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Summer Stars: Jagwar Ma

by Wesley Hodges on August 11, 2014

In a little less than a year since the release of their first full-length album, Jagwar Ma have managed to spring from obscurity to worldwide notoriety. Driven by the success and critical acclaim of their attention-grabbing debut Howlin’, the young, vibrant and un-categorizable Australian band was a stateside hit before they even landed on U.S. soil last fall for their first (sold-out) run of West Coast shows. Accepting a life of tour vans and airports, the psychedelic dance group is currently living out an Endless Summer on the road, touring the Northern Hemisphere during its summer before heading back Down Under during the hotter months.

At the crossroads of alt-rock and ecstatic synth-pop, Jagwar Ma tear down stylistic walls. Counting TR-808 drum machine inventors Mr. Nakamura and
Mr. Matsuoka as two of their biggest influences, alongside comedic personalities like Louis C.K. and Tim & Eric, this trio doesn’t exactly name-check
your run-of-the-mill artists when explaining the genesis of their unique character and sound.

2013’s debut LP Howlin’ is both sophisticated and pop-glossed, treading the delicate balance between broad, Top 40 bubblegum appeal and much deeper opportunities for transcendence. (Check out the band’s first hit, “The Throw.”) The simplicity, profundity and cohesiveness of Howlin’ allude to a bright and creatively boundless future, and the album stands tall as the type of debut LP that doesn’t come around all that often.

According to guitarist and synth-master Jono Ma, to bring a highly synthesized sound to the live platform, Jagwar Ma “use a lot of the same equipment used in the recording of the album.”

“Against my better judgment, I take my TR-808, MS-20 and a bunch of other vintage bits and pieces on the road,” Ma says. “We all agreed we wanted the
live show to feel and sound different than the album, so we never really aspired to reproduce the album note for note [and] sound for sound. Rather we aspired to keep the soul of it and have fun with the other bits.”

With a limited discography and song rotation at this point, Ma remarks on the band’s efforts to keep the live show fresh. He admits, “We try to change it regularly so we’re not repeating ourselves and becoming complacent.”

Multiple runs across the festival circuit have helped Jagwar Ma become “more and more confident but also looser,” leading to a set that is getting progressively more dynamic and exciting. Touring with such big-ticket indie acts as The xx and Foals were healthy learning experiences—and great exposure—and “inspiring” bonding opportunities with bands who’ve been through the sometimes-fickle indie buzz cycle and made it to the other side.

Describing the recent experience of receiving a warm reception at the band’s Coachella debut, Ma says, “It was like being welcomed into a new loving family with warmth and open arms. We’re counting the days until we’re back in the U.S.” The instant embrace by fans around the globe shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Within a quick flash, Jagwar Ma’s infectious rock-hall-meets-the-dancefloor sound can grab a crowd’s full attention.

The writing is on the wall for big success after last summer’s much-raved-about set at Glastonbury. With such an infectious sound, they’ll do wonders for a sun-scorched festival crowd’s energy level during a midday set and, moreover, the spacier and more psychedelic side of their catalog could stop a frantically raving crowd in their rubbery tracks—flipping attention from the collective bounce to a more profound and personal live music experience.


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