For as long as Black Cab have been creating music, the Melbourne electronic outfit have routinely modified their sound. Speaking to one-third of the band, Andrew Coates iterates that their latest album 明 (Akira) is not merely an ode to the 1988 anime classic but really the creation of a score to “some movie that possibly doesn’t exist”.
Perhaps, that is fitting given the minimal feel Coates et al. have engineered for this album. Their latest release was borne out of a project the band undertook to perform an original live score to Akira (1988) with ‘Hear My Eyes’ back in January at The Astor Theatre. Performance partner Toshi Sakamoto, who Coates cheers as “the bee’s knees of taiko drumming in Melbourne” will be performing with Black Cab at their upcoming Howler show in Brunswick. Sakamoto was a central figure in guiding the sound of the project. His traditional Japanese drumming is at the core of Cab’s latest offering and they were quick to “use program taikos, and loops and other bits and pieces to get that wall of taiko drums”.
Listening to the album, the idea of this wall is almost too modest a description. The sound is imposing and foreboding as a militaristic threat; the taikos are an aural assault and are crucial in evoking the state that pervades Katsuhiro Otomo’s film. Yet, indulging in, or exploring, new sounds and avenues is hardly novel for the Melbourne stalwarts. Coates muses that “a few years ago we supported Tangerine Dream at the Melbourne Town Hall and James [Lee] played Cab tracks on the grand organ”. Their ability, and desire, to create new sounds is clearly discernible looking over their discography. Yet, unifying themes are evident. When pressed on the similarities of evoking dark, totalitarian regimes as Cab did on 2009’s Call Signs which took inspiration from Stasi controlled East Germany, a conscious effort had not been made on 明. Coates states, however, “that those are certainly themes that I’m interested in and we will probably return back to”. Noting that “there’s probably a dystopian theme that runs through all our work because we can’t really do happy, shiny pop [as] it’s not really in our DNA”. In spite of this “the next Cab album we’re working on is quite upbeat,” he says “but no matter what we do whether we are trying to make a pop song it usually ends up being quite dark and miserable”.
Perhaps, this reinvention is what keeps their hometown crowd so interested. “We have a very loyal following in Melbourne and it’s interesting because we will probably perform to a hundred-odd people in Sydney, or one-fifty if we’re lucky but we’ll probably come close to selling out Howler”. Coates credits their fans’ loyalty because “we try to do interesting things, we don’t just do the same thing again and again”. Yet, despite the love from Melbourne audiences, Coates does resign to the fact that performing for so long has naturally evolved their sound so “the people who loved us ten years ago are now seeing a very different band” and “some of the hairy rock guys might’ve fallen off but we’ve attracted a bunch of people who like to dance to dark music”.
With 明, Cab have created their own take on the sci-fi, anime genre. Joking that “secretly we’re hoping someone from Hollywood makes us an offer we can’t refuse” Coates is also quick to note “it’s not like we were trying to improve on something that wasn’t already good”. Comparing the two efforts, Cab’s interpretation of the film does not read as a copy, or really even a reimagining of Geinoh Yamashirogumi’s original score. Where the 1988 soundtrack had intentionally grand, cinematic moments like ‘Kaneda’ with heavy tribal influences that ferociously palpitate, Cab’s take is reverently understated in comparison. In constructing the music to the film Coates states “we basically didn’t listen to [the original soundtrack], and certainly didn’t sample it” and that “everything was simply constructed from scratch”.
Yet, it’s hard not to ponder the influences at work on明. The sound does not strictly resign itself to the anime genre, instead elements of a diverse array of films are present. Credited as referencing the soundtracks of other iconic anime works such as Ghost in the Shell (1995), Coates notes his inspirations as rather wide-ranging owing to “minimal electronic scores like Apocalypse Now!, Blade Runner, the [Jean-Michel] Jarre stuff from any number of movies where you’ve got those kinds of very simple electronic lead lines”. Interestingly, he pays homage to “an amazing electronic soundtrack from a band called Popul Vuh”, who scored Werner Herzog’s 1972 film Aguirre, the Wrath of God, which he lavishes as “an unbelievable movie but a really incredible soundtrack”.
Despite leading to the creation of their next album, Coates states that the ‘Hear My Eyes’ project, which has also seen Melbourne duo GL score Xavier Dolan’s Heartbeats (2010), “was actually a nightmare”. Strict timing constraints, synchronicity and periods of silence where the dialogue would run “was quite awkward and frankly we’re quite glad we’re never going to do it again”. With an upcoming string of shows in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane Coates is looking forward to getting back to “the usual Cab thing”. This time around “where people can go see some dark electronic music with some crazy Japanese drums”.