The Cat Empire's Felix Riebl, third from left, says Bluesfest is one of the best festivals in the world.
The Cat Empire's Felix Riebl, third from left, says Bluesfest is one of the best festivals in the world. Supplied

The Cat Empire pounces on chance to play Bluesfest

FELIX Riebl remembers the excitement of his first Bluesfest.  

The Cat Empire frontman harks back to the Red Devil Park days of the late 1990s and early 2000s, long before the festival commanded attendance numbers in the six figures.   

"I remember going up as a teenager, staring at the stage and thinking, 'If I could play there, it would be enough'," he says.  

"Then we did it a few years of that, and then you just want more. It's one of our favourite festivals in the world.

"We're fortunate being able to play a lot of festivals in Australia and overseas, but Bluesfest has a special pace in our hearts."  

Felix Riebl from The Cat Empire at Bluesfest 2016.
Felix Riebl from The Cat Empire at Bluesfest 2016. Lyn McCarthy

The beloved Australian rock collective returns to Byron Bay to headline the first night of the 31st annual event at Tyagarah.   

"Being backstage as a musician, there's a real camaraderie there. People check out each other's gigs and musicians earmark that as an event to check out new bands," Riebl says.  

"The festival itself has the spirit of people who want to discover new music.  

"A lot of people go to a festival to see a headliner, a band they already know, but the function is to discover new music and see where your ears take you."  

Forming in Melbourne in 1999, The Cat Empire found success with their self-titled debut album, which went platinum three times, and the chart-topping follow-up Two Shoes.   

Blending jazz, ska, funk and rock with heavy Latin influences, the group has enjoyed a longevity and regularity of work over the past two decades that has seen them become festival favourites around the world.   

"It's hard to write a set list these days because there's so much material," Riebl says.  

 "There's songs you know are going to take off at a festival, so it's hard to leave them out.   

"A bit of nostalgia is great, but you don't want to go too far on that because then you've become a band of the past. We try and have that sense of 'this is the first time' again each night.  

"The common thing for us is, we've been a band about the occasion and atmosphere."  

Riebl says recording and releasing their past three albums - Steal The Light, Rising With The Sun and Stolen Diamonds - independently has reinvigorated the band.   

Stolen Diamonds, in particular, marked a divergence from the traditional promotional format, with the band releasing a new song on the first of each month.  

"We wouldn't have been aware of it so actively at the time, but looking back, we were one of those bands that rode the last waves of the record industry the way it used to be and then transitioned into a new space," he says.  

"The last three albums with Yan (Skubiszewski, our producer) have sparked a renaissance for the band and brought the band back into something that felt international and rhythmically exciting.  

"Being independent made a big difference.   

"We own all of our masters (recordings) now, so we're complete masters of our own destiny in that way. 

"We don't make albums for anyone else anymore, so there's a bit of internal strength."  

The Cat Empire plays Bluesfest on Thursday, April 9.