Monday, February 13, 2012

Mr. Cat and the Jackal

As dawn broke over this, presumably the last year of our existence on earth, and the bonfires of our resolutions and anticipations died down, people awoke from their slumber to…well exactly the same scenery as they had done for the previous three hundred and sixty four days. Not much has changed since our last revolution around the sun had begun. People still go to work, still talk about the same old things, still laugh and cry, get angry, get hurt, still stuck in the proverbial rut and still dare to dream. And with the weight of the apocalypse bearing down on our shoulders this, the year twenty twelve with the end in sight, is set to be a big one in many regards. It has to be, we owe it to ourselves.

Eagerly anticipating the year ahead is Cape Town based act Mr. Cat and the Jackal. Talking to Gertjie Besselsen, the co-founding musical father of MCATJ, one cannot help but feel that this might not be the end after all, but merely the beginning of great things. For them at least.

While fans of the group might not be able to anticipate a new album just yet, the band has been working on new material which audiences will be baptized with during live performances. A few theatrical extravaganzas (that one usually associates with a MCATJ performance) are already scheduled for this years mammoth twenty-nine day long February in smaller venues and clubs.

Considering the vast amount of work that went into last years Sins and Siren Songs which in their own words they “built brand new instruments, deleted nearly half the tracks, toured twice…got a tattoo, gained some weight…had transcendental experiences with an orb and somehow failed to capture any of the experiences on camera” it is obvious that they take great pains and effort to create something truly worthwhile.

While some bands might feel intimidated by their own creativeness if it was exacerbated to the level of MCATJ and be pressurized to overcome or better any previous releases when pursuing new material, it is not the case here, they gladly except their own challenges.

Gertjie explains their approach to recording new material as such:

“We usually do a pre production recording first then work on the live version of the song, and then when it's nice and ripe, we do the final recording. We start with a ghost track for structure, and then layer everything on top.”

Ongoing collaborations with Nomadic Orchestra are also still in progress and the release of a few singles is also something to look forward to.

With summer now flexing its sweltering muscles it is also the start of the endless procession of festivals that mark the calendar with regularity. Though festivals has had a definite impact on the South-African music scene by exposing relatively unknown bands to the masses, the band acknowledges that it is important yet not essential.

It is rather a case of a band’s overall work ethos that increases their popularity and expands their number of followers. Asked if it is important to be part of the festival scene in order to secure a larger fan base Gertjie responds like this:

“Certainly...but you know, everything we do establishes a larger following...there's always someone who has never seen us before.”

It seems as if their hard work is paying off though. This year they are up for not only one, but two MK Music Awards. “Bad man he comin” is nominated in the category Best SFX/Animation and they are also title contenders in the Best Newcomer category for their music video for “The devil always wants to dance”. But there is an overwhelming sense that the game is rigged and the plot written in advance as it is not so much the “best” video that takes home the award, but rather the band with the most fans or followers. Winning videos are not selected on merit, but on votes.

The borders of South Africa seem to have become too small to contain MCATJ and they have now set their sights on an overseas trip later this year where they plan to broaden their horizons.

“If everything goes according to plan, we’ll be going to London in May. We’ll be playing for some promoters there that can get us into the scene…wish us luck.”

And wish them luck one feels inclined to do.

With theatrics very much at their core, being asked the question whether this could be the year that we may see a MCATJ stage production, Gertjie lets his answer drift in a sea of ambiguity.

“It could…but it could also be the end of the world.”

It would now be easy to regurgitate past sentiments by the most ambitious charlatans of the trade to capture the essence of this unique band of brothers in a word, a sentence or paragraph. To attempt this would be literary hara-kiri. In the case of this atypical group of musicians it is better left to each individual to establish his or her own opinion.

As surely as the end of the world will come as a surprise, we cannot begin to anticipate the next move of MCATJ and it is exactly this that makes our journey towards the end so much more exciting.

Photos by Burce Geils

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