Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen, After the Flood

On tour with their latest album After the Flood, Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen were back in the Snowy Mountains playing to a full house at Australia’s highest altitude venue, the Sundeck, at this years PEAK Festival at Perisher.


With real and imagined tales of Snowy Hydro migrant workers, the stunning landscape of the Snowy Mountains and Lake Jindabyne are dominant features to the infinitely fascinating stories of the album.

Together for over 15 years, how did this band of European gentlemen come to reside in Australia?  In exploring the possible histories of these fictional characters, the Snowy Hydro Scheme came up.  “Whether fleeing Europe or coming out specifically to work on the Scheme, this was a hot pot of work and European culture, it seemed like a nice extension to our own mythical narratives to have them connect with something that is a very real part of Australian history” Mikelangelo (Mikel Simic) explains.


Working in collaboration with Big hART who were also interested in making a work about the history of the Snowy Scheme, Big hART organised a residency over two years for the Black Sea Gentlemen around Cooma and the Monaro Plains.  Through community engagement they were able to meet all these fabulous folks, do workshops in schools and get time for song writing.  Out of that came a theatre show written by Big hART Artistic Director, Scott Rankin, called Ghosts of the Scheme, which was on at the Canberra Theatre Play House last year.  Another thing that came out of it was the album, After the Flood.  “Real life and imagined stories and places within the world of the Black Sea Gentlemen.  Which we find lots of fun, and the audience seem to be finding a lot of fun too, which is great.”

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The Snowy Mountains Scheme was a nation defining event for Australia with it’s mostly European workforce of migrants and refugees, it is an important symbol of Australia’s identity as an independent, multicultural and resourceful country.  With over 100,000 people from over 30 countries employed in the mountains it is one of the most complex integrated water and hydro-electric power schemes in the world.  it has touched many lives and changed the Australian social and cultural skyline for forever.

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Mikel’s father Vinko was one of those European migrants.  Fleeing communist Yugoslavia, he came to Australia in 1960 and worked on the Snowy Hydro Scheme.  A young man of 24, he couldn’t speak English but his natural aptitude for engineering after his compulsory service in the Air Force made him imminently employable.


Even though the Snowy Hydro Scheme took over 20 years, it was one of the few projects of it’s kind that actually came in on schedule.  To do that everything had to be working around the clock.  Vinko with his skills was probably lucky, to some degree, that he could be up fixing machinery in the camps and not doing the dirty work in the tunnels.  He didn’t open up much to Mikel about his time on the scheme, the stories have come from people that they met up with, migrants that had worked on the scheme or women that married fellas up there.

After leaving the scheme, Vinko moved to Canberra to find work and met Mikel’s mum Ann, an English migrant, at a Ukrainian dance.  “She said she couldn’t understand a word he said at all, but he was more interesting than all the other guys at the dance.  Six months later they were married.”

Vinko and Ann, had a love of the arts and encouraged their children with lessons and instruments.  “I think it’s how the sum of all the parts come together, mum read us a lot of stories when we were kids.  Quite absurd and incredible story telling, so many things like Alice in Wonderland, these are pivotal early childhood influences, interesting angles of English surreal absurdism. I think that informs a lot of the back drop of my writing, especially when I was younger.”  Mikel’s touring show last year named Cave Waits Cohen, further outlines other influences who helped him on the road with his song writing, ” I genuinely think they wouldn’t have resonated to me as artists if it wasn’t for the seeds that went in early that their music relates to as well.”

Mikel loved growing up in Canberra, with big open skies and nearby bush land, “as a kid that’s just the best thing.”  With lots of bands coming through on route from Sydney or Melbourne, from the age of 14 he was seeing two to three live bands a week, occasionally ending up on stage himself.  “It was a pretty exciting time, and seeing all that live stuff certainly inspired me to be in a band.”


Playing in bands with his brother when he was 15 was the thing that made Mikel love music as an outlet.  “Before that it was something that was just a bit boring that you did with some adults or some other kids.  School band and music lessons didn’t seem to have any relationship to creativity for me at all.”

All of the Black Sea Gentlemen have a background in rock bands, and have all had long careers, and a fair degree of success playing in all different sorts of bands.  They also all have affinities with film and theatre and different ways of approaching art.  “I think when you make your life focused around creativity it can go in different directions all the time and I think the nice thing about performing live music is that you’ve got the music but it is a performance.  When you see us live, we’re certainly not just a band standing up there, it is a show.”  And what a show!  Make sure you see Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen on their After the Flood tour.

You can listen to their album After the Flood here, and check tour dates here


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