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For a few blissed-out, sun-kissed years in Britain, dance music and rock found a way to coexist with one another in a way that combined the hippie, love-one-another mantras of the 60s with beat-driven, 303-squelchin’ Acid House straight from Chicago. The unlikely merger surely was a byproduct of a quickly evolving musical landscape, characterized by the introduction of MDMA into club culture and the rise of Factory Records off the back of New Order and Tony Wilson. The Manchester-based label would prove to be the kicking off point for the wide spread acceptance of dance music among indie rock culture while the E sealed the deal with even the staunchest of rock bands (see: Primal Scream’s reinvention from a Stooges/MC5 worshipers to the genre bending psychedelia of Screamadelica in only two years).
However, just as quickly as it became to be known as Madchester (named after its place of origin) and Baggy (as characterized by the loose fitting clothing and flared jeans), it was co-opted by the greater forces that be (as all significant movements are fated) and the British youth quickly turned towards Brit-Pop (a genre itself that was, initially, significantly indebted to Baggy and Madchester). As a result, the term “baggy” has become somewhat of a divisive or negative term over the past two decades and, aside from the hero worship over The Stone Roses’ first album, was all but deemed a product of the times.
But, you know, enough with the history lesson because apparently someone’s been spiking the Leeuwin currents and EAC with large doses of MDMA and LSD. For whatever reason, Australian bands have quickly moved past ripping off AC/DC and are now at the forefront of the new psychedelia movement. It started with Tame Impala and the fertile, Perth-based movement that they catapulted into the public consciousness and has now picked up another group of unlikely stars: the previously Sydney-based Jagwar Ma. The group quickly gained traction in the UK, thanks in no small part to their sound which is largely influenced by the Baggy and Madchester movement. And now, much like their Perth brethren, Jagwar Ma have their eyes set on America with one of their first stops being Cambridge’s Sinclair.
Kicking off the night was Paul Foley, a Revere-based DJ who played an eclectic blend of music. Ranging from old-school hip-hop to house, northern soul to modern psychedelia, Foley mixed in classics such as The Stone Roses’ “Fool’s Gold” with more modern songs like “Elephant” by Tame Impala. Sensing a pattern? Foley did an excellent job of (intentionally or unintentionally) touching on many of Jagwar Ma’s influences in a hour and half long mix that saw the The Sinclair slowly fill up to near capacity.
Unfortunately, Jagwar Ma didn’t quite hit that same length with their own set, opting for a short and concise run-through of their debut album, Howlin’. Fair enough, after all this was their first show in Massachusetts. The three man band consisted of Gabriel Winterfield on vox and guitar and Jack Freeman on the bass with Jono Ma behind them concocting all sorts of lysergic blends of psychedelia and electronica with a table full of gear.
This unique set-up gave them the power of a live band, but with the circuit bending possibilities of a more electronica-inclined producer. Freeman, in particular, impressed by laying down some slinky grooves and mirroring the constant squelches and bends of Ma’s 303. Winterfield seemed to be somewhat conflicted, unsure of whether or not to directly engage the crowd or to focus on looping his vocals around the music, but the constant smile on his face always shone through as happy, nervous excitement.
Because of their small amount of released material, Jagwar Ma played through nearly the entirety of Howlin with singles “Man I Need” and “Come Save Me” being particular highlights. Despite heavily leaning on the sounds and aesthetics of the aforementioned late 80s and early 90s British acid house and pop, there were definitely moments of surf rock being thrown into the mix. At some points, the band seemed to be directed by a Brian Wilson that was raised on Frankie Knuckles and MDMA instead of Gershwin and LSD.
An impressive debut then, by a band who are quickly gaining traction around the world for their loose and groovy music. However, the crowd seemed more in awe with the performance rather than in the mood to dance, perhaps many being driven to the show based on the curiosity that surrounds many new and hyped bands. So there’s your goal next time Jagwar Ma: Get the crowd groovin’ like they should be. Going off of last night’s stellar performance, you got it in the bag.