Jagwar Ma will be one of the musicians performing at Urbanscapes on Dec 6. But before the Aussie dance duo takes the stage at Horse Ranch, Resorts World Genting, they spoke to Star 2 about their debut album, Howlin’, why it was “painful” recording the album and what to expect from their performance at Urbanscapes!
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By Adrian Yap C.K.
Sorry, could you repeat that question?” said Jono Ma, one-half of Australian psychedelic dance group Jagwar Ma, in response to going silent after being posed a question in a phone interview.
“I got distracted by some croissants.”
Despite being labelled Madchester revivalists, and having a debut record, Howlin’, that throws obvious salutations to Factory Records and its ilk, Ma comes off sounding mostly like a cheery Australian over the phone. Not at all like the quirky, unreliable characters that were often associated with that scene.
Going through Howlin’, it’s easy why people are calling Jagwar Ma – also comprising frontman Gabriel Winterfield – “the new Happy Mondays”. There’s a rambunctious take on party pop, but the record also offers a more widescreen take on music from the past, with nods to The Beach Boys and of course, Primal Scream.
In a way, Jono owns up to the comparisons, by admitting that the pair was looking to the past when constructing the record. “I think the one word that formed the central theme of how we approached the record was ‘nostalgia’ – we wanted to evoke it with the vibe of the record,” he said.
Yet listening to the record, the other thing that jumps at you as a listener is just how communal the album feels. It’s not a record that you would be compelled to listen to in solitary, but one that you would want to be inclusive of, to enjoy in a group.
Ironically, the duo has said a lot about how portions of the recording of the album was painful because it was recorded in isolation in Europe, away from their family and community in Australia. “The thing about nostalgia is that it’s like memory, it’s how you use imagination to take you somewhere familiar,” he said.
“In a way, isolation is the perfect way to experience nostalgia because we had to create a sense of belonging away from our community.”
Jono went on to explain that happy music was not always created in happy circumstances. “Great music is often created under miserable circumstances, like how techno was created in the hard streets of Detroit or how the entire Madchester scene evolved from the industrial landscape of Manchester,” said Jono.
“We were not necessarily unhappy but we were definitely lonely.”
Jono also spoke of the music that influenced him with a sense of excitement, singling out, for special praise, Primal Scream’s 1991 classic Screamdelica (“It was a record that captured the vibe of an entire generation”) and The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. “I would have loved to be in the shoes of George Martin, producing it and cognisant of the fact that what they were building together was historical and would probably change the face of music forever,” he said of the latter album.
Do not be quick to dismiss Jono and Winterfield as mere nostalgia junkies, though. The two are very much as enthusiastic about invention as they are about paying tribute to their heroes.
The point of invention for Howlin’ was just how seamless the duo has melded the organic elements of its music with the electronic ones. While as a concept that is hardly novel, Jagwar Ma has managed to do it with such natural precision that at times it almost seems like this is the way music is meant to be. And while it is easy to lazily attribute the organic elements to Winterfield (on guitars) and the electronic ones to Jono, the songwriting process is a lot more seamless than that.
“We spent a long time searching for that balance. A lot of the bands I liked when I was growing up managed to infuse both a distinctly live vibe with electronic music, bands like The Chemical Brothers and Primal Scream,” said Jono. “We were searching for the strongest aspects of both threads and worked towards merging them together.”
But given that Jagwar Ma’s debut has shot the two into the foremost conscience of the indie community, it’s unlikely that the band is operating in isolation anymore, with slots on major festivals all around the world, an experience that Jono has admitted to making the biggest impact on their songwriting dynamics.
“When we were writing and recording the first album, we had not played live much at all. Touring in the past year has changed the way we see and understand our music,” he shared. “I guess I do see our next record having more energy and maybe being … dancier? We do like to see our audiences dance. We are probably going to write with a live audience in mind.”
Jagwar Ma’s “ferocious” live machine finally rolls to these parts with a slot confirmed for Urbanscapes, happening on Dec 6.
“We usually approach a place we have never played before with something to prove. But at the same time we also often know very little about the place and what it is really like because we have never lived there,” said Jono before issuing a mini call-to-arms, “We do love to see our audiences dancing and so we hope the Malaysian crowd is up for a party.”
> Jagwar Ma will be performing at Urbanscapes 2014 on Dec 6 at the Horse Ranch in Resorts World Genting. For more information, head to www.urbanscapes.com.my. R.AGE is the official print partner of Urbanscapes 2014.