the exception of a few purely digital publications. The article dates ranged from May 2001 to November 2011.27 A number of these articles included interviews with the band available through the internet dated between November 1999 and June 2009. These interviews were both professional and amateur. We also reviewed video interviews that were available from commercial and independent music sites as well as personal blogs, and sites such as YouTube or similar video posting sites.
In addition to the 71 articles, we analyzed Ladytron's official website in 2009 (linked to its label) and its concomitant sites on social media, such as Facebook. Interestingly, fan forums of original making were rare. We were able to locate and include in our study only one site that we identified as a stand-alone fan forum, not hosted by larger fan forum software. Ladytron was also represented on second-party sites that list and describe musicians, such as MTV, New Musical Express, and iLike. We reviewed eight of these sites until we reached what we agreed was a sense of saturation—when materials repeated themselves and referred to one another enough to sense that no new information would be found in further examination. Internet materials are especially intrinsic to the Ladytron narrative as they share common electronic and digital DNA.
AUTHENTICITY AS CONSTRUCTED THROUGH THE LADYTRON NARRATIVE
We contend that authenticity is constructed in social interaction. One of the ways in which we can see this construction in music is through discursive negotiations within the media materials analyzed; for example, how the band speaks about itself and its music, and how others speak about the same topics. Here we discuss the construction of authenticity in electronic popular music as it arises from the Ladytron narrative. This authenticity is not intended to be transferrable to other music genres or groupings; each holds its own definitions of authenticity based on how it is socially constructed in discourse.
The idea of, or having, roots as a conceptual frame in a genre history is one way through which the Ladytron narrative anoints notions of authenticity. Roots in the Ladytron narrative are electronic modes that branch off into two areas. The first roots area is a linkage to electronic music, in its original form. In our analysis, we found that repeated references were made to the band's collection and use of analog synthesizers. Part of the founding myth of Ladytron is their mutual love of old electronic instruments. One article described Ladytron member Daniel Hunt as filling his home studio “with his collection of seventies and eighties analog synths … the band now has more than twenty.”28 This reference to Ladytron's love of vintage synthesizers carried forward even as the band's sound progressed and moved to a more hybrid approach of analog electronic and newer digital tools. A review of their fifth studio album, Velocifero notes Ladytron being known for its commitment to vintage synthesizers and describes the release as “art and science combine in the multi-layered analog synth lines, a pallet [sic] of mechanical organic sounds mixing increasingly with the precision of soft synths.”29 This link to the tools of electronic music's past will also appear again later as part of artistic integrity through credibility in production.
Many articles and interviews also referred to the band being selected to play at the Luminous Festival at the Sydney Opera House, curated by Brian Eno, a respected icon in electronic music who has worked within experimental music genres and has produced works for mass audiences. Eno was also an original member of Roxy Music, the band that released the single “Ladytron” for which the band Ladytron is named.30 These references to Eno and the Luminous Festival at the Sydney Opera House, having occurred in numerous articles, rhetorically shape Ladytron's narrative by giving it greater authenticity through this roots linkage with Eno and his invitation to perform as part of his curated event at an elite venue.
Interestingly, Ladytron band member Reuben Wu revealed in a newspaper interview that the real reason Ladytron received an invitation to the Luminous Festival likely was because Eno's daughter was a big Ladytron fan. She met the band after a performance and introduced them to her father; an invitation followed a few days later.31 Most of the articles analyzed commented that the band had been invited because its talent had been noticed by a ‘forefather’ of electronic music; other articles suggested that the invitation was made by happenstance. Either story works to create a link to Eno that goes beyond the band's origin story of its name. Correspondingly, the band earns a nod of approval from a respected elder in the genre of electronic music, which adds to the band's level of authenticity within its genre.
The second roots area is a connection to a particular vintage of late 1970s and early 1980s New Wave electronic pop, which early in the twenty-first century experienced “retro-attention.” We say a “particular vintage” in reference to how the Ladytron narrative defines tastemaking, as found in discussions of Ladytron and their music, both by the band and others. These dialogues reference particular bands from the late 1970s and early 1980s that maintain a viable position within a certain hierarchy of electronic popular music culture; or in simple terms, that they are understood to uphold a cool-factor. The most common reference (to this position) by far, is to the early work of the electronic band Kraftwerk. Simon Price's article about the band in UK's newspaper The Independent specifically noted how Ladytron's first single pulled from Kraftwerk's song “The Model.” This mention was intended as a compliment to Ladytron's musical knowledge and artistic prowess.32
The band is also compared to Human League, a very different band than Kraftwerk, but considered iconic within 1980s electronic pop. Ladytron was asked to contribute to the Human League tribute album Reproductions, for which they covered the Human League's “Open Your Heart.” The Ladytron narrative points to Kraftwerk and Human League's influences in Ladytron's work and persona—one of a cool, technological distance, and the other from a similarly detached, but more pop-hungry place. The narrative suggests these influences to be most evident in the simpler music of Ladytron's beginnings, specifically their CD recordings 604 and Light and Magic. This second roots area is also where Ladytron confirms their identity in electronic popular music; that is, as electronic music also meant for the masses, and overtly linked to a certain type of internally defined modish pop music. This name-dropping of earlier electronic music artists and how Ladytron relates to these names signifies a way for the listener to place Ladytron within a taxonomy of electronic music. The connection to electronic roots directs the reader and listener to think of Ladytron as a band linked to respected electronic musicians of the near and far past, validating the band's authenticity.
Similar to our discussion of a roots concept is the concept of authenticity through artistic integrity, which in this instance is also linked to artist credibility. What arises in the Ladytron narrative is authenticity linked to a particular type of artistic integrity that we also find reflected in the larger electronic music community, described as the ability to technically produce one's own music and the music of others. By extension, these skills articulate the electronic principles through which one performs and records in the electronic pop industry. This notion of integrity/credibility surfaces from the Ladytron narrative in interviews and press articles that focus positively on Ladytron's abilities to not only create and control their own artistic work, but also in their ability to mix music for various other acts by invitation.
CREDIBILITY IN PRODUCTION
One of the indicators of artistic integrity is how Ladytron is particularly handled in industry publications related to electronic musicians or mixing. In all instances reviewed in this research, Ladytron was lined up and trotted out as a positive tastemaking example of quality electronic work performed in the industry. For instance, on two separate occasions, Remix magazine conducted features on Ladytron's highlighting their integrity in this way.33 David Weiss's article goes into great detail about the writing, recording techniques, and mixing of Velocifero, throughout which the band members are quoted on their thoughts of various instruments and processes, and gain credibility from an industry publication as electronic musicians. Ladytron member Reuben Wu describes the opening track of Velocifero:
Black Cat is a mixture of analog synths, soft synths, a real Korg MS-10 doubled up quite a few times and filtered through some of the custom modules that [mixer] Michael Patterson had … also some xylophone, and the incessant thing is Rhodes.34
Band members' ability to speak the language of electronic music production is an element of achieving credibility, furthered by their facility to achieve a particular artistry in this area. Mira Aroyo, in Price's interview with The Independent, comments on how Ladytron approaches electronic music-making: “We've never wanted to press the pre-programmed sound buttons. We wanted our own signatures. It's like Brian Eno's approach on late Seventies Bowie Records.”35 Here Aroyo asserts the artistry of Ladytron's electronic work through linking it to credible and lauded approaches of the past, and also linking back to electronic roots through Eno and electronic experimentation in popular music. Ladytron is described in Weiss's article as having a “reputation for studio wizardry,” and that although others are credited as collaborating in the album's production, “the members of Ladytron themselves are the official producers on the release.”36
Ladytron's collaborations with other musicians, along with noted technicians who work on the production of their music, are also part of achieving credibility. Ladytron's name came up in interviews with respected electronic musicians/engineers, such as Alessandro Cortini37 and Jim Abiss;38 both worked with Ladytron.
Similarly, popular presses and fans also linked music production with artistic integrity. What is emphasized in these discourses is Ladytron's association with other popular bands that receive respect within the larger popular music culture, typically bands that are known for their own artistic integrity. This discourse emphasizes rubbing shoulders or being part of collectives with other, similarly respected artists in the community. In the Ladytron narrative, for example, Ladytron is linked to Nine Inch Nails. The narrative points to how Nine Inch Nails and Ladytron produced work for each other after touring together in 2007. This topic came up often in the interviews and press coverage of the band. Nine Inch Nails, while not necessarily known as an electronic pop band, is known for their edginess, independence, and artistic integrity. In their later work, Ladytron is associated with up and coming innovative alternative electronic musicians, whose work they mix. In the decade of materials examined for this study, Ladytron, as individuals and a group, evidenced more mixing activity than original music output. Ladytron's full-length produced catalogue was five CDs, but the iTunes store (accessed 12 December 2011) provided more than 30 listings of remixed work by or for Ladytron.
CREDIBILITY IN PERFORMANCE
Increasingly, the electronic music community is linked to the mix and DJ culture, rising out of the club/dance subculture. In the Ladytron narrative this tie also serves as a criterion for artistic integrity and credibility. In this lies the need for an electronic act to perform live, whether it be a live performance of their own music as a band or mixing live for a dance community or venue. Ladytron achieved both.
Andrew Goodwin, in Sample and Hold: Pop Music in the Digital Age of Reproduction, used the 1980s band, Depeche Mode, as an example of the dilemma faced by early electronic pop bands when performing live: “Depeche Mode are troubled by the perception that they are miming instead of playing (perhaps this is because it is true—much of their ‘live’ show is replayed via tapes and/or sequencers) …” He continues with a claim that the only “true original aura available in mass-produced pop” is the live presence of the musician/musical artist.39 Live performance for electronic musicians was often seen as stilted and boring, and musicians compensated for this “lack” of performance with large visual multimedia displays. But the aura in electronic music is not so much the live presence of the musician but how the musician uses music technology in a live or “risk” fashion. Contemporarily, notions of authenticity as related to live performance of electronic popular music also seem to have a hierarchy, at the top of which is having the skills to perform live technology. This measure separates bands that are seen as produced by others from bands that produce themselves.
For Ladytron, this ability to use technology live is evidenced by two distinctly different themes in their materials. The first theme is their commitment to playing live via analog synthesizers as opposed to using solely pre-mixed tracks. This process entails band members operating large analog synthesizers on stands, twiddling knobs, and working their keyboards during performance. They additionally incorporate other live musicians, such as drummers and guitarists. The importance of this evidenced live performance is seen prominently in the Ladytron narrative. The industry presses and many interviews comment on this live aspect of electronic performance in a way that is similar to how other music is granted greater authenticity in its live state—most notably, rock music. Interestingly, in one interview, Ladytron's live shows were compared to “the days of prog rock excess,” where Ladytron member Daniel Hunt is quoted as saying, “It's practically Emerson Lake & Palmer, but this is because we play everything live.”40 Rock certainly has its influence, even in ancillary music genres.
Our analysis also pointed to the use of live technology through live DJ performances, offered by individual Ladytron members: for example, Ladytron participated in mixing nights (announced through their official web spaces and more recently via Twitter) listing dates and times when a member of Ladytron would mix music at a club or event. DJ culture had grown to be seen as a live experience. The release of the video game DJ Hero in 2009, joining in the genre of predecessors Guitar Hero and Rock Band, provided some indication of the rise of DJ culture as a live and respected aspect of popular music at the time. In DJ Hero, players become DJs and mix live from premixed tracks.41 The turntable becomes an instrument, through which one performs live. In performing as DJs, members of Ladytron demonstrate their knowledge of music, rhythm, and mixing through electronic means. These performances enhance Ladytron's reputations as mixers themselves, not just as musicians; more so, they are not just a band produced through other people's talents. Ladytron's involvement with DJ and mixing culture lends the band members a certain alternative and indie credibility and identity, as evidenced in the Ladytron narrative.
An interesting theme in credibility in performance that merits attention is gender performance.42 As earlier noted, Ladytron is one-half female, and in the materials examined, much is made of the gender make-up of the band. The discussion emerges along an interesting gender refrain—Helen Marnie softens the music while Mira Aroyo, often singing either in deadpan fashion or in her native Bulgarian language, hardens it. These discourses point to how both women seem to provide the perfect contrast of purity-brightness and gritty-darkness, and for some writers and fans, they represent the Madonna/whore combination. Vocally they represent the pop and rock as a counterpart to the electronic music created by Ladytron (since the men rarely sing). Their gender is discussed as part of their musical identity: they carry tones that provide mystery by mixing “glistening female vocals and damning accusations to a swirling, decadent dance-floor stomp”43 or more directly, that they are “giving female artists a voice in electronica,”44 and in some cases their gender is emphasized as a core identity, “Lady+Tron: Live Sonic Goodness.”45 Aroyo's role as hip geek girl, in particular, is promoted through constant reference to her connection to studying genetics at Oxford and amazement (by press and fans) at her technical capabilities despite being a woman.
We surmise that these discourses further advance ideas of authenticity through gender hegemonies in expected demonstrations of artistic integrity. That is, it is particularly difficult for women to be successful (as music producers/technicians or live performers), and as such, the success of Ladytron's leading women is distinctively remarkable. As frontwomen of a band in a male-dominated industry, Ladytron's “doing gender”46 is inherently alternative; it breaks away from or perhaps even challenges the mainstream. Their embodied performances—as women musicians/sound-engineers—further validate a claim for an alternative/indie identity and authenticity.47
Being alternative is important within electronic popular music and a critical aspect of Ladytron's identity as a band. Thornton, in her discussion of club culture, discusses the importance of club culture as an alternative to the mainstream, as a subculture working in opposition to the mainstream.48 Ladytron's alternative to the mainstream, however, is closer to mainstream's center and not necessarily in opposition to it. Authenticity in electronic music has a dialectical relationship with the mainstream, operating in a tension between being connected yet separate. In a sense it has one foot on the outside and one foot on the inside of mainstream music and holds a sort of insider/outsider status. Alternative bands that are spoken highly of—respected and seen as having credibility—are distinctly considered authentic. These bands tend to sign with independent labels yet flirt with commercially produced musicians by mixing these musicians' work or contributing to their music. They are able to maintain an alternative/indie status, or identity, while also gaining larger audiences through their link to larger popular mainstream acts.
Ladytron maintains their alternative/indie status in this way. The band has remained with independent labels throughout their career. As mentioned previously, their label at the time, Nettwerk, was huge but privately owned. This label retains the indie persona through the promotion of alternative music alongside their larger musical stars. Within the electronic music community, Nettwerk has established itself as the prominent alternative label, a true defined independent label that has kept its mission, even as it grew fairly large.
Ladytron also typically releases their own material as fringe, while providing assistance to more mainstream acts. Their fan following is described as committed, sometimes even cult-like, but they are able to stay small enough (in terms of audience) to not be seen as selling out. Industry and critic reviews indicate a band that could be described as a critic's darling during this decade.
The press material and interviews point to Ladytron's mixing of alternative acts, but their clients were also more well-known, from Nine Inch Nails to pop stars, Blondie (Fade Away and Radiate [Ladytron Remix]) and Christina Aguilera (Bionic). Instead of noting this inclusion as compromising the band's indie integrity, their community saw these collaborations as ways in which Ladytron's influence might positively affect popular music. The Ladytron narrative noted these partnerships as either a cherished meme in mainstream music or a celebration of the band's electronic and digital skills.
Ladytron has also been involved with many commercial ventures, in spite of its alternative/indie identity. How they were able to maintain this identity while concurrently cashing in within the culture industry is an interesting achievement. Ladytron has loaned much of its music, even specially remixed it, for videogames. This trajectory makes sense, as it sticks within the realm of technology and electronica. Other articles mention a variety of commercial entities to which Ladytron has licensed their music who are seen as more mainstream—Old Navy, Sex in the City, and various commercials.49 Ladytron member Daniel Wu, in particular, seems to express joy at their commercial growth. Yet, these connections did not seem to affect the band's credibility or their competencies for authenticity. These views follow what the electronic popular music community recognizes as maintaining alternative/indie integrity while still engaging with the dark side of the larger commercial music machine.
CONCLUSION: LOOKING BACK, MOVING FORWARD
This study on the Ladytron narrative focused on the band's initial production years, from 2001 to 2011, which can be argued to be the formative decade of their career as joint members of this group. We eagerly anticipate how their new album (released in 2019), subsequent tours, press, and interactions with fans might add to a later re-examination of the Ladytron narrative.
This initial analysis on authenticity in Ladytron's formative decade of work is important as it shows how popular electronic music is defined as authentic in negotiations of artist and community dialectics. These negotiations point out that the construction of authenticity within genres that claim to be alternative, as many popular electronic acts continue to do, includes wiggle room for the members to move along the continuum between alternative and mainstream—as long as they are not seen as crossing over into purely commercial and mass-produced mainstream pop music.
Ladytron was able to maintain an alternative/indie identity that enabled them to demarcate their work from mainstream electronic music and communicate with individuals and communities who recognized and participated in the maintenance of an alternative/indie identity. In this paper we demonstrated how, in the Ladytron narrative, this identity depended on a negotiation between a ‘roots’ concept of electronic music authenticity and a demonstration of performing artistic integrity as a competency. This narrative points to how authenticity in popular music is co-created by the artist and the community as well as how music artists can maintain an identity alternative to mass culture while carving out a space within it. Additional studies of particular bands through the voice of their communities (in the culture industry) might provide even more information on how authenticity works within a contemporary media culture of popular music.