Man-Cat: 2013 Big Brain Awards Finalist, Performing Art

You submitted nominations for awards given to the Valley's emerging creatives and the results are in. Introducing our Big Brain 2013 Finalists.

Leading up to the Big Brain Award awards announcement and celebration on April 27, Chow Bella and Jackalope Ranch will introduce the finalists.

Up today: Man-Cat

The members of Man-Cat are a secretive bunch. They won't disclose their names or ages and vehemently refuse to remove the matching plastic tiger masks that cover their faces.

Anonymity is of extreme importance to Man-Cat, helping reinforce its edict that "identity is irrelevant" and avoiding reprisals from the targets of a series of culture-jamming stunts, gleeful pranks, and other guerrilla-like activities they've dubbed "projects."

See also: - Announcing the 2013 Big Brain Finalists - Meet New Times' 2013 Big Brain Finalists and Celebrate the Winners at Artopia on April 27

The Phoenix-based music and art collective boasts countercultural DNA hewn from bits of Anonymous, Adbusters, and the Occupy movement, with heaping handfuls of Fight Club's Project Mayhem and Negativland thrown in for good measure. It makes for one of the more unique bands in ages to storm the occasionally milquetoast Phoenix scene.

The group's site claims they are both "thieves of intellectual property" and "ruthless garbage disposals of pop." Its music, art, and antics have reinforced the description since its beginnings. As a one-man remix project in 2007, Man-Cat released the mash-up Thuggy Stardust, juxtaposing David Bowie's androgyny with rap's ghetto machismo. That got the attention of Rolling Stone, but it wasn't their only foray into pop deconstructionism.

Gathered inside their cramped, disheveled studio and lair at a CenPho warehouse, Man-Cat's four artists describe how, in 2009, the act grew in both membership and scope. It became more an art-rock/noise hybrid that "regurgitated pop" by mixing samples of pop songs and discordant sounds in with distortion-filled guitar noise. Lyrics of Top 40 tracks are excerpted, repeatedly translated to foreign languages and back to English, before being used in Man-Cat songs.

"Identity has become a constructed, almost fabricated, manufactured thing. A lot of music has kinda shifted too much that way, especially pop," one Man-Cat says. "So we're moving the opposite way, deconstructing things, removing identity and just focusing on the product, the ideal, and the message."

The group also has reworked pop culture remnants into their often-scandalous creations, such as a music video for "Yeast," which consists of "pizza guy porno" clips obscured by a Man-Cat eating slices of round pie.

Culture-jamming antics and other gags include selling religious candles featuring celebrities like Oprah and Snooki as beatific deities, plastering the ASU campus with propaganda-style posters emblazoned with ridiculous pop lyrics, and wheatpasting enormous tiger mask prints around Tempe and Phoenix.

The most attention-getting stunts, however, have involved pop stars. Before Justin Bieber infamously vomited onstage during a September concert at Jobing.com Arena, Man-Cat and three dozen masked followers had gathered outside the Glendale venue 30 minutes beforehand, presciently wielding signs declaring its "Regurgitate Pop" dictum.

Sheer coincidence? Or were they responsible for Biebs' barfing? "We can neither confirm nor deny," states Man-Cat.

Months later, when irreverent indie popper Lana Del Ray brazenly sung "My pussy tastes like Pepsi Cola" on her newest album, Man-Cat struck. They created downloadable labels for "Pussy Cola," a near-identical mockup of the soda's packaging (complete with its red-and-white logo resembling women's naughty bits), and affixed it to Pepsi bottles at Tempe chain stores. Fans were encouraged to do the same.

It was meant to poke fun at the ludicrousness of Del Ray's lyrics and Pepsi's history of shilling pop with pop stars.

"The best way to prove a point is to turn something on its head, having it prove itself," one Man-Cat member says. "We could say how ridiculous she is talking about vagina and soda. Or we could have fun."

The singer never reacted, but PepsiCo did. Man-Cat received legal mandates demanding they nix the stunt. The band complied, shied away from a potential parody defense due to the cost of a court battle and the chance it might reveal their identities, and thus "kill the project."

Instead, they posted photos of themselves eating pizza using cease-and-desists as napkins. PepsiCo's smackdown hasn't discouraged Man-Cat in the slightest.

"Quite the opposite," a Man-Cat member says. "The fact that we got this big corporation's attention made us feel like, 'Cool. What else can we do?'"

Work on their next album and a major project aimed at a "very successful" female pop icon in the weeks ahead, that's what. True to form, Man-Cat's mum on any additional details. We can't wait.

Buy a $10 ticket to enjoy an evening of food, drink and entertainment April 27 at the Monarch Theater in downtown Phoenix. Meet the finalists and learn who won during our Big Brain celebration, Artopia.

Follow Jackalope Ranch on Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest.

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