Published on September 9th, 2016 | by Joshua Gliddon


Interview | Black Cab


It’s Not About Dancing to Architecture

There’s a quote, apparently misattributed to Elvis Costello, that says writing about music is like dancing about architecture.

Regardless of who said it, there’s a lot of truth there. I like Brutalist, ’70s buildings, but I can’t imagine having a shimmy when I see one. And the Sydney Opera House has never inspired me to ring-a-ring-a-rosy.

That’s what makes it tricky to write about Melbourne’s Black Cab. In existence since 2000, a cursory overview shows a band that has shifted from being predominantly guitar-based, with its first two albums, Altamont Diary and Jesus East, to the strongly programmed electronic outfit (albeit with live drums) that the band is today.

“The thing is, the guitar never really did a lot for me.”

However, Andrew Coates, who makes up Black Cab with singer James Lee, says the transition never really happened.

“With Altamont and Jesus East, we started out programmed, but we needed to perform those songs live, so we added guitar,” he told BNU.

“The thing is, the guitar never really did a lot for me.”

As it happened, after Jesus East, Coates says James Lee was getting tired of guitar, which lead to the birth of the Call Signs album. Heavily influenced by East German cold war history, Call Signs marked a point for the band where they moved away from traditional instrumentation entirely.

“The stuff we were writing then, and since, with albums like Games of the XXI Olympiad and the singles we did after that, are heavily program-driven,” says Coates. “It seems like the logical thing.”

Which is where the idea of dancing about architecture re-enters the picture.

For me, Black Cab is a bit of an obsession. Interviewing Coates, I had to supress the fanboy. So what is it that makes this band, an outfit that rarely plays, doesn’t particularly like touring, and tends to make albums with odd, Germanic themes, so compelling?

Partly it’s because they don’t sound like anyone else in Australia at the moment. They follow their own interests and obsessions and, sure, there are elements of New Order and Cabaret Voltaire there, but that’s to be expected. Coates says that’s what he grew up listening to.

What’s also fascinating about the Cab is that for a band that doesn’t often play live, they’re particularly focussed on doing it well when they do. Live, they’re augmented by drummer Wes Holland, an addition Coates says is absolutely critical to their sound.

“We tried doing shows, just me and James, and they just didn’t have the same energy that a live kit brings,” he says. “With a drummer there’s an energy there; he’s performing and it gives the set dynamics and so it’s an arrangement we’ve stuck with.”


Coates says that the Cab has a long-standing goal to be a better live band because it helps the songwriting.

“If you can perform a song, it’s going in the right direction,” he says.

“We’re going to continue with the electronics. We won’t bring guitar back.”

Playing live also helps when it comes to recording new material. Coates says that many of the songs on Games were significantly modified after they’d been workshopped live. He’s also very upfront about the contribution of producer Woody Annison, an ex-pat Brit the band met after Mushroom Records got a hold of their first album Altamont Diaries.

Annison works with a lot of bands, including mainstream acts like The Living End, but Coates says he was, and is, absolutely critical when it comes to shaping their recordings.


“We’re probably one of the weirder bands he deals with,” Coates says.

For me, I rarely listen to the band’s early output these days. My taste has evolved as the band has evolved, and the often dark electro meshes perfectly with where I’m at. My current go-to Black Cab listen is an impeccably recorded set from the middle of 2016, put to tape at Sydney’s Newtown Social Club by a producer from community radio station FbI.

It captures the band at the height of their powers, and also includes two new tracks, Untitled I and Untitled II, which may or may not appear on the next album.

“They’re going to be subject to major reworks,” he says. “They’re very much works in progress, but we are happy with how they have turned out live.

“We’re going to continue with the electronics,” he adds. “We won’t bring guitar back, and that means we won’t play songs from the back catalogue, but so be it. You will never get a ‘greatest hits’ from us.”

Which is where this dance about architecture ends. Black Cab is unique, just like a Frank Gehry building. And for that reason alone, they deserve attention and, for this fanboy, just a little bit of obsession.

Limited numbers of Black Cab CDs, vinyl, and digital album downloads are available via its website and bandcamp. Live At the Newtown Social Club is available via bandcamp only. Follow on Facebook for news and tour information.

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