LA gets a taste of Down Under thanks to Jagwar Ma, Flume

Jagwar Ma & Flume

Australia’s Jagwar Ma (left) and Flume (right) played to big crowds in LA last week.

By Josh Herwitt //

Over the past five years, Australia has become a hotbed for electronically-tinged music, and Los Angeles got to experience that first hand last week from two of the country’s biggest up-and-coming acts in 2014.

Headlining the Twilight Concert Series‘ fifth annual “Australia Rocks the Pier” show, Sydney psych-dance trio Jagwar Ma returned to Southern California for the first time since packing the Gobi Tent on Coachella‘s opening day back in April. And with a rather youthful crowd flocking to the Santa Monica Pier on Thursday night, Gabriel Winterfield (vocals, guitar), Jono Ma (guitar, beats, synths, production) and Jack Freeman (bass, vocals) ran through a large chunk of their 2013 debut Howlin’. Having played Lollapalooza in Chicago and Osheaga Music and Arts Festival in Montreal the weekend before, the band has maintained one of the most rigorous touring schedules this summer.

Yet, you wouldn’t have known it from the way Winterfield and Freeman jumped around on stage while Ma manned the decks, pumping life into each song through a number of synths and drum machines. What makes Jagwar Ma such an intriguing act right now is the way it can stretch out its songs and make the most of its relatively limited catalog — much like we reported after the band’s set at Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival on Saturday.

But what was just as impressive to see was Jagwar Ma’s ability to maintain an element of surprise even with Howlin’ being almost a year old now, as it doled out covers of Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and Nirvana’s “All Apologies” after winning over the audience earlier in the night with fan favorites like “Uncertainty” and “Man I Need.” For those who hadn’t heard anything from the Aussie outfit until arriving at the beach that night, they couldn’t have asked for a much better introduction to a band that has sold out shows all the across the globe at this point.

Meanwhile, it’s hard to say that there’s an artist who has created more buzz for himself in the last year than 22-year-old Australian prodigy Harley Streten — or as his fans better know him, Flume. Streten, who started making music at the age of 13 after discovering a production software disc in a box of cereal, released his self-titled debut in late 2012 and a year later, found himself winning awards for “Best Male Artist” and” Best Independent Album” in his home country.

Since then, Streten’s newborn success has only continued to spread across the Pacific Ocean and into the states, where the shift toward electronic music is more apparent than ever these days. By the time he played Coachella this year, he had already proven to be too popular to be performing in a tent, evidenced by the thousands of festivalgoers who were spilling outside of the Gobi’s canopy for his 50-minute set.

Opening the first of three sold-out shows at Club Nokia on Friday night, Streten proved to not be in any rush, strolling out on stage almost 30 minutes after his expected 11 p.m. start time. If he was told that showing up late was the “cool thing to do” when you play in LA, it’s not — not when you have fans that waited in line as early as 4 p.m. for a chance to stand up front.

Maybe that didn’t matter to Streten, though. After all, he seems to be everywhere of late, squeezing in sets last weekend at Splash House in Palm Springs on Saturday and Outside Lands in SF on Sunday (read our report, which included some hilarious tree dancing) between his three headlining gigs Friday, Saturday and Monday in LA.

At Club Nokia, he was absolutely adored by the 18-22 demographic that dominated the dance floor. He broke out the hits early, getting the crowd moving to his infectious single “Holdin’ On” before dropping some hip-hop on the crowd compliments of “On Top,” which features New York rapper T.Shirt.

However, for as catchy and well-produced as Streten’s tracks are, there’s still something about paying to watch a so-called “musician” stand behind a laptop — without anyone knowing what he’s truly doing — that feels somewhat disingenuous. That’s not to say that technology has no place in today’s music scene, but in an industry that has become increasingly dependent upon live performance to survive economically, very little about Flume’s show felt “live.”

If there was one element of the 75-minute show that stood above everything else, it was undoubtedly the visual component, which featured original video clips synced to each track. As cool as that was, it wasn’t anything worth spending $90-100 on, which is what tickets were being resold for on StubHub as well as Craigslist (retail ticket prices were $20-40, plus service fees).

With Jagwar Ma and Flume leading the way, there’s certainly plenty of promise for the future of music in the land Down Under. Whether both acts can continue living up to the hype that they’ve garnered from their debut albums, well, that remains to be seen.


  1. nice report!

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