People will tell you that there’s nothing new under the sun. That it’s all been done before. Not so. Last weekend we stared into the face of the new and it had whiskers and a disdain for humankind. There were memes, too. We saw the future and it had a name. The future is a “cat video festival“.
Standing in the skin-tightening cold outside The Coronet in Elephant & Castle, waiting for the opening amid a gallery of drunk-looking human felines, we didn’t feel optimism. We felt simmering anger, exacerbated by bizarre airport-style security.
This softened as we moved around the bowels of the vast, multi-chambered venue, decked out for London’s first festival of this type. It took about ten minutes to realise our smug preconceptions of wall-to-wall treacly, infantile twee might, just might, be wide of the mark.
Divided into three distinct areas, the noble aim of the festival was to showcase “the greatest cat videos our furry overlords have to offer”. The cave-like side rooms hosted a strange mix of video projections, artwork and hyperactive multimedia. But the main dance floor felt like any other club playing vibrating Europop, discounting the psychosis-inducing imagery.
Most intriguingly, there were more adult things on offer. The raucous burlesque proved a highlight, headlined by a leather-bound contortionist – not something your aunt who emails “Look at this cat haha luv Sheryl xx” would approve of. So there’s an eye-opening, subversive side to the iconography… who knew?
It was in the Cat Gymnasium (a ball pit lined with gyrating dancers on a giant scratching board) that we bumped into Paraic. Asked why he was there, he pointed to his phone background – a picture of a regal, ice cold-looking kitten – and was unapologetic: “I just love cats, mate.” It seemed as good as a reason as any. We wandered off, allowed eyeliner whiskers to be drawn on, and made our way to the bar, unfazed and content.
In this remorselessly gif-laden age, this will surely be the first of many similar events. But judging from this crowd’s good nature, cynicism is misplaced. We wanted to hate it, we wanted to scream something about the death of intellect, but we couldn’t. Because once you get past all the twee and slightly-too-small kitty ears, you see something rare in this self-conscious city of many affectations: genuine, unrestrained enthusiasm.
Words: Francisco Garcia
Preposterous and delicious limited-edition meat parcels
At the National Portrait Gallery's Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize