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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Rise of The Cat Empire

Aussie sextet The Cat Empire open the outdoor season at Zero Gravity tonight. Get to know its lead singer Felix Riebel.
The Cat Empire’s frontman Felix Riebel says the Australian band is excited to be playing in Dubai. Courtesy Zero Gravity
The Cat Empire’s frontman Felix Riebel says the Australian band is excited to be playing in Dubai. Courtesy Zero Gravity

Despite being bafflingly novel and inherently kooky, the Australian sextet are inherently danceable and ideal for seducing first-time crowds across the globe. A perfect choice, then, to launch the outdoor season at Dubai’s hottest alfresco venue Zero Gravity, with a one off-gig tonight.

Formed in Melbourne at the turn of the millennium, the band released six albums, conquered Down Under and went on to become a festival mainstay across Europe and South America. Frontman and MC Felix Riebel says touring new locations reconfirms the band’s mission, which is to simply celebrate and have fun.

Thursday’s gig will be the first time you have performed in the UAE. Do you have any expectations about first-time crowds?

I don’t know what to expect from you, I really have an open mind. The Cat Empire are a very, very well-travelled band and it’s normally quite an occasion when we play in a new place, so I think everyone is really quite curious and excited to start the tour in Dubai – it will be the first time we’ve left the doors of the airport.

Do you find a big difference between the crowds at home and overseas?

Yes. At home you always have more of the history trailing behind you. There’s a different kind of pressure doing shows in Australia, but as soon as I leave, a lot of that seems to vanish and I get into the spirit of what the band is – an enjoyment of the energetic and celebratory nature of the shows.

You’ve got some competition tonight, with Bon Jovi playing down the road in Abu Dhabi.

Today I went back to my father’s place and cleared out this container of such nostalgic rubbish. I filled up this whole lorry and it all went into this huge bin. Then I went to get a sandwich afterwards and they were playing the Bon Jovi song Bed of Roses. It was such a funny moment – I found myself laughing, at Bon Jovi and that song, based on the fact I’d just been to the tip. But I like Bon Jovi, I think he writes great lyrics and I’m a bit of a sucker for that kind of rock. I’m not intimidated by him being in town the same night, though – I welcome it. Maybe it will weed out the people who wouldn’t make our show that fun anyway.

Speaking of nostalgia, how much longer do you think The Cat Empire will exist?

No one thought The Cat Empire would last this long, myself included, and yet the audiences keep on growing and becoming almost more generous – there’s like a ritual around the shows when The Cat Empire tours, people really prepare for them, they expect to celebrate this music and bring something to them. It’s very difficult to leave that kind of generosity behind. So we’re sort of on borrowed time.

If you were to play in another band, who and what would you choose?

I’d like to be a part of Leonard Cohen’s band. I would love to perform a role, playing percussion or keys – I think it would be a very beautiful and quiet experience, and I value that just as much as I do The Cat Empire and being a festival band. I’m catching up with [folk singer] Martha Wainwright tonight. She’s close to him, but that’s about as close as I’ve got.

• The Cat Empire perform at Zero Gravity tonight, doors from 8pm. Dh130 from platinumlist.ae, Dh170 on the door

rgarratt@thenational.ae