There’s been little noise made from Aussie band Jagwar Ma since they wrapped up touring in October of last year.
But after dropping two successful albums, embarking on multiple international tours, and owning support slots for bands such as The xx and Australia’s own Tame Impala, they’d be forgiven for tapping out to recoup for a quick minute. But they’re back from a much-needed break for their first performance of 2018, headlining Red Bull Music Presents at Dark Mofo in Tasmania alongside support acts Tornado Wallace, NO ZU and Lauren Hansom. And rumour has it, they’re set to premiere some new music they’ve been working on in the interim, premiering alongside of Howlin’ and Every Now & Then favourites in the clandestine hallways of Tasmania’s Dark Mofo.
For the uninitiated, Dark Mofo’s a festival all of its own, taking place annually in Australia’s most southern isle. The midwinter festival has established itself as a darkly masterful curation of the weird, wonderful and reliably controversial, with an arts and music lineup that’s a genre-bending as Jagwar Ma themselves. Purveyors of trippy soundscapes that defy definition, band members Jono Ma, Gabriel Winterfield and Jack Freeman weave their way through electronic, psych, acid house and indie rock, all the while guided by hard-hitting synths and versatile sonic stimulation. I caught up with lead vocalist and guitarist Gab ahead of their show at Dark Mofo to discuss working with mind-blowing audio visual artist Jim Warrior, blending the personal and communal, and tour favourites, below.
You guys are headlining the Red Bull Presents show down in Tassie, have you ever been to Dark Mofo yourself?
I’ve never been, and that’s kind of this weird thing that happens where the first time I’m going to a festival is when we’re playing it, which is kind of amazing. I’m really looking forward to seeing MONA, and then also just the actual space we’re going to be playing, talking about how we’re going to own it.
And I saw that you’ll be working alongside Jim Warrior for the audio-visual side of things?
Yeah, Jim’s worked with some pretty amazing people. I think he’s on tour with Santigold right now and he also did a lot of video design work for Aphex Twin, he’s just like a ninja with the visuals. We work collaboratively, he makes our ideas happen and brings his own flavour and style into it as well. He’s also done a lot of production for Gucci, he’s one of a kind. That’s actually his name by the way, that’s not a pseudonym, his last name is actually Warrior (laughs).
In terms of stage and lighting design, who are some acts you think nail it?
I would say Death Grips, even though their music and what we do is completely different, I’m actually a massive fan of them and everything they bring. The way they present their stage, and the way the people in the band take on almost these characters—it’s relentless, which is cool.
I actually like the aesthetic of quite a lot of heavy bands. This might seem a bit obvious but one of my favourite bands to see live is Metallica, I’ve seen then play like three times. Visually, they’re pretty amazing, even for a legacy band. When they headlined Glastonbury they played the main stage and had the artwork for the Master of Puppets album cover animated on the side of both the visuals, so you just had these strobing crucifixes. You can definitely see that Kanye around the time of Yeezus was obsessed with Metallica kind of iconography. I’m not in the pit headbanging and shit but I like watching and thinking, ‘this is a real spectacle’. Also, we did this show together with Tame in New York recently, and their visuals were incredible, just classic Tame form, they had these incredible psychedelic things.
How will you be changing up your live performance to sink into that club kind of environment?
The band has that flexibility that actually comes from the music, and in the way that Jono and I work together. It’s not simply a band playing on the stage, it’s Jono with his drum machine and synths, then me doing vocals and looping and playing guitars, and Jack playing bass. One of the foundations of our music is an 808, which is a standard instrument used in the world of techno and hip hop, and you can do all kinds of things; extend different parts, make things deeper, and all the while having the visuals to represent that.
The idea is to always put people in a place where… when the lights are dark, people and the relationship with their experience is more introverted. They start closing their eyes and getting into whatever they’re feeling, then when you bring lights up and show the crowd they realise oh, we’re actually in a crowd of people and we’re doing this together. That shared moment, that’s something we always try and do, to blend the sense of community but also the personal.
Like, when you’re playing a show at three o’clock in the afternoon on a hot, German summer’s day, the idea of playing something at a really, really high BPM might not necessarily make sense because people are just basking in the sun and maybe want to drift a bit more. We make setlist changes sometimes 10 minutes before we go on stage. Like if a cloud comes over it’s like, ‘Ok, let’s do this instead’.
You’ve been touring a lot these last couple of years, are there any cities in particular you’ve felt really connected to in a musical sense?
There’s a bit of a French connection with the band because a bulk of the records have been done in France. It was a spot three hours south of Paris in the countryside, in an area called the Loire Valley… I dunno, it’s wine country, but I guess everywhere in France is wine country (laughs). It always feels like a second or third home. Berlin, particularly for Jono, is a place he’s spent a lot of time in and he likes to get plugged in with the electronic music scene there. I love LA, we went to this skate store which is like the oldest skateboarding shop in California that’s been there for like 40 years, LA Skate Co., and met all of these people there which was cool, all bought skateboards so we could just cruise around downtown.
Your performance at Dark Mofo will feature music from both albums Howlin’ and Every Now & Then, and potentially some new stuff. Can you reveal any more about the new music?
We’re at the point now where we’ve been touring, our last record came out over 12 months ago, and we’re hopefully going to see if we can try some new things. Sometimes we’ll sneakily add in the chorus of a new song into the outro of one of our older tracks, just to see if anyone notices or they feel it. The show’s a bit of a ground-up show, it’s basically year zero.