Cat Five Interview

Cat Five is a musical quartet based in the San Francisco Bay Area, known for it's laptop-based trip hop sound. Two of the band members work in San Francisco's South of Market South Park district, which is- still- after the dot com implosion several years ago, home to handfuls of internet and technology companies. Better Propaganda is one of those South Park businesses, just a couple of doors down the street from 3rd and Bryant, where DJ Darkat and Doc Oliver of Cat Five can be found in their Clark Kent day job alter egos. The following interview was conducted at lunchtime on a wonderful spring day, sitting outside in South Park itself, a nice little park that's been an epicenter for dot com yuppies and media professionals over the past decade. We sit in the shade and eat take-out Azteca burritos, which are arguably some of the finest in the world. The audio recording of our interview somehow manages to convey the nice weather; it's dotted with birds chirping and the voices of laughing office workers.

Better Propaganda Editor Terbo Ted talks to Doc Oliver and DJ Darkat from Cat Five.

Better Propaganda: So if you guys could have the opportunity to define yourselves, how would you describe Cat Five?

DJ Darkat: A recent comparison that someone else sent me after I sent them a copy of the new 12" was... they said we sound "like Steinski meets Portishead."

Doc Oliver: Older Steinski.

DJ Darkat: Yeah, Older Steinski. We're very cut-and-paste, but then kind of trip hoppy, hip hoppy vibe as well.

Doc Oliver: We're trying to create a new form of music, I guess, in a way. Revitalizing older music with the new technologies available to us on a simple desktop computer, and laptops.

Better Propaganda: I've been studying you guys a little bit for a while now, and it seems that like you're very chameleonesqe; I mean, I could paint you guys in a lot of different ways, I could say oh, yeah, they're these DJ dudes, or oh yeah, they're these laptop guys, or oh yeah, they're these dot commer guys, oh yeah, they're these Oakland, you know, hip-hop crew. How do you see... I mean, you guys will fit into anything somehow? How does that work for you guys?

DJ Darkat: Yeah, I guess we're kind of universal, or we have so many different influences that we pull from, that we then have, like I said, a wider appeal, or are able to reflect all of those influences out.

Doc Oliver: I think we like to experiment with different styles of music or different beats, and just really playing around, like "ah I like the sound of this, so I'm going to use it." Okay, it might be something that sounds more like a breakbeat track, or something really fast, or something crazy then, but then we'll want to chill out too, and then I'll have like really slow, downtempo-y kind of stuff. Between the four of us, we all have so many records. I think each one of us has our own different musical interests and tastes, and when all four of us get together, you end up with: start out with a really nice slow track, and I like a little faster stuff, we just kind of mix it up and keep it, I guess fresh... I dunno, trying to make something new.

Better Propaganda: Do you guys ever see yourself as a dot commer band, and what would that be if there was a dot commer band?

DJ Darkat: No.

Doc Oliver: No. No, not at all. I actually hate the world wide web. I think it's a COMPLETE waste of time. However, if you check out our website (laughter) you will find mp3s of live shows. It's a very simple site. We only use it because we have such a ...we're such a local band, we're so small, that we haven't really expanded across. But the web gives us an opportunity to get people in Japan, or to people around the world to check out our music, and there's really no other way to do that right now, and it's there, we may as well use it. But I don't know, we're not super concerned about the web.

DJ Darkat: I missed that whole dot com boom thing.

Better Propaganda: What do you miss about the dot com boom thing?

DJ Darkat: I MISSED it.

Better Propaganda: Oh, you did miss it.

DJ Darkat: Yeah, I never got any of those fancy dot com jobs, where was I working during that period, at the art store, slangin' art supplies?

Better Propaganda: But you guys, in your day jobs, are involved in the internet culture somehow?

Doc Oliver: Well, we both work at WIRED magazine, but deal mostly with the print aspect of it. is a whole 'nother thing, and really has nothing to do with what we do outside of work. It's just jobs that help us buy gear. (laughter) It pays for record shopping, it pays for trips to Amoeba, and like it pays for us to go out and be able to produce records on our own, without a label, without any kind of representation. We save and scrimp every dollar we have to put back into our own music.

Better Propaganda: You guys have hours and hours and hours of live shows on your website, right?

Doc Oliver: Not yet. I did just recently get...

DJ Darkat: Almost

Doc Oliver: Well, right now I think there's about ten or twelve mp3s you can download, that vary in length from three to seven minutes. I try to keep 'em short, 'cause...

Better Propaganda: You have full sets of stuff up there too, though...

DJ Darkat: We have a full-length CD.

Doc Oliver: Oh, there is one, there's our live CD compilation that I kinda threw together after a couple of years, I posted up there as one big ass file for people to download if they're so inclined. I highly recommend doing it on work time. (laughter) Corporate bandwidth is best, because it's about 160 megs. But it's um... yeah, you can totally take... download it, burn it to a CD... I think the graphics are even up there too for it, so you can print 'em out.

DJ Darkat: That's the plan for the new album, actually.

Doc Oliver: I'll take back the whole website statement (laughter) and um, now that I think about it, we are planning on trying to release the next CD without actually producing CDs, and just having it on the web: let people download hi-res files, that they can burn their own CDs, or play them on their iPods, or their cellphones, or whatever the hell they want to put mp3s. So, we will try and use it for that, and get it out, and avoid the whole mass marketing major music machine.

Better Propaganda: But one thing I do notice, is that you guys- in spite of your interest in giving out your music for free on the internet- you also make pretty compelling objects, you've got colored vinyl releases, I mean, you're making stuff you can't download too, how does that fit into that whole picture?

DJ Darkat: Well, I guess that's maybe partially from my art background, and having a fascination with objects and art-making and a more personal touch. And also, being an avid record collector, I like nice records, and I love colored vinyl and stuff with nice covers. Like the new records, we silkscreened the covers by hand, and did a split fountain on 'em, on recycled card stock, so it's more of a process where we're very involved with making the records, and they're very much a part of what we do. It's not like we send some tracks off to some guys down in LA, and they take care of everything. We've very involved in every aspect of what we do.

Doc Oliver: Minus the actual pressing and production of the records. But I think we're really interested in preserving the record art form, because it's really a lost form nowadays. And, you know, unlike a CD, which maybe will last you ten years, records... records, I have records, I have some records that were printed in the 1920s and they still play today on my turntable. So, I think we want to keep that alive, because kids today, they barely even know what a record is anymore. So we feel like we'll keep doing short runs, we'll put 'em out, we want to get them into DJs hands, we want to get them into collectors' hands, people who like vinyl. We want to just keep vinyl alive. But we also want a chance to get more people the music.

DJ Darkat: And also creating tools. The new 12" has the regular tracks which you would get on the CD, but it also has the instrumental tracks, and all the acapella bits, so if you have two copies, you can sort of make your own remix, or make your own song.

Doc Oliver: Or take our samples, and add em to your own beats. Like, we're fully down with that, because all of our shit is for the most part stolen (laughter). So, we don't really own it anyway, so we feel like giving it away... we're charging ten bucks for records, because they cost a lot to produce. But, we really just want to get our stuff out there, and let people do what they want with it, or enjoy it for what it is.

Better Propaganda: You talked about old records. Do you think, you know, 80 years from now, someone will be walking around with an iPod with Cat Five mp3s in it?

Doc Oliver: I hope so.

DJ Darkat: I sure hope so, yeah.

Doc Oliver: I heard from a co-worker that, in the Apple offices, at their corporate offices, that we are in the company's mp3 playlist. We have some stuff somebody downloaded, and it's... you know, they have a shared library because it's Apple, and it's THERE. So, as long as the medium's around, I mean, 80 years from now, kids will be walking around with little chips in the back of their heads, playing tunes. They won't even need headphones any more, you just hear it.

Better Propaganda: Is that a new level of gauging a band's success, is whether or not you get added to a corporation's internal database?

Doc Oliver: I think, yeah.

DJ Darkat: I don't know, I hope not. (laughter)

Doc Oliver: I think we're also in the Federal Government's database. And uh, we've got a lot of... I've watched the hit counts from who's checking out our site, and over the last two years, we've had over 300 various government and federal agencies check out our stuff.

Better Propaganda: So let's talk about those last two years, because I've known your guys' work for awhile, and, you know, several years ago, I would categorize you guys as some- you know- candy-flipping raver kids that played some cool beats, and your artwork and music sort of reflected that lifestyle and culture, and then yet, over the last two years, your music's become increasingly political, and it's hard to distance it from stuff like Jello Biafra or the rapper Paris. And what has brought that transformation about in you guys? I mean, you're doing some nasty politics now, and you weren't like that before.

Doc Oliver: I think that times have changed.

DJ Darkat: Times have changed. Not that much, but they're just getting worse.

Doc Oliver: I think our music is a reflection of our time, and where we are right now. Yeah, two, three years ago when, four years ago, when we started this project, it really came out of having fun, we all kind of got together doing internet and FM radio out at our warehouse, which we don't do anymore. But, it kind of grew from that, and we were just having fun, and we had- at the time- the guy who kind of founded, well... we had another member at the beginning, who has since left the band, and I think his influence is really strong on the first record, um, he's very professional and well-known musician and recording engineer in the Bay Area, Jeremy Goody, Mr. Balance Man. And he gave us the framework to become a band, to take the idea of using computers, and using all these loops and samples, and actually taking it out and playing it live. After he left... and also, it's just a sign of the times, things are changing, and what we're left to sample, is, I mean, you can't even turn on the TV without hearing George W. Bush, or something about the current situation in the world, and just how screwed it is, so we're taking this opportunity to remind people that...

DJ Darkat: In the nature of what we sample, that we sample a lot of popular culture: television and radio, and a lot of that reflects going on in the world, and that's a lot of politics at the moment. You know, it's us in Iraq, and our other foreign policy manuevers all over the world. So we're trying to bring attention to that, but in a fun way, not by pounding someone over the head with it.

Doc Oliver: Maybe a little more attainable format.

Better Propaganda: So maybe you could say that the Cat Five formula then, is simply to have a pulse on popular culture, and then feed it back through your own process back at your audience. And if pop culture's gonna give you gruesome, uh, whatever, that's what's going to come out in your work.

DJ Darkat: We're kind of like a processing unit that takes what's on TV and popular culture, and reprocesses that, and dishes it out in a funky manner that you can understand and appreciate, and maybe it's a bit more appealing to younger kids who aren't necessarily interested in politics. We're helping people get turned on to politics.

Better Propaganda: So, from looking at your work, it's almost instantly apparent that you're extremely opposed to George Bush...

Doc Oliver: Oh yeah.

Better Propaganda: ...and, as a journalist, part of what I'm supposed to be doing, is to present multiple sides, or a range of choices or opinions. Yet, when I look at the hip-hop community- which you guys are definitely tied into- I see, uh, almost no support for say, someone like Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld and so on. Are there people making hip-hop that are commenting favorably about the course of our current government?

DJ Darkat: There was some band that came out like a year or two ago that was like the product of a corporate think tank. I can't remember the name of the band, but they were all about like corporate bling bling. They were short lived, I don't know if they actually sold any records.

Doc Oliver: They probably sold a lot if they were put out by a corporate machine. I don't think anybody who's really conscious into the whole hip-hop culture and scene could be pro what's going on right now.

DJ Darkat: Because hip-hop is born out of struggle.

Doc Oliver: It comes from the people, and I think a lot of people right now are feeling the pressures of the U.S. Government and the current situation in the world.

DJ Darkat: Babylon.

Better Propaganda: So, say for example, John Kerry took office, the Cat Five word going forward would continue to reference the current political situation, and you'd be, you know, be making comments on that just the same?

DJ Darkat: Kerry's a Skull and Bones member, just as George Bush is. They're kind of like two sides of the same coin.

Doc Oliver: On the surface, they might appear to be different. But, we'll see what his plan is. You know, if they give us something that we think is wrong, or if they give us fuel, then, we'll start the fire. We'll keep doing what we're doing, regardless of who's in office I think. Until the situation changes... I mean, we're not all super political.

DJ Darkat: We have some fun songs too.

Doc Oliver: Yeah, we make songs about...

DJ Darkat: Chicken fish.

Doc Oliver: ... and chicken fish, yeah, that's another fun one. We like to have fun with stuff too. If we find a good TV show that's hilarious... you'll find that on the next record too, you know.

DJ Darkat: Although even the chicken fish, sometimes people see that as sort of a veiled comment about genetically modified foods, or corporate engineering.

Doc Oliver: Think about it- a chicken fish- it's totally possible to have one in the near future.

DJ Darkat: Someone was saying they already have them in KFC in Asia.

Doc Oliver: Chicken fried fish, I mean, it's the same difference. I'm actually working right now towards starting a tax on the fast food corporations of the country, and how they're overfeeding us with supersized bullshit. I've been collecting a lot of TV commercials and stuff about fast food, and I've been watching a lot of stuff on TV. I found some old, old tapes of genetically modified corn. I forget the name of the company now, they've been around for what, thirty, forty years doing this, and I found a bunch of old footage that I'm trying to put together and make some statements about the fast food culture, and how that affecting kids today. Yeah, we're trying to find positive messages through all the bullshit that we're being fed right now. So, our music will continue. We'll keep having fun. We like to get stoned and make silly songs, and then we like to be serious too. I'd like it to be a little more serious at times, actually. Until things change, we're gonna just keep doing what we're doing I think. I can't believe we've been around this long.

DJ Darkat: We'll keep on going.

Doc Oliver: Yeah, we're gonna keep on keepin' on. Because we're all screwed until everybody wakes up, and realizes what's going on, nothing's going to change. Maybe, there's a slight chance through music, through a more common denominator or something that's sort of accessible for everyone, we might be able to get that message out, and maybe do something positive, or at least increase awareness. And that's that.

Related Downloads
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Cat Five
song:On the Rise
album:On the Rise (Catfiverecords)
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