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  • Writer's pictureVeronica Irwin



The Quietus

Nitzer Ebb's Douglas McCarthy and Bon Harris reunite in new group Black Line. Watch their new video here.

Heavy hitting and full of rhythmic complexity, evolving Los Angeles-based super group Black Line is a force to be reckoned with. Led by fierce front man Douglas J. McCarthy and producer-instrumentalist Cyrusrex, the group works with a series of collaborators from McCarthy’s Nitzer Ebb bandmate Bon Harris to Depeche Mode’s Christian Eigner.

The group’s recently released album Treason, Sedition, and Subversive Activities is a dark gritty mixture of alternative electronica, formulated through a distinctive recording process making extensive use of high-tech systems. Their new frightening video ‘Snap’ is a collage of teeth and textures, speaking well for the overall tone of Black Line’s debut - watch it above.

Originally called DJM|REX (the two leads initials), the group has revamped their musical presence to represent the creativity of a growing all-star group of friends and musicians. We got to chat with Douglas J. McCarthy and Bon Harris about the band’s rapid progression, serendipitous coming together, and debaucherous inspirations. Their live debut is tomorrow July 7 at The Teragram Ballroom in Los Angeles.

Douglas, after the recent run of bangin Fixmer/McCarthy dates, your busy year continues. What’s fuelling this?

Douglas J. McCarthy: A rolling stone gathers no moss…it’s mostly being surrounded with people far more industrious than myself. Hazel, my wife, began a new documentary project that I am producing with her. That has taken us a to Chiapas, Mexico twice already and we will be returning later this year. Cyrus, Zack Meyers and myself have worked in the studio pretty much on a weekly basis (if we are all in LA) for the past 12 months. Adult.’s Detroit House Guests album was released on Mute Records so myself and Hazel returned to Detroit to make two music videos to accompany the release and I joined them and Shannon Fuchness (Light Asylum) on stage in LA and San Francisco as part of their recent North American Adult. Tour. Terence Fixmer and I began releasing Fixmer/McCarthy through Adam X’s label Sonic Groove and have began playing a few FM shows in Europe. Then there are a couple of as yet to be announced collaborations in the works.

Personally, I’m still looking for a way to get paid for hiding under the covers cowering from the fear of the day. So far that has been elusive.

When did Black Line all encounter each other?

Bon Harris: I encountered Cyrus at a modular synth event in LA in 2015. I went over to Cyrus’s apartment the next day, Douglas joined us and we all emphatically encountered a bottle or two of whiskey and talked about the possibility of some kind of musical collaboration. The collective sort of grew from there really.

DJM: It essentially morphed out of DJMREX, the previous project Cyrus and I were working on. We had released two of a trio of EPs and had finalized the third but perhaps out of habit we continued to come up with more ideas and figured they’d be useful for the next set of EPs. Around this time Christian Eigner (Depeche Mode’s drummer) was spending some time in LA and suggested we should do a session together so Cyrus put together a few very basic musical ideas, essentially just bass lines, and we booked a day in a great drum room called Sonikwire. That session produced a lot f great ideas including ‘Sedition’. It was all done there and then, Christian and I just threw out ideas and it was an incredibly fun and productive process. This got myself and Cyrus thinking about repeating the process with other musicians and in no particular order other people began to gather at Cyrus’ studio:- Zack Meyers, who has a strong background in writing and producing top 40 but also works on an ambient project called Fear Of Ghosts with Brad Apodaca; Bon bumped into Cyrus at an outdoors modular synth event Eric “Rodent" Cheslak started called Modular On The Spot. I was out of town and by the time I got back Bon had started coming over to the studio and working with us; Anthony Baldino writes his own ethereal synth based music and produces soundscapes for various clients; Paul Barker (Ministry, Revoltong Cocks, Pucifer) is based in Portland so we’d send tracks up to him and he’d send back ideas; Michael Dietel (Prophei, Annodalleb) is based in San Francisco and similarly, we’d send tracks to him for him to finish off musically; then finally Ken “Hiwatt" Marshall mixed all the tracks.

Why Black Line?

DJM: Black Line is a typographical term similar to “red line". It was or perhaps still is mostly used in the legal profession I believe, and denotes that a document has been worked on or edited but that all previous versions are still available. Seemed somehow applicable to our process.

Did the group evolve from DJMREX?

DJM: Very much so. We decided as we’d named DJMREX as an amalgamation of my name and Cyrus’ it might get a little tricky keep adding all the collaborator’s initials so we made a band name. Musically it is the continuation and development of ideas Cyrus, myself and Ken began with DJMREX.

Bon and Douglas – how did you start working together again?

BH: See above. It really all came from meeting Cyrus, the subsequent get together at his place, and Whiskey. Lots of Whiskey.

DJM: Bon’s interest in coming over to Cyrus’ studio and then our joint interest in recommencing collaborating with each other in a very relaxed, ad hoc manner. No one in the project felt pressured to be in or out of the studio at any particular point or for any particular song.

Does this feel very different from your dynamic in Nitzer Ebb?

BH: Yes. Cyrus and Zack have very much been overseeing the overall production and shaping of the project. That allows me tremendous freedom to just play music and create sounds, which I’m really enjoying.

DJM: It does. There’s lots of freedom to pursue whatever musical direction we wish without the history of something as strong as Nitzer Ebb, and with no record company there’s a lot more of a hands on approach to every aspect of our existence.

What are some of your lyrical inspirations for Black Line?

BH: I’ll take a wild guess that it has something to do with sex and alcohol.

DJM: The usual suspects: drink, drugs, sex, paranoia and fear of politicians and unchecked power.

Who is Black Line’s favourite historical purveyor of Treason, Sedition, and Subversive Behaviour?

BH: Galileo Galilei was hanging his arse a fair way out into an icy wind in his time. William Blake had a rare go at it as well, to name just two.

DJM: William S Burroughs; Alan Turing; Ada Lovelace; Nikola Tesla; Quinten Crisp; Max Ernst; John Heartfield; Wendy Carlos…I expect a lot of us could go on all bloody night.

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