BLACK CAB exploring new elements at Sugar Mountain Festival
We had a chat with Andrew Coates, vocalist and producer from Melbourne electronic group BLACK CAB. Having recently been announced as part of the eclectic artist lineup for SUGAR MOUNTAIN festival, we asked about new music, their latest single and what to expect from their upcoming live performances.
Coates has been involved with Black Cab since its inception in 2004. A band known for their distinct ambient, genre pushing style of electronica, they’ve always worked on developing interesting soundscapes that excite and challenge listeners. Black Cab always had a strong interest in foreign politics and culture, with Coates saying “We’ve always had a strong interest in foreign politics, particularly Germany in the 70s.” Groups like KRAFTWERK were really interesting and formative influences; influences you can clearly hear a lot in the their unique esoteric electronica.
One of the major driving forces behind Black Cab has always been new technology, posing challenges as well as opportunities. As technology has developed, so to has their process of creation. Moving away from analogue, old school hardware, Black Cab have embraced software and non-linear creative processes. “One thing I’ve found is that I’ve moved away from hardware, I enjoy software. I use Ableton, which is basically a way of combining and arranging sounds, but it also means you can be quite free form, you don’t feel like you’re locked into a linear experience.”
Black Cab have always been left field in terms of production and style. Some of the biggest challenges of today actually involve stripping back. “Today it’s more about removing things, because basically any sound you can think of is out there, so getting that all to work together is sort of really challenging,” Coates explained. Their 4th album, Games of XXI Olympiad, marked the beginning of the bands stripping back, having removed a lot of the acoustic elements. “Games was a long process, we fired all our guitarists to strip the sound back. So there was an interesting challenge to try and make a Cab record without any guitars, and that’s really what was kind of problematic,” Coates explained.
Over the years, Black Cab have not received amassed massive commercial success, but they have received a lot of favourable critical feedback. “We’re not a commercially successful band, but we do have some critical interest in what we do,” Coates expressed. Their first album gained success because of its affiliation with the Rolling Stones’ failed project, Altamont festival. “We found ourselves getting reviewed in The Guardian, and LA Times. We hadn’t put much effort into promoting ourselves outside Australia but the record seemed to travel. It was good having people see this piece of work that didn’t know us. All that they could relate to was the recording that was in front of them,” Coates reflected. Aside from a lot of reviews the band actually had organisers from the Altamont festival reach out to them. “Sam Cutler apparently had moved to Australia and he reached out to us and we ended up doing some work with him on the second album,” Coates exclaimed.
Black Cab seem to be a perfect fit for the eclectic and carefully curated artist lineup for Sugar Mountain. The event seems to focus on a holistic, and out of the box experience. “We’re playing with lots of other artists doing interesting stuff, like SUZANNE CIANI and SUI ZHEN. These are guys that don’t necessarily follow a commercial path but are well known, particularly Suzanne. She’s been doing it for decades, and her stuff is amazing, really uncompromising. I guess that’s what we’re about as well; we don’t worry about commercial success or airplays, but doing stuff that people consistently find interesting and challenging.”
In contrast, their latest single ‘Uniforms’ was a unique opportunity for the band. Ahead of Black Cab’s upcoming festival appearances, they wanted new material. Rather than building a complex cosmic soundscape, they wanted to play something that people could sing along to. “It was good fun with a clean slate to just kinda make a piece that sounds good on the radio, it might not necessarily be on an album. Let’s just write a record that people like to listen to and that people like to play on the radio.”
‘Uniforms’ was well received along the east coast. In terms of building an audience, it has a significant impact for the band who’ve been trying to crack into the Sydney market. “The shows in Melbourne and Sydney went really well. Particularly Sydney, which has been a real challenge for us because we don’t tour there a lot. Sydney is the place that you just have to keep going back to, and keep working on to build your following, it’s a tough place. But we’ve tracked a lot of play up there and when we played Newtown Social Club we got a really, really good crowd.”
Moving into the next phase, the band are looking to break the fourth wall through incorporating more interactive visual elements into their live shows. Recently, Black Cab began exploring the realm of audio visual interaction through soundtrack work. “We’ve been doing sort of Asian inspired visuals, and so the approach there is electronic drums, instead of featuring loops building it around acoustic drums. Definitely electronic but without that kind of 4/4 beat has been really really interesting. Developing sequences, especially driving the groove, but working with acoustic percussion primarily because that’s what the visuals request. You kind of move out of your comfort zone,” explained Coates. Their move into AV has been quite deliberate. “Expending some of the ideas with amazing visuals is a really important part of what we do. Particularly if you’re on a bigger stage and a bit further away, you’ve got this kind of immersive experience.”
Black Cab will be premiering new music, as well as visuals as part of their performance for Sugar Mountain. “There’ll be at least 3 or 4 new pieces and a whole new set of visuals. That’ll be the first time we do it. I think that’s exciting because really half the set is new material.” There’s also talks of a new EP, with Coates saying, “The EP is based on music we’ve been performing this year. We wrote one of the pieces on the plane and it went down really well, so it will be part of the set.”
Black Cab will be performing at Sugar Mountain
January 21, 2017
Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne
Tix and info here
WORDS BY: ROSIE RAE