Cat Cat : Urlaba
Let me take you back to the Year of Our Lord, 2002, when I was a little tyke growing up in the suburbs of Canberra, adorned with studded belts and unseemly piercings that will no doubt come back to haunt me in my 30th birthday PowerPoint presentation. Back then, seeing live music in with any kind of regularity was an ordeal on par with a young lady trying to navigate the interior of the city centre's infamous Mooseheads nightclub without copping a gratuitous arse-groping by a horde of tanked Duntroon cadets.
A venue would close every three months on the back of irate neighbours and pitiful door receipts. One week, the singer of a local thrash act would be onstage, drinking a litre of Tooheys out of his battered Converse sneaker, before ushering in the next song by walloping himself in the head with a tambourine. The next, the air in the pub would be thick with fecal matter from the people who'd spent the previous 18 hours plugged into the poker machines, freshly installed where the stage used to be.
The musicians that stuck it out went one of two ways. Some turned it up to eleven, striving to break as many pot glasses and collarbones as possible each time they graced the stage in a petulant act of rebellion (see abovementioned tambourine flagellator). Others worked within these constraints, opting for a gentle, no-fi intimacy suited for the tiny, incongruous spaces to which they were relegated.
The proliferation of this latter sound, and the renaissance in Canberra's live scene in general, owes a great deal to the work of the artist-run Dream Damage label. The music it put out over the last two years all comes from the kids who at 18 or 19 had to intuit for themselves how to talk potential venues round, book the PA and then play their set, after everyone older than they were had disappeared for greener pastures in Sydney or Melbourne. Of the half-dozen or so bands active on Dream Damage at the moment, Cat Cat best demonstrate the fruits of a band cutting their teeth by playing after-hours cafes, student house backyards and grimy pubs that could fit no more than 60 people in a squeeze.
I've always been a sucker for talented, discerning bands playing sparse guitars in defiance of their latent ability as musicians. Uralba's sound deserves attention because the band didn't have a choice. Buried under the sound of Warwick Smith's emotionless droll on Drive a Desert Into a Brick Wall, for example, one detects just the faintest hint of menace. For a singer who could probably get a podium finish in the Gentle Soul Contest, listening to this deadpan almost borders on the terrifying. On an album recorded in a Civic bookstore and a cramped Fitzroy living room, characterised by understatement and restraint, it stands out as a truly sublime moment. In many respects, it's a shame they've relocated to Melbourne in the last year - if bands like this were kicking around Canberra when I was younger, I wouldn't have had to leave.
BY SEAN SANDY DEVOTIONAL
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Urlaba is out now through Dream Damage