Birthdays, London, February 26
For five minutes you don’t even know if Jagwar Ma have started playing. There’s a bloke onstage, certainly, teasing brown sounds out of a laptop along to a Margate mobile disco light show. Then some birdsong skitterbeats and the flush of Satan’s lavatory announce the shadowy arrival of Jono Ma and Gabriel Winterfield and the demon dance begins, like a twisted ‘Screamadelica’. Winterfield’s horrorcore Hari Krishna chant of “Waiting for tomorrow brings another day/Another sun to watch” is battered with ominous industrial punches and semi-automatic rhythm-fire like being sucked into an arcade machine full or marauding Terminators. The set’s rave-heavy first half has the weight and intensity of deep-sea tunnelling machinery – all filthy, crackling guitars, and beats like a funky drummer clawing his way out of a Saw trap.
Yet, under the squeal and squall, there are sweet, seditious chant-rock melodies bubbling and, after twenty minutes of evil rave, they erupt. The songs begin to take on the retromodern shapes of 50s/60s beat era and a wall of sound – ‘Come Save Me’ is a fantastic clash of on-trend antique rock’n’roll, motoric Dalston drone and strobe-strafed electro, sounding like The Ronettes guesting at a Justice gig. At times they imagine a trip-hop Richard Hawley, or Jake Bugg drenched in liquid MDMA.
Still, each song builds to a bristling rave crescendo akin to The Chemical Brothers corroding from the inside out or, in the case of their most Madchester single ‘The Throw’, a fucked up version of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’. There’s no sense of cynical splicing of laptop and Rickenbacker, no zeitgeist-friendly mutations – everything the do is so fundamentally fused you can’t see the join.
True, Jagwar’s bassist Jono Ma has a tendency to down tools and grab the maracas for a spot of Bez-bouncing when things get particularly acid-rave, but they’re much more than the Happy Slap Mondays they’ve been tagged. They’re a whole new rave/rock thing. A dazzling update of the pre-Beatles rock’n’roll trend fed through two decades of demonic dance decadence. The gauntlet is down.