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Jagwar Ma brings early-’90s dance-floor psychedelia back in style

By Eve Barlow
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The spirit of 1989’s second “summer of love,” led by rave-influenced U.K. rock bands like Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses, is alive and well in Australian trio Jagwar Ma. The band’s 2013 debut, Howlin’, was a full-on Madchester revival. Now, with this fall’s follow-up, Every Now & Then, synth wizard Jono Ma, vocalist Gabriel Winterfield and bassist Jack Freeman have beefed-up the copy-and-paste sampling of sonic ancestors, such as the Avalanches and the Dust Brothers, and delivered an even more ambitious, cohesive and well-humored slab of psychedelic dance. We caught up with Winterfield and Ma ahead of the group's show at Webster Hall.

Every Now & Then seems like a pretty philosophical title for a second album.
Gabriel Winterfield: Maybe there’s a deeper meaning. My dad listened and said, “It’s like you and Jono are in a spaceship, and you’re looking down on the world and putting all the music you hear into a record.” It’s a carpe diem record.

You shared your London studio with legendary producer Andrew Weatherall. Did you have many interactions?
Jono Ma: He offered feedback. Andrew’s hilarious. He’d knock on the door to say goodbye before leaving the studio: “All right, Jonathan, I’ll leave the future of dance music in your hands for the rest of the evening.” You never know for the next record…

For this album, you were influenced by the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique. That type of sampling would be impossible now due to copyright laws…
JM: Wildflower by the Avalanches this year is the closest. It’s not practical to do a collage-based record now. It’s sad.

GW: We wanted our record to be unique. There’s no such genre as “dance.” Anything that makes you dance is “dance.” Whether it’s ’60s soul or ’90s bangers…. Paul’s Boutique and Wildflower are beyond genre. We admire that.

Do you feel uncomfortable with throwback labels, like Madchester?
JM: Nah, that’s just how people communicate. When we released Howlin’, there were comparisons to Primal Scream. The more I learn about [its] influences in Phil Spector, northern soul, Chicago/ Detroit house and Balearic stuff, we realized we were going back to similar sources, not just building upon their legacy.

Many dance spaces are becoming endangered. Is that an issue close to you?
JM: In Sydney, the places Gab and I used to play in our old bands are disappearing. It’s alarming, but there’s a movement pushing back. Our friends have started putting on parties in semi-legal venues and car parks. That gained momentum, and police started to crack down. But kids always find a way to celebrate music.

What’s the vibe like on the road?
GW: Dickens put it well when he [wrote], “[It was] the best of times, [it was] the worst of times.” I’m stoked no one wants to kill anyone!

JM: I’m in awe of how hilarious Gab and Jack are. That’s the reason we don’t kill each other.

GW: We don’t take ourselves seriously or write cerebral lyrics about transcendent kaleidoscopic images of the truth, or whatever. Psychedelia is supposed to be off: Monty Python, the 13th Floor Elevators, Pink Floyd, Mac DeMarco…they’re all hilarious.

Jagwar Ma plays Webster Hall Saturday, November 12 at 8pm. $20.

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