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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Jagwar Ma’s beatmaker Jono Ma talks ahead of the band’s Dubai debut

After two years of hype-building from a temporary home in the United Kingdom, the trio of Jagwar Ma are on their way home to Sydney and will stop in the UAE for what the founder claims will be 'literally our last show in the Northern Hemisphere before probably quite a long hiatus'.
From left, Jono Ma, Jack Freeman and Gabriel Winterfield of the Australian band Jagwar Ma. Courtesy Maclay Heriot
From left, Jono Ma, Jack Freeman and Gabriel Winterfield of the Australian band Jagwar Ma. Courtesy Maclay Heriot

There was a time, little more than a year ago, when Jagwar Ma were officially the hippest thing to hail from south of the Equator.

Blurring the lines between indie, electronica and pop – swirling and psychedelic, with deep, danceable beats and summery choruses, too – last year’s debut LP Howlin’ picked up glowing reviews from NME and Pitchfork, and was championed by contemporaries such as The xx and Foals. Even Noel Gallagher, the most conservative of tastemakers, went on record claiming the “future of the galaxy” depended on their music.

After two years of hype-building from a temporary home in the United Kingdom, the trio are on their way home to Sydney to work on a follow-up, and will stop in the UAE tonight for what the founder and beatmaker Jono Ma claims will be “literally our last show in the Northern Hemisphere before probably quite a long hiatus”.

On a line from Dalston, north-east London, to Dubai, here’s more from the 30-year-old sonic trailblazer.

This is your first visit to the Middle East. Any expectations?

I haven’t even thought about what to expect. We’ve gotten so used to touring and going into each show and festival without expectations, it makes it a bit more exciting when you get there. What can we expect?

It looks like a pretty cool gig. There’s a cool Kuwaiti producer [Zahed Sultan] on the bill.

A Kuwaiti producer? Wow. I just got really excited. I’ve always been fascinated with music from different parts of the world, particularly odd places where interesting electronic music is coming out, so the idea of a Kuwaiti producer is really exciting.

You’re on the way home to begin work on the daunting second album. After generating so much hype with Howlin’, what’s the game plan, direction-wise?

We’ve already started writing and the electronic aspects are accentuated – they’re getting deeper and more experimental. If you imagine a straight line of layers – imagine those layers being stretched out upwards into the more spatial areas and down into more prohibitive areas, too.

Sounds like some of London’s bass scene has influenced you over the past two years.

Absolutely. I’ve been listening to a lot of bass music. I’ve been loving guys like Jamie xx and Joy Orbison – it’s fairly fresh-sounding electronic music, but it also has characteristics of classic house, acid house and the aspects that I love about classic techno. They’ve shuffled the grooves around, but not in predictable way like a lot of the American dubstep and EDM, which to me feels very formulaic and obvious.

You once said you work like a hip-hop producer. Explain.

That was more to do with the process than the outcome of the music – in hip-hop, you generally start with a beat, and often that beat is only one or two bars long. And then you’ll basically throw ideas onto that beat and expand from there and work out the arrangement based around the vocals, and often those vocal ideas can be improvised – that’s how we like to work.

Are you looking to do more solo production work as Jono Ma, à la Jamie xx [of The xx]?

Definitely, eventually. I love DJing and I think I understand how to DJ in that club context – the long-journey thing, rather than just being a selector – and it’s definitely something I enjoy doing. If the opportunity came along down the line – like, “do you want to produce Gil Scott-Heron?” [who died in 2011 after collaborating with Jamie xx] – I wouldn’t say no. But I’m waiting for that right moment – at the moment it’s all about Jagwar Ma.

• Jagwar Ma headline Fred Perry Sub-Sonic Live at the Dubai International Marine Club on Thursday, October 23, doors open at 9.30pm. Tickets Dh100 in advance, Dh150 at the door.

rgarratt@thenational.ae