Admittedly, I began to panic as the three men in tiger masks approached my doorway in the crushing autumn darkness.
It wasn’t apprehension regarding the myriad challenges brought on when profiling an anonymous music collective that repurposes pop music into crunchy experimental synth-noise. I had no reason to fear local band MAN-CAT as it approached in the dead of night — surely masked strangers wouldn’t kill me slasher-movie style until after they released their first album, “Classic Rock,” the next week — but I couldn’t help sweating a little.
I had nothing to worry about.
“The idea is that a cat is a very ferocious animal,” MAN-CAT said, explaining the band’s aesthetic. “But it’s a ferocious face on a fleshy, pale human body, and it just sits on the couch. There’s lots of missed potential.”
MAN-CAT isn’t fleshy or pale — the three members who were present for the interview are quite fit, as exhibited by their coordinating black v-neck shirts. Their uniform shirts and jeans would make them indistinguishable were it not for the distinct, visible parts of their faces and hair. And partial tiger masks aside, they weren’t especially threatening, so my masked murderer fears were (likely) unfounded. The band members chose to speak as a singular identity.
“The lyrics are all sourced from the Billboard Hot 100 and processed through Google Translate 10 to 12 times,” MAN-CAT said.
Then, the songs are translated back to English, and the band assembles songs line by line using dozens of songs’ manipulated words.
“Any type of clever pun or joke is really abstract, strange leftover thoughts,” MAN-CAT said.
The band uses its lyrical collages as the basis for new melodies featuring bass and rhythm guitar, synthesizers and plenty of effects pedals.
The band sprouted from a revolutionary spirit within the members and the belief that no artistic concept is truly new. However, MAN-CAT said, that doesn’t mean recycled art can’t be creative.
“Music has evolved. Now, it all comes from an additive place,” MAN-CAT said.
The band made reference to sampling in music and historical artists’ influence and argued that no music is free of other artists’ influence.
“We need to be making things out of other things and reacting to the past,” the band said.
Although MAN-CAT utilizes other musicians’ products as the basis for its own work, it’s still regarded as one of the most creative groups in the Phoenix scene. Abe Gil is the leader of spandex-clad dance band Treasure Mammal, which will also be playing at the album release show, and lauds MAN-CAT as one of the most innovative groups downtown.
“What if every band in Phoenix were faceless somehow?” Gil asked.
He said he is glad to see another dance-focused band succeeding without “taking themselves too seriously” and having a great time instead. Gil contrasted MAN-CAT with most bands that have a “face” or iconic member, noting that in MAN-CAT’s case, the entire band is the star.
Gil also said he’s continually impressed by the way MAN-CAT promotes its music with its other art projects.
“There’s a certain amount of cheesiness with most (promotion),” Gil said. “The stunts they’ve created are promoting them in a very different way.”
MAN-CAT’s recycled art extends into its other projects. Notable projects featured on its website and in the media include pillar candles depicting celebrities such as Justin Bieber and Snooki as saints, a “Break Up With Taylor Swift” engine that mashes together Swift’s breakup songs into an eerie Mad Libs melody and a stunt that involved rebranding Pepsi-Cola bottles with custom labels featuring Lana Del Rey. Some found the accompanying text on the Pepsi labels offensive, and the band received cease-and-desist orders from the beverage company. MAN-CAT used the paperwork as napkins for a Little Caesar’s Hot-N-Ready pizza.
“I never thought I would be that excited to get a cease-and-desist!” MAN-CAT said, laughing heartily.
The band obviously relishes its subversive antics but also appreciates the obstacles that arise from challenging large companies and well-known artists.
“It restricts us in a good way,” MAN-CAT said.
The band cited influences like Devo, The Residents, Christian Marclay and Negativland as previous artists who have utilized pre-existing work as a basis for new creations. MAN-CAT said that art can and should make audiences uncomfortable in order to evoke an emotion or bring an issue to light.
However, not everyone supports the practice of sampling music. The Association for Artistic Integrity, an organization that is part of MAN-CAT’s promotional machine, is listed as the creator of stopmancat.com, which organizes protests against the “audioterrorist” group.
“These ‘musicians’ are nothing but disgusting copyright criminals,” the website reads in its call to halt the MAN-CAT album release.
MAN-CAT provided me with a phone number for the Association for Artistic Integrity and I was able to speak with a representative who identified himself as Jeffrey Denning.
“It absolutely needs to be eradicated,” Denning said, referring to MAN-CAT. “It’s a plague eroding modern culture.”
The pest-control process Denning outlined includes staging protests at MAN-CAT concerts and distributing “uniforms” and posters to Association for Artistic Integrity supporters. This Friday, they plan on blocking the door to the Trunk Space before the 7:30 p.m. show and will protest throughout the event. The first 20 “protesters” to arrive will also receive a free T-shirt.
“MAN-CAT is pathetic and tiny, and we’re looking at eradicating them within two years,” Denning said.
MAN-CAT says it isn’t concerned about the Stop MAN-CAT movement.
The album release show on Nov. 21 will feature free T-shirts, celebrity votive candles and MAN-CAT Kissing Practice posters. Local bands Treasure Mammal, Boss Frog and Pro Teens will also be performing.
MAN-CAT is planning a visual aspect of its concert featuring multiple TV sets with synchronized video art for each song, and although its costumery has led to unplugged cables and collateral damage in the past, the band isn’t worried its uniforms will be a danger to the immersive setup.
“We’re pretty comfortable in plastic masks,” MAN-CAT said.
Contact the reporter at email@example.com