MERGING THE SOUNDS of Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode and The Velvet Underground into a modern pop aesthetic, Ladytron rock like the 1990s never happened. The British band were unwitting participants in the electroclash movement - the 21st-century version of 80s electropop that took influences from styles such as hip-hop, punk and hardcore - and are preparing to bring their message to the masses with a four-date tour of the mainland starting next Friday. The tour has added significance for keyboardist Reuben Wu, who founded the band with fellow new wave fan Daniel Hunt in Liverpool several years ago, because his parents moved to Britain from Hong Kong about 30 years ago. 'It's not just the first time we've played China, it's the first time I've ever been to China. I have no idea what to expect apart from very good food,' Wu says. Clad in identical androgynous uniforms with impossibly hip hair, Ladytron have fast become favourites among the fashionable elite of the design and style worlds. The group claims this has happened more by happy accident than intention. 'It's not 'chic', but it's definitely 'tongue-in-chic',' says Wu. It all started when Wu and Hunt met through the Liverpool club scene with a shared love of analogue equipment, experimental electronic music and German new wave bands, and the lineup was completed when vocalists Helena Marnie and Mira Aroyo were recruited for the Ladytron cause. The name came from a Roxy Music song - 'it just sounded right', says Wu - and the band set about recording and touring, but rarely playing live in Britain. Several critically acclaimed EPs laid the foundation for their 2001 debut album, 604, which is widely considered one of the definitive moments of the nu-electro faction. The band's second album, Light & Magic, followed in the winter of 2002, bringing Ladytron's angular utopian vision to an ever wider audience, and a third album is on the way. Described as the way futurists in the early 80s would have imagined pop music sounding in 2000, the group was quickly tagged part of the 80s revival - a term they loathe. 'There were some people who only heard '80s revival' in our music and referred to us as being only fans of The Human League, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Gary Numan,' Wu says. 'This was a common mistake made by people who only listened to the synthesisers rather than all of the music. '[Our] songwriting influences have always been the same - Lee Hazlewood, Serge Gainsbourg, Bowie. In terms of instrumentation, our method was to use the technology at our disposal at the time, which was old analogue synthesisers, drum machines and computer software. Obviously, we were aware of The Human League and Kraftwerk, but we never set out to emulate them. 'The way we wrote music was in a completely different and modern way. Our influences have included My Bloody Valentine, Joy Division, New Order, German new wave music like Grauzone and No More, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Throbbing Gristle.' The result is invasively catchy modern pop tunes wrapped in retro cool. Wu and Hunt sit in the background surrounded by their bank of keyboards and effects units, manipulating every pulsating tone. At the forefront are Ladytron's dual vocalists, with Aroyo's detached, ice-cool monologues offset by Marnie's breathy, sugar-spun delivery. The success of the Ladytron sound lies in the band's ability to marry a sonic attack with a killer pop instinct. 'There are two sides to listening to music - the song itself and the instrumentation. The song is the more important part (depending on the genre obviously) and the instrumentation/sound has to be in harmony with that song - otherwise we'd be writing ring tones for mobile phones,' Wu says. 'You could also argue whether a 'dance track' is a song at all, but in our case all our songs could just as well be produced on an acoustic guitar and still sound like music.' Recalling a vision that was current two decades ago (and unlike many of their peers who revel in the inherent kitsch within the genre), Ladytron play it totally straight. 'Irony is a great way for non-talented musicians to be successful,' says Wu. 'To be honest, we have left all this defensiveness regarding our sound well behind us. All we are frustrated about is getting our third album out in the shops rather than worrying about what people think of us.' The image of stylised detachment often associated with Ladytron does not really do the band justice. 'I think the biggest wrong assumption is people thinking that the four of us are austere, non-smiling, computer supremacists,' says Wu. The song content, although often bleak, remains resolutely human throughout - predominantly revolving around coolly observed tales of social manipulation. Moreover, Ladytron's vintage analogue equipment provides more enchanting, organic sounds than the modern alternatives. Once termed the British leaders of electroclash, Ladytron's ascendancy into the public limelight has not been affected by the associated media attention that chronicled the speedy rise - and fall - of that particular movement. 'Electroclash was the name of a festival in New York,' says Wu. 'Then people started using the name as a genre of music to encompass a disparate group of bands making a really wide range of music. 'The press definitely hyped it up while most of the artists themselves were frustrated by the name,' he says. 'At least it gave people who didn't have a clue some idea of where to go look in a record shop.' Confirming the band's status as purveyors of cool, Ladytron released the 18-track compilation album Softcore Jukebox in October last year. 'Our American label, Emperor Norton, wanted to release a DJ mix album, but this developed into more of a compilation and less dance-orientated, since quite a lot of the music we like is not mixable,' Wu says. 'With DJing you are checked on your skills in selecting and segueing party tunes. When playing live, it's all about the spectacle of a group of people producing their own music onstage. I love DJing, but playing live is definitely more exhilarating.' Ladytron China tour - Sep 24-25: True Color Club, Shenzhen, $120 (from HMV in Hong Kong). Inquiries: (86) 755 8230 1833. Sep 28: Shapingba Park, Chongqing. Inquiries (86) 23 6373 688. No sales, but go to the quiz at www.britishcouncil.org.cn/rhythmuk to win free tickets. Oct 6: Fuxing Park, Shanghai. Tickets available at www.ticktick.com.cn or call 800 820 8056.