Black City Lights signed after first EP

ONES TO WATCH: Wellington duo Black City Lights - vocalist Julia Catherine Parr, 21, and producer Calum Robb, 26.
ONES TO WATCH: Wellington duo Black City Lights - vocalist Julia Catherine Parr, 21, and producer Calum Robb, 26.

Wellington's Black City Lights were grabbed by an up-and-coming New York music label the same month they released their debut EP.

Producer Calum Robb, 26, and vocalist Julia Catherine Parr, 21, have been making music together for less than a year, but have already signed with boutique New York music label Stars and Letters.

"They didn't believe we hadn't done anything before," Robb says.

The disbelief is understandable - their six-track EP Parallels was released in March, spreading polished, addictive "electronic dark pop" to the masses through their Bandcamp webpage. They were signed the same month.

"We feel very humbled that we've been picked up straight away," Robb says.

Parr agrees: "We've met some really amazing people who are so willing to help out."

A video for one of their tracks is being directed in Los Angeles, with New Zealand on Air funding, by Austrian film student Marc Bertel, who contacted the pair online after hearing the EP.

"I thought it was spam," laughs Robb.

But it's no laughing matter - the video is being produced by the We Are The Masses label, which manages big-name acts like Passion Pit, Devendra Banhart and Beach House.

Black City Lights have also contracted Brian Hainsworth, who has made videos for acts like Tommy Ill, to produce another.

Robb says he always had a creative mind, so when he started "playing around" with free software and talking to other musicians, he took to it naturally, first emulating the sound and style of musicians he admired before moving into original music.

"It's a really good outlet for your emotions and your ideas," Robb says.

His deep, 80s-inspired electro-pop tracks are topped with the soulful voice of Parr, whose musical nous was honed in a more traditional way - she graduated with a bachelor of music from Victoria University in May - but has also been involved in bands for years.

"Her vocal production is amazing," Robb says of his "little sister".

Audiences obviously agree - the duo have received praise on well-read music blogs like Hearing Gold, Some Kind Of Awesome, and Fingertips, and were featured on Radio New Zealand.

"It's been quite interesting," Parr says, "reading what people on the other side of the world have to say about your music."

Wellington has been kind to Black City Lights - even though it was sometimes hard to get good numbers at gigs, and there were only three or four suitable venues in town, and Robb is thankful. "Venues are very supportive of local artists," he says.

"When international bands come - they'll try to push the local artists."

Robb, who is half Scottish, half Singaporean, says his mother came around to his career choice after initial concerns.

"She always wanted me to be a lawyer or doctor - but she realised how much I love doing music.

"As soon as she said 'I'm very proud of you' ... I'm not going to cry!" he laughs.

Now, the pair are looking to the future and Brooklyn, New York, is a likely destination in the short term. A remix album is also waiting in the wings.

Their musical direction will likely stay the same, though more instruments on stage is a possibility - both are willing to experiment - but their stage act is well-practised and they feel their music suits them.

"When it comes to performing, we're comfortable playing this kind of music," Parr says.

Robb agrees: "We've got our set on stage - I think it works really well."

Parallels is out now, and available through Black City Lights' Bandcamp page on a "name your price" basis.

Contact Luke Appleby
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Twitter: @lukeappleby

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