Agung Mango’s got his game face on. When NME speaks to the Melbourne artist, he’s just come back from Bigsound, Australia’s premier music conference. After two years off, the return of the conference was a chance for Agung to show off his new six-piece live band. His basketball background has helped him foster a warrior’s mindset, which shines through when the rapper describes his final gig in Fortitude Valley.
“I told everyone we’re going to war tonight. I wasn’t joking. I was so serious,” he says. “I told everyone, ‘Imagine this is your last day playing. I’m not trying to jinx anything. But imagine tomorrow isn’t existent. So let’s go out there and pretend we’re on the field. Pretend we’re actually fighting for something that we know is ours.’”
The Bigsound shows were, of course, not the end of the Agung Mango project: merely the prelude to his new EP, ‘Man On The Go’, which launches October 14. He’s also gearing up for his first national tour in support of the new six-song project, which leans into poppier, more accessible sounds inspired by the likes of Pharrell Williams and The Neptunes while still drawing upon the jazzier and experimental elements that were hallmarks of his previous releases, like 2020 EP ‘Son Of Agung’.
Agung strikes a deft balance on this EP, aided by producers Finbar Stuart, Nikodimos Paleologoudias and Eleftherios Kordabalos. Every choice on ‘Man On The Go’ feels considered, and the end result is Agung’s most cohesive artistic statement yet. Paleologoudias’s production builds on the promise the pair displayed throughout their collaborative project ‘Son Of Agung’, while Stuart helped Agung embrace vocal production for the first time.
Paleologoudias’s saxophone work on ‘Miserable Man’ emphasises the hunger that emanates from every note, and the gospel backing vocals on ‘Headback’ make the song akin to a spiritual experience. Agung reaches for the stars on ‘Man on the Go’, though his feet remain on the ground: “There’s a lot of depth within the songs, even if a song is kind of simple and the lyrics are simple,” he says.
“There shouldn’t be anyone else that’s in the conversation when it comes down to becoming a better you”
EP opener ‘Runaway’ sets the stage for the rest of the project. The track name-checks the likes of NBA legends Michael Jackson and Larry Bird, as well as Indonesian artists Nyoman Masriadi and Affandi, while also offering an insight into Agung’s experiences during COVID. It was “the worst time of my life”, he says emphatically, as he was “facing inner demons that were reaching the surface and saying hello too much” during this period.
On ‘Runaway’, Agung discusses his travels to the “great unknown”, where “flowers and demons” lay in wait. He previously discussed the “dark path” he found himself on during COVID on his 2021 track ‘120fps’, a thoughtful and bouncy release that features production from Melbourne’s jah LOON.
To pull himself out of the depths, Agung – who calls himself a “born athlete” – got to work. He explains, “I had to stop everything I was doing and get healthy.” He lost roughly 15kg after committing to a daily routine of calisthenics, push-ups and sit-ups, and maintains a similarly demanding routine today. “It all comes from looking after your temple,” he reflects. “So that’s what I tried to incorporate every day. I wanted to be fit and stay focused.” This drive parallels his approach to music, art, graphic design and more. He shows NME a tattoo that says “Man Vs. Self”, explaining: “There shouldn’t be anyone else that’s in the conversation when it comes down to becoming a better you.”
‘Man On The Go’ came together during sessions held in Victorian towns Forrest and Apollo Bay. Besides making music, Agung and his friends cooked, smoked and watched movies together, collectively developing a “beehive mindset”, as Agung puts it. Producer Eleftherios Kordabalos concurs, describing the bond between Agung, Stuart, Paleologoudias and himself as “almost telepathic”. (On this trip, the group also discovered that cows really, really love the sound of a saxophone.)
One of the headline moments on ‘Man On The Go’ is ‘Guap Pop’, a synth-filled collaboration with Genesis Owusu. Agung goes toe-to-toe with one of Australia’s most celebrated artists, and it’s one of his most momentous tracks to date. The collaboration brought out the best in both rappers, with Genesis dropping bars like the sublime “shift the artistry and one day you can bask in yachts, but look at what these fuckers did to Basquiat”.
Agung was the main support on Genesis’ ‘Smiling With No Teeth’ national tour in 2021 – an experience that he holds dear. “I got to see the artistry behind the scenes and onstage,” Agung says of touring with Genesis. “He’s almost the same off the court as on the court. He’s got the same energy, he’s content and he’s a lowkey genius.”
“I want to represent and be a role model to these young kids”
Agung isn’t afraid to give others their flowers. He speaks with pride about Picked Last, the Melbourne-based collective that also includes rap trio 3K, R&B sensation CD, conscious MC Mammoth and more. Agung wears an ear-splitting grin as he teases the music that his fellow PL members are set to release in the near future. He’s especially excited for the world to discover YKM Topboyz member and “hook god” A81Yann, who features on ‘Intertwined’. As for the collective’s name, Agung succinctly says, “we’re Picked Last but we finish first. That’s how it goes.”
As the sun sets, NME’s conversation with Agung draws to an end with a discussion about legacy. Agung sees himself as a “coach” to those around him, and as an artist of Balinese and Italian descent, he hopes to provide the representation he never had when he was younger. “Growing up, listening to music all the time and looking up to artists, I’ve never really looked up to someone that looks like me, half-caste,” he says.
Agung gets so many messages from mixed Indonesian youth who “want to do their own shit” – who hit him up and say “there’s not many people that are like you”, he shares. “So my goal, and the legacy I want to leave, is to be a figure that kids can look up to and know that this is a route that they want to take. I want to represent and be a role model to these young kids.” Agung Mango is a ‘Man On The Go’, and he’s just getting started.
‘Man On The Go’ is out October 14. Agung Mango’s national tour kicks off in Sydney September 30 – find dates, tickets and more info here