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EUROPEAN DREAMS, OLYMPIC RINGS, AND DRUMS. WIND BACK WEDNESDAY PACKS IT ALL IN A BLACK CAB

This is serious Mutter: Black Cab: Wes Holland, Andrew Coates and James Lee


With the Olympics beginning in Paris in less than a month, the Euros in its last games this week in Germany, and the fascists beaten back (at least for now) in Poland, France and Britain, the times seem made for Black Cab.


Melbourne’s art rock/electro/kommische/dance in dark clothes band touch on all those topics in some way or other in their career so far.


This interview from 2016 came on the heels of an album devoted to a reimagining of the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, dominated by a juiced up East Germany and the countries of the so-called Iron Curtain – preceded of course by the Munich Games of 1972 which were probably as rife with state-sanctioned drug regimes, just not quite as obviously – but set within a catalogue that always tapped into a mittel Europe-meets-mittel Victoria mood.


And it accompanied a new single that couldn’t be more continental if it tried.

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SO, IT TURNS OUT Shepparton, Victoria, and Glasgow, Scotland, have at least one thing in common: dreams over the horizon to Europe.


Although he didn’t set foot in Germany until adulthood, when a visit in 1989 coincided with the collapse of the Berlin Wall - “I’ve got some asbestos-ridden rocks in my house [as mementos]” - Andrew Coates, of Melbourne’s art-meets-electronica band, Black Cab, grew up tied emotionally and musically to the dominant nation of Europe.


"I don't know how that happened for a kid from Shepparton [but] I always felt a call from central Europe," he says, remembering being entranced by the “otherworldliness” of Germany.


It sounds something like what Jim Kerr of Simple Minds said to me a few years ago about how he and his friend Charlie Burchill grew up looking well beyond their Glaswegian streets and began making music that sounded less like Sauchiehall Street and more like the roads, railway lines and atmospheres of a mittel Europe they imagined.


"I was always rootless. I still get ants in my pants very quickly,” Kerr said. “The first time I came to continental Europe was on a school trip when I was 13. I found that the world was in colour.”



This strikes a chord with Coates, on several levels, as you might be able to tell from the pulsing, dancing machine beats and expansive night-on-a-wet-Strasse feel of the new Black Cab single, Uniforms.


"You’ve hit the nail right on the head there because I can remember in Shepparton, as a teenager listening to [early Simple Minds albums] Sister Feelings Call and Sons And Fascination and New Gold Dreams and being transported. I wasn't in Shepparton anymore; I was in middle Europe, I was on a train heading through Belgium and Holland,” he says.


“I love that sound. That stuff took me completely out of my world. They were touchstone records for me, way more so than the krautrock stuff I discovered later.”


Black Cab, the band Coates formed with James Lee, a bandmate from an industrial rock group called Foil, started with a more American drone rock sound, and constructed its debut album, Altamont Diary, as a loose concept around the infamous Rolling Stones show at Altamont Speedway, northern California. However, with their third album, Call Signs, the focus for Coates and Lee shifted eastward.


Call Signs was another concept, about life in the closely monitored dictatorship of East Germany, a theme connected to Anna Funder’s book on the human impact of this police state, Stasiland, and the film The Lives Of Others. Add in a Black Cab tour of Germany and the disappearance of guitars from their writing and you had “a toxic stew of influences” says Coates.



The next album, Games Of the XXI Olympiad, extended this approach, not only set in and around the Olympic Games but drawing far more heavily on German electronic music of the 1970s (and maybe Simple Minds albums influenced by those same albums, from the 1980s). What’s more, Coates won’t rule out my idea of an album about post-unification Germany.


"I love history and I love culture and I love picking over the last 30 or 40 years," says Coates. "It's a rich history to draw on, so much fodder.”


So much fodder and so much potential too since drummer Wes Holland joined when the shift from guitars to electronics left Coates and Lee a little dissatisfied.


"That base of rhythm and live drums takes us away from that pure electronic/DJ kind of thing which we don't really want to be part of. There's something a bit plastic about that and we like the honesty of drums,” Coates says, adding that new songs written for a coming album or EP will push Black Cab further.


”It's definitely the start of a sound that is still electronically driven by with good rock drums, live drums. But still a guitar-free zone.”



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