Sydney powerpop mods Fast Cars are hitting the crowd-funding trail for their debut album...a mere 35 years after they kicked off.
Fast Cars were a fixture on the Sydney mod scene of the 1980s, issuing a single (“Saturday’s Girl” b/w “No Love Today”) and an EP to great acclaim and lots of Sydney airplay. The first incarnation of the band was around from 1980-84.
Trans-global pop combo Fast Cars will play live in Australia for two shows only in October, promoting their new album “Soft”.
Principal members Fabian Byrne (based in Australia) and Di Levi (who lives in the UK) will be joined by friends and various supports for a gig at Marrickville Bowling Cub in Sydney on October 12, and as part of the Modtoberfest bill at the Lansdowne Hotel also in Sydney on the afternoon of October 20.
Byrne and Levi will be joined by original bass player Dave Pye and drummer Pete Bennett (ex- The Welcome Mat). The first 50 payers at the Bowlo will receive a Fast Cars CD of rarities and outtakes and tickets are on sale here.
Supports for the Marrickville Bowlo show are Love Minus Zero (launching their “No Limit” album and a single) and The Smart Folk.
Originally a part of the 1980s Sydney mod scene, Fast Cars reformed over the Internet as a recording unit around Byrne and Levi in 2016 and have released two albums so far.
Hard – Fast Cars (Method Records and Music)
In a digital world where old rules are made to be re-written or not read, Fast Cars have resolutely done things their own way.
The one-time Sydney mod band reformed virtually in 2015, assembling music from composite parts written and recorded by principal members, vocalist-guitarist Di Levi and guitarist Fabian Byrne, on opposite sides of the world. It was polished pop with hints of its Sussex Hotel beginnings, lush in lots of places and moiving into the realm of dream pop.
Virtual band, huh? Live shows were where Australian bands traditionally honed their act and of course people interacting in a studio adds an energy that can’t easily be replicated. With Levy visiting Australia from the UK, Fast Cars did a handful of pre-pandemic shows, and part recorded “Hard” with Peter Bennett (The Welcome Mat, Fiction Romance) on drums and David Pye on bass.
Where they’ve come from is academic; it’s where Fast Cars are now that counts. The onetime ‘80s Sydney mod-power-pop band has been a creative duo since reforming in 2015, working on opposite sides of the globe. “LAX” suggests distance only makes the creative muse all that much stronger.
“LAX” is what people used to call a “concept album” - back when single song downloads weren’t the staple currency of the musical economy. I know what you’re thinking: Concept equals Pretentious. Wrong. “LAX” stays well away from that precipice. It’s 12 songs of classy psych pop, alternately dreamy and lush, occasionally funky or wrapped in strings, and framed loosely on the theme of seeking your dreams in a big city.
“LAX” is also a Dropbox record. Dropbox is the cloud app that’s become stock-in-trade for projects like this. With vocalist-guitarist Di Levi based in Bristol, UK, and guitarist-songwriter Fabian Byrne living in Sydney, Australia, the swapping of ideas, sketches, recorded parts and, ultimately, fleshed-out songs, had to occur online.
The under-appreciated heroes of the mushrooming Sydney underground scene of the 1980s were the women. Some will say it’s always been the case and continues to be so. For every Chrissie Amphlett there were many others - like Juliet Ward (Shy Impostors), Julie Mostyn (Flaming Hands), Jo Piggott (XL Capris), Annalise Morrow (The Numbers) and Angie Pepper (The Passengers) - who never made it to international mainstream stages.
This exhumed live set by Sydney’s Fast Cars’ underlines this fact. Fronted by Di Levy (vocals and guitar), Fast Cars were habituates of the small but vibrant mod scene that grew in the sweaty pubs of Sussex Street in the Sydney CBD. They occupied a place where ‘60s pop mixed with soul and the sound of what was lazily dubbed New Wave.
Sound of Sydney Volume 4 - Various Artists (Method Records and Music)
What is “the sound of Sydney”? It’s a rhetorical question, if not an outright non sequitur.
If you asked 20 different people, you’d get as many different answers. Someone young might say it’s Triple J - which would be laughable but it’s, you know, it is somebody’s reality. You can fight media fragmentation but it’s like yelling at a cloud. Boomer.
“Sound of Sydney” was a series of compilation albums- appearing in 1983, ’84 and ’86 - and the work of Method Records’ Fabian Byrne, of mod-pop band Fast Cars. They were fine records - and very diverse and that in itself was reflective of what was going on in the underground.
Fast Cars grew out of the Sydney mod scene of the 1980s. Home turf was the fertile Sussex Hotel and they made a modest mark with a couple of EPs before moving on. This five-song CD is their first release in 30 years.
Here’s what a mod band sounds like after it grows up. That’s not being trite or dismissive. Creative people don’t stand still - and bands like Fast Cars were no exception. Guitarist Fabian Byrne went on to the dance-orientated Fiction Romance, shifted into management and ran the Method label that gave a leg-up to bands like Allniters, Paul Kelly, Spy vs Spy and The Amazing Wooloomooloosers. So you’d expect “More?” to sound different to Fast Cars of the ‘80s.
Life At Night 1982-1984 – Rigid With Desire/Helter Skelter (Method Records and Music)
For every band that made an impact on Sydney's fevered 1980’s underground music scene, there are a thousand that left a fleeting impression.
Rigid With Desire was the next vehicle for Fast Cars singer-guitarist Di Levi after the first, mod-pop incarnation of that band dissolved. RWD melded ubiquitous (and very underlying) ‘60s melodies with a thick applique of fashionable post-punk, neo-Goth sounds. Their impression was more than fleeting and they made a mark on the then-serious Australian indepdent charts.
“Life At Night” compiles their five recordings, including the indie chart single “Nightlife”, and two by Helter Skelter, their re-jigged, latter-day line-up.
In case you haven't noticed, trans-global duo Fast Cars kissed their mod past goodbye a long time ago. moving into dreamy shoegaze and pop-psych. On their second full-length album, “Soft – Songs of Love. Distance & Destinations”, the core of Di Levi and Fabian Byrne has staked its claim on folk-pop.
“Soft” leads with the A and B side of the seven-inch single that preceded it. “Real Love?” and the slightly acerbic “Stainless” grow with each listen, reverberating with echoes of Britpop and the faintest strains of the Church. It’s Di Levi’s elegant vocal that’s the distinctive take-out here and that rings true for all 13 songs.
Expect no in-your-face rockers on “Soft”. Fast Cars are aided and abetted by an array of guests in Australia and the UK and there's some quality playing. Melody lines and musical textures abound. On this one, Fast Cars seek to beguile rather than badger.
Revived Sydney record label Method Records and Music is crowd-funding a collection of unreleased and rare recordings by some seminal Australian artists.
“Sound of Sydney Volume 4” reprises the compilation series the label issued in the 1980s and so far includes tracks from Ups and Downs, Deniz Tek, the Hard-Ons, Happy Hate Me Nots, Even As We Speak and Fast Cars.
“The purpose of this crowdfunding is essentially a pre-sale for the latest volume of the Sound of Sydney,” says label owner Fabian Byrne, also part of Fast Cars.
“We want to press on vinyl as well as CD and print a really cool T-Shirt based on the album design which will feature one of legendary artist Peter O’Doherty’s brilliant paintings of Sydney."
A taste of the forthcoming new album, this double A-sided single single puts Fast Cars in a place of their own. It's elegiac dream pop with an edge and a long way removed from their mod and powerpop beginings.
Those Sussex Hotel days are long gone. The band is now a core duo of Sydney multi-instrumentalist Fabian Buyrne and UK-domiciled vocalist-guitarist Di Levi. The songs are children of the digital age, worked up in disparate studios and assembled across the Internet.
"Stainless" is pop song of sharp contrasts with sarcastic lyrics ("nothing sticks to you") elegantly rendered by Di Lev,i atop a bedrock of flint hard, buzzing guitars. There's plenty of space in the production.
"Real Love?" Is instantly sunny, thanks to chiming guitar, Di's lilting vocal and a lusher backing. Piano and a pulsing bass-line, buried deep in the soundscape, round things off nicely. It's a song about being alive while savouring your surroundings. Pop with a capital 'P'.