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Cat on Form

Cat on Form by Owen Richards

I’ll put both hands up for the first person to ask for a sceptic in the crowd. I am by nature suspicious. I think this is a by-product of all that misplaced trust gubbins that I went through in school. Oh yes. My fingers were burned, and now I am mardy and bitter and scorched to the marrow.

No longer am I taken in by a nice smile and strangely appealing sensibilities. No longer will a flutter of the eyelashes and breathy rant on hardcore post-modernism sway me from my post. I can spot a faker a mile off.

Or at least I thought I could. Before “faking” got all complicated.
You! With the legwarmers and the mullet – I know you’re not hip. You! With the list of hip bands reeling off your tongue like a cash register – I know you’re not cool. You! With the catchy political rock music and embracing idealism – you… I am unsure of.
Oh sorrow filled day. Doubt has entered by heart and my vocabulary simultaneously and I fear my life will be changed forever… or could be, anyway.

Cat On Form.
Champions of soap-box entertainment, or, a bunch of people using the stage to gain control on their otherwise tormented and wayward lives..? Its tricky to judge from the passenger seat.
Sometimes I suspect that it wouldn’t matter if the audience were there or not – that the whole “writhing on stage, screaming ’til blue” thing is a simple and selfish act, like self harm or group therapy dressed up as something more morally enriching and entertaining.

On other occasions I’ve concluded that primarily, its about them, but in addition there is a message for us. The message? Well… “Be Good To Each Other” of course and uh, “Unite” in an anarchic uprising, or a Marxist meeting of minds, or a socialist tea party…

Sometimes I’ve thought that its entirely likely to be about all of the above. About their fucked up issues, and our fucked up issues, and about what is happening between us and them. About the absence of unity – the line between the stage and the audience, between PEOPLE, about the interaction or lack thereof – the energy – the value of that energy.

I’ve seen the band a whole fistfull of times now, and as much as I’ve peeled my lids, waiting for the slip that’s gonna unravel the whole subplot, its not happened yet.
Carbon copy pop-idols are easier to place in the jigsaw of intentions than a band who talk about taking control and losing it at the same time.

With one eyebrow suspiciously arched, I wrote to Steve and asked him to speak for the band and tell me what they were REALLY about.
This is how [they] replied.

What does being on stage mean to you vs. recording? Is public interaction important and why?

being on stage is a totally different medium to making a record. there are radically different possibilities within each and it’s good to explore both. i don’t like the idea of trying to do on record precisely what you do live or vice versa, simply because i don’t think it’s totally possible and i think it limits the scope of both.

the important elements to being on stage are the temporality of it – it happens once then it’s gone. so all you have is that time to convey what you want, so you have to convey it as intensely as you can. another important element is that it is a group thing. the audience is a group. with records, a lot of people listen individually. this makes a difference as well because with a live thing it’s important not only to establish a relationship between band and audience but also amongst the audience. (sorry, these terms are shite because they draw a line between performer and audience which hides the fact that the two cannot exist without each other, -but they are the only terms i have). the public interaction is incredibly important because to us that is the point. music is language, communication. language doesn’t exist without other people, you have to communicate TO and WITH other people. with live shows that is often physical – dancing, clapping, but also vocal. at some shows people have directly spoken to us and asked questions – we have a song about the use of womens’ bodies in adverts and at one brighton show a woman said “how can you say that, you’re a boy!”, so we had a (limited) discussion. publi c interaction in all forms is so fucking valuable.

on a way simpler level, public interaction just makes everything more FUN. you play better and enjoy yourself more when you feel like everyone else is enjoying themselves (this seems to be a common thread in lots of social situations). again it’s like a conversation, communication. when you talk to someone and they just go “uh okay” then the conversation stops pretty soon. when they react, get excited, talk back, argue, agree whatever, then things really move. you get more said, and you come away feeling more satisfied and more complete than you did before. when i come away from a good conversation i feel like i HAVE something with the person, like we have built something and understand each other better. well it’s exactly like that for a gig with lots of audience interaction. everyone comes away feeling good, feeling like they have gained something, understood something. not just between us but also the people in the audience feel more at home around each other. it’s also very important that people walk away with this attitude because that way they feel like they can DO SOMETHING, whatever that something may be. dunno about you but i’m always way more likely to do things i want to when i feel comfortable, confident, happy. if people can walk away from a show feeling like they CAN say “fuck you” to some dickhead male or say “NO” to a teacher, or tell their boss where to go, or anything, anything at all, – then as a group something really positive has happened at the show. and it all happens because its a 2way thing, not just us being in charge but everyone loosening up and starting to break some walls down and open possibilities.

You are very physical on stage – some people use performance as a physical and public vent for more personal frustrations… do you feel that this applies to you?
If not, do you think that physical activity is important to your performance? Why?

“i don’t care if i sing out of tune all i want is liberation for this room”, nation of ulysses
“it’s common, but we don’t talk about it”, bratmobile

these are two lines that are very important to cat on form.

yes both apply to us. our physical approach is a vent and it is important to our performance. being on stage is a rare space, it’s a space where you can break more rules than any other space (or at least it’s like that for us). if you start dancing like that in a supermarket then bad shit happens. but on stage we can start to form our own rules, and so can the people there with us. for us, playing can be the only time where we can truly get out of our systems all the shit that we feel each day, all the frustration, all the anger, but also all the beauty and hope. all of these are restricted in a lot of daily life. you can’t get too angry in public or people run a mile. you can’t harp on about how beautiful something is because the same thing happens. but onstage these things become okay, it’s OUR space and OUR rules. if we want to do it, we can (we don’t all want to all of the time of course). again it comes back to the thing about possibilities. in live shows you can open up possibilities to do things that you’re not allowed to do in any other situation, and in doing so you can raise the issue, you can make others feel like “hey, it’s okay to be like this, everyone is like it”. it’s not just YOU there in the audience that has a world inside your head that you can’t express to other people, WE feel like that too: EVERYONE feels like that. it would be pretty amazing if people could leave shows feeling that much more comfortable about expressing themselves to others, would it not?

second, physical activity is important to us as part of our art. for us we want to communicate as intensely as possible, we want to smash the walls….well putting your whole body into what you do just adds to that, it’s another mode of communication on top of the words and the instruments. when we see a band that put their all into what they do, their whole bodes, we FEEL more intense. it makes you go “woah”, you get excited, you loosen up. you feel like the people making the noise are really trying to say something, to reach out, they’re not just standing there playing nice songs to entertain you like a tv set. of course this is related to the first point, the two kinda go together. as a vent for what we feel we want to connect with the audience, we want to convey as intensely as possible, and doing it with your body is part of this. of course this isn’t the case with all bands, but i think it’s crucial to OUR band as a whole

Cat on Form by Owen Richards

How do you see your role as a performer? Do you have a responsibility to the audience, and if so, what is it?

yes we have a responsibility to the audience, just the same way they do to us and to each other. as PEOPLE we all have responsibilities to each other.

I read the DiS (Drowned In Sound) review of you guys, the one about THE POINT and its a great review. But I wanted to ask about this:
“To get out of other people’s control (keep it indiependant), to lose control. Form collectives, allegiances, unbreakable relationships, then bring these parts together and then, and only then, will things (be it music, culture or global societies) change.”
Okay, so… you, as a band. You are the folks with the power. You are the audience draw and for the length of time that you are on the stage, you are in control.
You are out to inspire the audience to take control themselves, and to be in control enough to lose it. But its a collective control that you want on your side. If the audience DID take control of the situation and it moved away from your intentions, (maybe they start to spit on you, hit you, beat on Eva for being a girl… ) then that’s not the kind of allegiance and independent action and control you want… is it?

no of course not. this is very important, especially because it has HUGE political implications. i mean, a major element to fascism is the idea that if people are too “free” then all kinds of craziness will happen so they need strong leadership, to be controlled. actually this isn’t far from what western “democratic” governments do now, they just do it in more concealed ways than the fascists – using force is far too obvious, but using tv is a whole lot easier to get away with.

if people get crazy in a way which is totally different to our intentions then something has gone very wrong, obviously. our music and our lyrics are largely about people taking more care of each other, of being kinder and less selfish. the idea of collective control and unselfishness are very closely related. it’s like this: in order for you as an individual to reach a point that you feel like you are free to do as you please, you must be in a group situation which makes you feel sufficiently comfortable. all the people in the room have to feel OKAY for them to start freeing up. now if someone starts hitting you, you are no longer free. there is no longer collective control. one person is taking over. FREEDOM begins with empathy and understanding and respect, for others and yourself. if the audience got so worked up they felt free enough to hit eva, then she is no longer free, she is not okay. the basis for everyone to be free, to be in control, is other people. if you start fucking with that then as a group your control is fucked, you are undermining the very thing which allowed you to be free in the first place.

it’s kinda like if someone CHOSE to be a slave. i mean, it makes no sense because by choosing to be a slave you deny yourself the freedom which allowed you to make the choice in the first place. same thing with the audience taking more control. it’s about collective control. as soon as someone gets violent or something like that, then it’s a power relation, some people become “more equal than others”, they are INDIVIDUALLY in control, they destroy the basis on which they got to that position of freedom – the basis of community and empathy.

so yes we want the collective control to be “on our side” but then it has to be otherwise it’s not truly collective control (unless, i suppose, if EVERYONE got violent and was okay with that. which is such a ridiculous proposition i’m not gonna waste time on it)

Do you see it as a responsibility of being in control, that you ensure that the kind of ACTION you provoke is positive?
(just thinking about how hardline ‘straight edge’ developed out of something completely innocuous – would you be happy if people took your message to mean starting up fundamentalist groups?)

this is very important. of course we wouldn’t be happy if people ran out there starting up fundamentalist groups. we accept that some people are gonna get the wrong idea or do things we would hate. there’s not much you can do about that! everyone has to accept this in their lives…i mean, there are friends you have that will go out and do things you want to kill them for but you can’t control everything they do! it’s the same situation here. so yes we do have a responsibility to suggest positive actions, and hopefully we do that. but again the responsibility lies also with the audience because they shouldn’t and won’t just do what we say all the time! it is not just for us to figure out what is a positive or negative action, it is for everyone else to decide, all we can do is contribute to that, suggest, give pointers. inspiration without direction is a pretty devoid form of inspiration. you have to inspire TO do something, but that something is not gonna be defined in black and white, it’s often gonna be very vague.

like, if someone read our lyrics about women being used in adverts and then decided to go out thumping every female model they knew for “selling out on women” then i think everyone has a responsibility to put that right. not just us…i’m repeating myself again but it’s all about collectivity, about the group being responsible. rather than pointing a finger saying “you made them do it”, the issue is how everyone contributes to preventing bad shit from going on, which of course includes us.

You seem to be selling the ideas of unity and society, power rebalance and humanity. Would you say that the underlying politics of the band are socialist or anarchist..? or something else?

the core of both anarchism and socialism is the same. the goals are the same but the main differences are in their reasoning and some of the specifics of their strategy for those goals. to me marxism has much more substance to it, it has a whole understanding of history and society and power which is more developed than any anarchism that i have read. some people even go so far as to call marxism a “science of society” tho i woudn’t go that far. i’m VERY into a lot of thought which has developed from marxism – the situationists, a lot of what is called post-marxism or “critical theory” because it deals specifically with the culture industry and music (a dude called Adorno, check it out, it’s amazing). Marcuse as well, he’s another one….he’s not an orthodox marxist, he develops marxism with bits of freud etc, and just basically updates it. simple marxism is way too obsessed with the importance of class for me. i believe there are other groups and divisions fundamental to society such as gender, race, age, nation.

a lot of feminism also develops marxism and fucks with it, and i’m influenced a lot by that. again you can’t call it strictly marxist, more like “post-marxist feminism”.

SO basically i wouldn’t say either the band or myself personally were either. ultimately i think the point is that these different positions agree on what is GOOD. and if we agree on how things should be (or at least have some idea because it’s actually incredibly hard to create a vision of a future good society), then what is at issue is how we get together and DO IT. the issue is not the finer points of our different theories or understandings or how we label ourselves, the issue is “how do we go about making this happen?”. it all comes down to a basically humanist thing: we need to treat each other a helluva lot better. simple as that.

Cat on Form website

Photos by Owen Richards