Jagwar Ma – O B 1
My near obsessive compulsion to seek out and devour new music, facilitated by a job buying singles for hmv through the ‘90s and into the 2000s, came to an abrupt end when I was made redundant during the high street chain’s well publicised ‘troubles’ towards the end of 2012. My job had changed considerably over the years, most dramatically in the years following the dawning of the digital age when physical singles began to disappear completely from the high street chain’s stores. But after 20+ years of choosing what filled the shelves of my own singles department in-store, followed by a move to head office to buy for more than 200 of their shops, the most unfortunate (and wholly unexpected) side effect arising from my sudden departure was an almost complete aversion to listening to ANY new music. During the first few months of unemployment you could find me, more often than not still in my dressing gown, in front of the TV watching stuff like ‘Later…with Jools Holland’, grumbling, “Well, that’s hardly new,” followed by, “Didn’t *insert name of 80’s artist here* do this already?” and proclaiming to anyone who’d listen, “That’s it! There are literally no fresh ideas. There are absolutely no new combinations of notes left!” The fall-out from this self-imposed embargo lasted for almost three years.
Lady Gaga’s Art Pop? Never listened to it.
George Ezra? Who?
Tom Odell? No thanks!
The Vamps? Ok, it would seem that every cloud does indeed have a silver lining.
Now that I’ve re-entered ‘The Business’, things have started to thaw a little. Admittedly, with my new job, you’re more likely to catch me attending The BBC2 Folk Awards than The Brits, but the company I work for does represent an incredibly wide range of artists, covering every existing genre of music – and a few which have obviously been made up by some over-stimulated marketing types: Third Wave Ska, anyone?
I knew very little about Jagwar Ma ahead of the release of their new album. Their debut, Howlin’, was released in mid-2013, during my ‘wilderness years’, and with my on-going P.P.S.D. (Post Physical Single Distress) I was unlikely to give them the time of day without a single track CD promo to pique my interest. But as soon as we were treated to an early preview of tracks from their second effort, Every Now & Then, I was completely transfixed. It was like being miraculously beamed into the near future while simultaneously being transported back at least twenty years. *Note to self: Don’t mix Benylin and Haribo before important label meetings*
The time-warping head-spin induced by the band’s output raised more questions than answers:
What would The Happy Mondays sound like if they’d actually been any good?
Imagine if The Stone Roses hadn’t imploded under the weight of prog rock tedium.
Were Northside actually the most influential band of the 1990s?
O B 1, the track which would eventually become the second single lifted from Every Now & Then, evokes much of the chemically-enhanced swagger of The Mondays at their best, with none of The Roses’ self-indulgent tendencies and, thankfully, any comparisons with Northside can be swept aside with an emphatic, “You’re an idiot!”
Sonically dark and brooding, but buoyed by the same euphoric up-draft which transformed the late 80s incarnation of Primal Scream from purveyors of hippy goth dirge into something altogether more contemporary and dancefloor friendly by the dawning of the new decade. This is the sound Primal Scream probably should have been making post-Screamadelica. Perhaps, if they’d spent a little more time listening to Depeche Mode’s Violator, rather than apparently trying to destroy Basildon’s finest by partying their lead singer Dave Gahan to death in the early ‘90s, things might have worked out differently.
Unfathomably, O B 1 feels like the end result of a long-gestating, genre defying, intertwining of ‘Rock’ and ‘Dance’ DNA – something that doesn’t fit neatly into any one musical genre and is therefore doomed to be regarded by many rock purists as unsettling and vaguely against nature. A musical chimera apparently conceived during a decade-long, drug fuelled pub crawl, zig-zagging between Manchester and Brighton, starting at some point in 1988 and ending with the mother of all ‘come downs’ towards the end of 1997.
But perhaps the most extraordinary thing about O B 1, and the obvious influences it wears on its synthesizer pre-sets, is the fact that Gabriel Winterfield and Jono Ma, the duo at the core of Jagwar Ma, were barely out of nappies when Bobby Gillespie and the Primals were getting well and truly ‘Loaded’ and Shaun Ryder and a maraca shaking Bez were having their melons twisted…man. What’s more, they grew up on the other side of the world, in Sydney, Australia, where The Monday’s biggest hit, Step On, was a no. 157 smash.
Putting the immense geographic distance – between Sydney in 2016 and the heart of Madchester in the early ‘90s – to one side, Jagwar Ma’s allegiance to a scene which fizzled out almost three decades ago gifts the band a musical identity which completely belies the tender ages of the twenty-somethings at the band’s creative centre. Like their (substantially more successful) contemporaries Mumford and Sons, Jagwar Ma’s key musical influences help forge a somewhat incongruous connection between the band and the music they chose to make. But, unlike Marcus Mumford and his band of posh-o wandering minstrels, Jagwar Ma sound like they were raised by a raver commune in Ibiza, rather than growing up in total isolation on a farm in Somerset, where, not unlike like Jodie Foster’s Nell, they eventually learned to communicate using only The Wurzels’ Greatest Hits as the basis for their own unique musical language.
Of course, in the current climate – where The Spotify Playlister is King and streaming accounts for well over 50% of singles ‘sales’ on the chart- none of the tracks lifted from Every Now & Then have managed to make much of an impression on the UK charts. In fact, Jagwar Ma join the growing number of undeniably commercial, wholly mainstream acts who are yet to register on the Official UK Singles Chart at all.
Throughout 2016, as my self-imposed new music embargo came to an end, the chances of any tracks lifted from my Albums of the Year list becoming top 40 hits were slim to none. Now, the old me, the Singles Buyer me, the chart obsessive me, might find these facts a bit depressing. However, all of this is great news for the Into the Popvoid contributor me and, let’s face it, these days there’s only one chart that matters; the one that sits near the top right hand side of this page.
Entered chart: did not chart
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Well, as this was more or less released ‘today’, I think we should bend the rules of Popvoid (and time) by sending this back to 1991 and allowing Primal Scream to release this, rather than Come Together, as their follow-up to Loaded.