Our take on the La Roux phenomenon

As we look back over 2010, one of the more compelling phenomena in the world of electronic music has been the behemothic rise of La Roux.

The British electro-pop duo is reminiscent of the early Erasure, and embodies a definitively old-school synth style. They also sound like any number of other solid synth-pop bands on the scene right now. What they possess, which those other bands do not, is a mainstream success we haven’t seen from a band like this in a dog’s age. 

Already a huge success in the UK and across Europe (chart success it shared with bands like Goldfrapp), it was also a big hit in the US, traditionally hostile territory for electronic bands chart-wise. “Bulletproof” spent 15 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart (peaking at #8) and was a seriously ubiquitous song this spring (shifting a staggering 500,000 digital units by April). “In For the Kill” made it another hit when it was played on an episode of “Entourage”.

Softsynth fancies itself as having a good ear for electronic music and can usually predict with some success the degree of mainstream embrace a band might have, but the degree to which La Roux have succeeded on this metric is far beyond anything we could ever, ever have anticipated.

So why them?

We don’t pretend to have any mystical truths at our disposal but the question needs posing. There are scores of bands that sound like La Roux. In many cases a lot like La Roux. Is there a unique competitive advantage of the song? Is it label support? Is it singer Ellie Jackson’s awesome, awesome hair? Why not the similar-in-spirit Parralox? Or Future/Perfect? Or Northern Kind? Each is a synth-pop duo with a compelling female vocalist and a similar over-arching sound, so why this band, why now? We’ve postulated on the resurgence of electronic music, a movement we’re continuing to see all over the world these last two years, but the heights to which La Roux has soared (they were on The View for god’s sake! As we write this on December 31, they are scheduled to appear on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve!) goes above and beyond.

They have a unique opportunity to seize on the moment but Jackson has already made those career killer noises so many in their position make – she has arrogantly pontificated that “synth music is over” and that she’s now ‘done’ playing with synthesizers: “I don’t want to make synth music for the rest of my fucking life. It was a time when I was into that, but whatever, it’s done with, it’s gone. The whole genre is so over. It was my thing and I’m bored with it. If I see anything more ‘80s-themed, I’m going to bust.” Well fuck you very much Ms. Jackson. When MGMT abandoned the sound that make them a success they turned out a forgettable, pretentious album that went nowhere. Bands that succeed with a certain sound and then turn their nose up it usually go gently into that good night. If so, so be it. 

They made a great album and helped move the cause of electronic music a lot further down the field and their place in the history of the genre is well secured. If they piss it away, it’s too bad and in the meantime, many others will be lining up to figure out what magic they were able to weave as they crossed over into the mainstream. We don’t know what it was exactly but it made for one of the more interesting stories in music in 2010.


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