The Cat Empire “effect”

When a band tours incessantly, individual shows can get lost in a shuffle of airports, continental breakfasts, and sweat, but The Cat Empire’s Felix Riebl can’t say the same about their time in Montreal.
“The first time we went to Canada, we played in Montreal to a room full of people who knew all the words,” recalled Riebl. “A few years later, we played the main stage at the Jazz Festival, and it was one of the biggest audiences we had ever played for. So Montreal is a very special point in our tour. We’ve made lasting friendships there, and everyone in the band is looking forward to those shows.”
The Cat sextet truly feeds off of their tours. Trumpeter and vocalist Harry James Angus, drummer Will Hull-Brown, DJ Jamshid Khadiwhala, keyboardist and back-up vocalist Ollie McGill, bassist Ryan Monro, and vocalist Riebl are each established musicians in their own right, but together they jive, jam, and soak up the sounds of their surroundings.
“We got into this cycle where we would tour, then make albums about the excitement and pressure of the tour,” explained Riebl. “Our music is about the spirit of travelling, while being open-minded.”
There are many terms one could use to describe The Cat Empire, and jazzy-Australian-ska-reggae’d Afro pop is what first comes to mind. Yet the band claims no one “sound” is intentional, and they don’t wish to be defined by genre or continent. The result is a feel-good, toe-tapping, sing-a-long, groovin’ escape.
“I don’t think it matters that we’re from Australia, or from anywhere else,” explained Riebl. “We’re not active cultural ambassadors, we’re musicians. We play together, and that’s our sound.”
Their live shows first hypnotized dancehall audiences into a frenzy over a decade ago in their homeland Australia. In time, they gathered an immense international following through word-of-mouth, playing over a hundred shows a year and sliding unscathed under mainstream media’s radar, retaining underground status.
Five albums and over 800 shows later, The Cat Empire is finishing its 10th anniversary tour in dedication to the fans that greased their wheels.
The band first began as an academic instrumental experiment in 1999 with McGill, Riebl and Monro meeting on stage as part of the Jazz Cat, a nine-piece outfit from different Melbourne schools. That same year, they got together and formed The Cat Empire, which began as a trio, but became much larger with the addition of Angus, Hull-Brown and Khadiwhala in 2001.
They gigged around Melbourne, from playing shows just to pay rent, to headlining local festivals.
“I remember after one of our biggest shows, saying ‘I wish I could do this every night’,” recalled Riebl. “And then, that’s kind of what happened. It was a wondrous moment.”
They established a strong Australian fanbase, toured the American west coast, and played a sixteen-show stint at Edinburgh Festival before their 2003 debut studio album The Cat Empire went platinum in under five months.
“The whole experience took us by surprise,” said Riebl. “Even after a successful album, we were never quite sure where it all came from. When you’re playing live for an audience, it becomes real, and you know where you stand. [The success] can be quite alienating, but it was a hell of a ride.”
The Cat Empire “effect” isn’t entirely captured in recordings alone. After experiencing them live, and watching the band and crowd feed off each other’s euphoria, one understands how concertgoers become rabid hype machines.
“It’s really a question of atmosphere,” Riebl guessed. “It’s the combination of the audience and the music, and what that does to a room.”

The Cat Empire are playing back-to-back shows at Metropolis (59 Ste-Catherine St. E.) on March 30 and 31. Tickets are $39.20 in advance.


Boucan Sound System is the all-ages party band

Boucan Sound System’s first album Sono Savate is a blend of reggae, dancehall and ragamuffin styles, mixed with French, English, Spanish and Portuguese rhymes.
“We’re a party band,” said Phillipe Messier, whose stage name is FunkyFlip. “Boucan means ruckus in French. And we play to have fun. We surf on the wave and see where it takes us. It’s a matter of making songs we’re proud of and working off the crowd’s good vibes.”
While Boucan’s beats are fun and they get the crowd dancing, their lyrics range from corny to super corny. It’s the kind of music your parents would not want you to listen to if you were a 12-year-old girl. Their tracks include themes about smoking dope, dreaming of the tropics, and having naughty thoughts while watching a sexy girl dance. Add in a heavy dose of shameless self-promotion and a song about pirates featuring the borrowed lyrics “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum” and you’ve got Boucan’s newest album in a nutshell.
The band consists of three members, François-Xavier “Louzgain” Sanchez on vocals, Félix “DJ Funky Falz” De Passillé on vinyl, and Phillipe “FunkyFlip” Messier on vocals and guitar. They all have their hand in creating the beats. Sanchez and Messier work together to write the lyrics, spending hours free-styling in their studio on St-Laurent.
Since moving to Montreal 11 years ago from a small town near the Pike River, Messier has been in several amateur bands, constantly searching for Montrealers who share his passion for music. Sanchez, originally from Marseille, France, came to visit Montreal a few years ago and liked the city’s vibe so much that he decided to stay.
The three band members met through Montreal’s reggae, afrobeat and dancehall community and decided quickly thereafter to form a band. They also recruited their friends to be the band’s promoters, photographers and graphic designers. Together, they give a whole new meaning to “one love.” They are indeed one big family of reggae music lovers.
Boucan is not associated with any record label. Messier says that’s a good thing because the band members have more creative control. It allows them to make music that best reflects their immediate state of mind.
“We wanna bring our music out super fast,” said Messier. “We gave ourselves the objective to work ‘dans l’urgence.’ So when we do a piece, once it’s good and we’re proud of it, we release it right away because we want it to grow old with its time. We’re already looking to release a new album in the spring, just to keep things moving.”
They announced the launch of their first online album Sono Savate during their show last Wednesday at Club Balattou on St-Laurent.
From the moment you walk in, it’s obvious that Club Balattou used to be a strip joint. The venue still has its original retro decor, minus the stripper poles, of course. You’ve got a row of mirrors behind the stage and all along the walls, a DJ booth made up of disco ball mirrors, Mardi Gras masks and beaded necklaces hanging from the light fixtures, neon purple lights surrounding the bar, and a string of red pleather half-moon sofas facing the stage.
While watching Boucan set up, it was hard not to compare them to the exotic dancers that must have stood there before. Rather than women in skimpy outfits were white boys with dreadlocks and Volcom hats.
By 11 p.m., there was a healthy mix of hipsters and hippies in the house, most of them friends of the band, and they piled onto the narrow dance floor.
“I’m On a Roll” is quite possibly their best song. Though the lyrics are still infantile, they’re immersed within a catchy beat that makes you want to move your feet and for the anglophones in the audience, the song’s chorus is sung in English by guest vocalist Phil C des Hangers.
While performing the song live, however, Phil C began to freestyle, singing “Eeny meeny mo, eeny meeny mo,” leaving me to wonder, “Where did the ‘miny’ go?”
That being said, it’s hard to criticize them. On stage, they look so happy and they clearly love what they’re doing. You have to give these guys props for throwing a massive party and getting the crowd going. They really are a party band.
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