Kraut of This World: Black Cab

by Jake Cleland

I love Black Cab because I love Total Control and I love both because I love Crystal Castles and Xiu Xiu. And that is because all four have a palliative numbing effect which makes them useful therapy. When I think about what kind of therapy it is, I can only envision it as having all sense of feeling sucked out through the mouth to form a thin film around the body which blots out all light. There is nothing happening inside. I am just a thing which lends geometry to the darkness. In particularly bad moods I’ve often felt like the ability to transform into a shadow would make things better. These songs are a way to not exist for a while.

That’s different to catharsis, which is the therapy people usually talk about when they talk about music being a kind of therapy, i.e. screaming ones pain into the deafening, amplified sea of noise reciprocated by a band. This is a kind of condensation of the self which repels the communal element of music so widely sought. You can safely withdraw into yourself with Black Cab. I’m not saying that’s deliberate on their part, or even desired — I suspect most bands would find the idea of their music being isolating to be a pretty dreadful accusation — I’m just saying it’s there for you to use it like that if you want.

It’s particularly effective at their shows, but Howler, where they played the other night, might not be the ideal environment for it. The door to the bar swings open and shut, the people at the back of the three quarter filled space pierce the sanctuary with talk of the outside world, the bass doesn’t quite thrum with the possessive force required. The ideal Black Cab show might be in a place half as big with just as many people and the smoke machine blaring a hurricane of fog in the space between people. You need to feel anonymous for this to truly work.

“This is the kind of thing you should see at Berghain,” my girlfriend said, which is right and true and cultivated by the band, at least that much is clear. Andrew Coates sings with a Germanic tint appropriate for the themes behind Games of the XXI Olympiad, their last album, the one that still makes up the bulk of their sets. Melbournites with clubby inclinations have always pilgrimaged to Berlin for the electrified warehouses that sprung up following the fall of the Wall. It’s that preceding moment what captured Coates, Wes Holland and James Lee for Games. They took the history of Soviet German fascism — particularly the Communist plot to create super-athletes in an attempt to paint the Olympic world Red — and, with splashes of un-Berliner humour, drew out the fashion. The last vestiges of their psychier early records are present, but for the most part its cold motorik electro suitable for a grey dawn goosestep.

‘Uniforms’, then, is the post-fall liberation and unification. Their new single is as saucy as ‘Sexy Polizei’ from Games but removed from the historical concept, it rallies for the boys and girls on the dancefloors joining each other for the first time. It’s still called ‘Uniforms’ though, and it plays like a Games cut, suggesting Black Cab — even if only by accident — have more to draw from the GDR yet.

In real life, Andrew Coates is no Soviet sympathizer. He’s built a series of tech startups, a phrase so often invoked as shorthand for the potential triumphs of capitalism. We talked innovation, collaboration, and reorientation.

Andrew, what’s it take to build a successful startup?

If I knew that, I wouldn’t be talkin’ to you, mate! You’ve gotta earn a crust somehow and the enjoyment of making music for so little commercial return is up there with doing startups for little commercial return. I have equally poor skills in both.

Have you been following much of what’s happening to the journalism industry lately?

Yeah, of course. I’ve been following that with great interest. They’re doomed in the same way the music industry is doomed. Free content, right? Apart from a little bit of money you can make from online publishing, the product is dead. Journalism’s going the same way. That’s the new reality of the internet.

I kinda feel like myself and people like me are gonna end up signing up to the Uber of Journalism in a few years. Do you think there’s any way for a startup to disrupt what’s happened in the media to the benefit of its workers instead of its executives?

Someone’s gotta write the content, right? I’m interested in how services with paywalls are running around trying to find the answer, saying “We’re putting together quality journalism versus the dogpile of shit.” I’m just as guilty as anyone else at flipping through mindless Facebook feeds, going through the crap that’s out there. It’s like picking through a garbage chute, isn’t it? You pick through the garbage long enough and you’ll find something interesting. That’s what social media’s become, a cavalcade of bloody rubbish. It’s got its uses too but now that anybody can make it, there’s a lot of awful shit out there. There will be a way. Hopefully people will get rewarded for what they do. I suppose the struggle for journalism is how do you get those millions of eyeballs? Unfortunately it’s usually clickbait and controversial statements. So I don’t know what the model is. We’re all screwed. I had a plumber under my house recently and I thought ‘That’s a great game to be in.’ He made a fortune outta me and I had no other choice. If I didn’t wanna see my own shit coming back at me, I had to pay him. We should all be plumbers.

I found it really interesting that you’re involved in all these startups which is a very capitalistic practice, but you’ve got this sweet album from 2014 about the problems experienced by this communist regime. Do you think there are any hopes for socialism?

Most things are pretty screwed up, aren’t they? So I think socialism’s probably doomed. I don’t know what the correct model is but without greed, stuff doesn’t get done, but greed means you get the money and power in very few hands. If you don’t reward innovation or risk then people don’t do shit, that’s the bottom line.

On a lighter note, ‘Uniforms’ is a banger. You’ve collaborated with some people I really like in the past, like Lucy Buckeridge and Shags Chamberlin, now you’ve got Mikey Young on the track. How did working with Mikey come about?

Wes knows Mikey. Mikey had done a remix of some tracks from the last album and they came out really great. Mikey’s got a really unique sense of melody and rhythm, and we’re all fans of the Total Control stuff and Eddy Current. So we thought ‘Let’s get more of Mikey’. So we slipped him an early version and said ‘Go crazy’ and that’s what he did. We love working with other people. It adds another element of chance in the mix and we were lucky ‘cos there were so many interesting people floating around in Melbourne music. We don’t have all the answers so we love working with other people to see what happens.

You mentioned you might be working on some other stuff around ‘Uniforms’ and I didn’t notice any mention of a forthcoming EP or an album so what’s the status of that?

We’ve got like two more tracks to release, whether that’s an album or an EP we’re not sure. We set ourselves a goal to do a single. That was an intellectual challenge to do a track that stood up as something people would consider to be a bit of a banger. The other tracks are a bit more esoteric and more longform. It’s really the start of a new bunch of recording. We’re kind of over the album. The last one was a double album and as soon as we said we were gonna do a double album it was like ‘Shit, we’ve still got three more tracks we need to finish.’ We spent three years on the last couple of tracks. So we did it, but it puts a bit of a noose around your neck. Now if we like the sound of a track, let it out into the world. If it sounds good, let it out. If it doesn’t, either bury it or come back to it later. Don’t get stuck on it. These days you can release whatever you want. We did that with ‘Uniforms’. We don’t have a label, we did it through our own label. We can just do it whenever we want.

It’s interesting you say the challenge was for it to stand alone because the name ‘Uniforms’ evokes the militarism of Games but it’s a sexy dancefloor anthem at the same time. Is Black Cab done with the concept album?

Yeah, I would think so. I’m really inspired by images or times, but a lot of our themes came out once a track’s all done and we needed something to hang it together, so we created another couple of tracks that were specifically on theme. Call Signs and Altamont are a lot stronger themes because they started out as that. But Games kind of just emerged. We may do that with this one. We’re not too stressed about it at the moment. We wanna play around a little bit, we wanna make the live shows a little more interesting and enjoyable. If you pay twenty bucks you wanna have a bit of a dance. That’s our view. We’ve enjoyed going in that direction and we’ll probably continue in that direction.

Originally published in STRINE WHINE: ISSUE TEN