Melbourne-based artists Black Cab’s latest album, Akira, pays tribute to “the dark heart of Japanese sci-fi anime.” Based on the audio and visual aesthetics of Katsuhiro Otomo’s seminal 1988 dystopian sci-fi anime film, Akira, the album is designed as an alternative soundtrack to the film and was inspired by classic sci-fi, such as Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ghost in the Shell, Blade Runner, and the synth soundtrack to Apocalypse Now.
“It started with [us] being invited to perform an alternative soundtrack to Akira that was very much a one time thing,” band member Andrew Coates tells SBS PopAsia. “What really influenced the project was the organiser said, ‘hey, if you don’t mind, we’re keen to use live Japanese taiko [drums]. We think that’d be really cool.’ And so we said, ‘alright, sure, why not.’”
“That set the tone for the Japanese taiko drums being core to everything and took us out of our comfort zone in terms of the sorts of instruments we tend to use for our regular music,” he continued. “That anchored [the album] in an Eastern-Japanese feel. Using those kind of layers is a really cool way to differentiate the project… and was a really interesting challenge.”
Black Cab’s previous music was inspired by European and American culture in the 1960s and 1970s. Their 2006 Jesus East album is an indie rock take on Indian instruments, and was featured in an Australian surfing film. According to Coates however, Akira draws upon the band’s love for their favourite dystopian sci-fi films.
“The idea of a dystopian world and a sense of wonder, power and fascination; all these things are kind of common in a lot of these movies out of space or set in a supernatural or mysterious component,” he said. “In Akira’s case, it’s this telekinetic power and weird juxtaposition with adolescence, and trying to empower people who don’t necessarily feel empowered.”
“What we like about it is the sense of unknown, the possibilities of what’s out there and things that are not known today,” Coates continued. “All of that is a mix of what makes a good sci-fi soundtrack.”
“Everyone has these certain movies and visual scenes that take you out of today and takes you somewhere else. Revisiting those sort of movies time and time again is a great experience.”
Prior to the project, Coates never identified as an anime fan, believing that he had come into it too late.
“We’ve come fairly late but we think the sounds we create we imagine would work well with that genre,” he said. “Certainly watched Akira thirty times once we had to do the project but I was aware of it beforehand, the other ones less so.”
Through that project, we’ve learned to appreciate the uniqueness of the Japanese sci-fi feel,” he continued. “It’s a little bit different to other animations from other countries. We’ve immersed ourselves to a certain degree [but] I wouldn’t say we’re experts by any means. Certainly watching a film like Akira on a very large digital screen in 4K colour was an incredible experience.”
“We haven’t used any artwork from the movie or any sounds or audio,” said Coates. “We’ve been very careful not to do that. We created original artwork for the physical release and tried to make sure that there’s nothing that ties it to the audio or visuals from that movie.”
“There was no issue in calling it an alternative soundtrack to Akira and we can call it Akira because it’s a common Japanese name,” he continued. “It’s influenced by the movie but we’re not claiming it as a soundtrack, the original’s got a great soundtrack.”
The band’s Akira performance is described as an audio and visual journey that to avoid copyright issues won’t be using specific narrative scenes. Still, the album has a clear narrative structure fitting of a mock soundtrack to a film.
“There’s a sequence path, big thunderous scary paths, strange minimalist bits and a bookend with two closing and opening title components which is logical in any movie, there’s a start and a finish,” said Coates. “All that set the structure for the piece and there’s some stuff we left off but we used a lot of stuff we wrote and didn’t use in our performance that we felt suited the album. We felt there was some good structure there.”
“We don’t really want the idea that people are coming along and watching a movie with music,” he continued. “We want the imagery to support the music but it works really well. It was nice to journey through the different movies [and series], and there’s a lot of clips that evoke the feelings of each series without referencing an explicit scene or narrative components.”
Black Cab has plans to create a similar alternative soundtrack to a specific movie or soundtrack theme. If you’d like to see them live, the band will be performing their Akira album with live taiko drums in Melbourne on August 19 and in Sydney on August 26.
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