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Aussies rock Glastonbury

Fairfax's Ed Gibbs meets some of the key Australian bands performing at this year's Glastonbury Music and Arts Festival.

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Ashes? What Ashes? Brilliant emerging Sydney band Jagwar Ma’s performances at the Glastonbury music festival have led a wave of Australian music successes breaking over the UK and beyond. And the band themselves see it as a trend towards creativity catching up with sporting prowess at home.

There‚Äôs a great bunch of bands coming out of Australia. 

Jagwar Ma were under pressure to deliver at the iconic music festival after UK music bible NME labeled them the number one must-see band (out of an estimated 2000 acts), adding their sound ‘‘rad ‘90s baggy beats, idyllic harmonies and psychedelic synth washes [is] like Glastonbury incarnate".

Mick Jagger, center, Ronnie Wood, left, and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones. Click for more photos

Glastonbury music festival 2013

Mick Jagger, center, Ronnie Wood, left, and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones. Photo: AP

Reviewing their set from Saturday afternoon, NME said the trio, Jono Ma, Gabriel Winterfield and Jack Freeman, "started a dance party in a packed out John Peel tent". Andrew Trendell, on gigwise.com called their set the previous night "triumphant", adding that their Saturday show "blast a burst of sunshine across the [venue]... Jagwar Ma... show themselves as exactly the kind of band that the late great John Peel would have championed". 

They were even invited to play a third time, in a ‘‘secret gig’’. Even London’s stodgy Financial Times was on board, with Ludovic Hunter-Tilney praising their "vibrantly updated take on 1990s indie-dance".

The band’s live reviews follow a stunning 9/10 from NME for their debut album, Howlin’ and much-repeated praise from Oasis songwriter Noel Gallagher who said: "The future of the galaxy depends on the Temples and Jagwar Ma records.” 

Australian musician Nick Cave performs with the band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds on the Pyramid Stage on the fifth day of the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts near Glastonbury, southwest England, on June 30, 2013.

Nick Cave at Glastonbury. Photo: AFP

The band’s keyboardist and drummer, Jono Ma, told Fairfax they were concentrating so hard on trying to fit in an extra song they hardly noticed the crowd of around 8000 in the John Peel tent, the biggest they’ve played for.

‘‘We’ve had tunnel-vision we’ve been so focused. It wasn’t until the last song that I looked up and realised the mind-blowing reality of what was happening, so it was too late then to feel any pressure," said Ma.

"To say we sound like Glastonbury incarnate is a huge compliment. [Glastonbury] really is an incredible festival, it’s so immense and the energy coming out of every tent is amazing. 

‘‘We put a lot of hard work, energy and soul into our music, so for it to be received like this is just so rewarding."

Twitter was also abuzz with praise for Australian acts at ‘‘Glasto’’, including Jagwar Ma, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Matt Corby and Blue King Brown. Comedian Bill Bailey may or may not have been confused when he tweeted: ‘‘Tame Impala have just taken it to five sets on Court 7."

But the praise started long before the giant music festival on Worthy Farm at Pilton, which drew an estimated 180,000 punters. Last November, NME’s new music editor Matt Wilkinson said "the scene in Oz right now – spearheaded by Tame Impala – is easily the most exciting in the world".

Perth psychadelic rock band Tame Impala earned rave reviews for live shows in the UK and for their 2012 album Lonerism, 9/10 scores from NME and the influential US site, pitchfork.com.

Writing on the Mojo website, Graeme Campbell said of their Hammersmith Apollo show last week: "Tame Impala’s march to the top is seemingly inexorable."

On The Guardian’s music blog, Mark Beaumont wrote of Tame Impala at Glastonbury that their "hypnotic visuals and ancient psych crunch is a taste of what Woodstock might’ve felt like". 

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds also received excellent Glastonbury reviews, including from the London Telegraph’s Neil McCormick: "they know exactly how to handle a festival crowd. They did it with wit and attack a real sonic hammer a lot of gothic type of cabaret so even if you didn’t know their songs you couldn’t help but be drawn into the amazing presentation."

The band’s 2013 release, Push the Sky Away, scored an average rating of 8.1 out of 10, according to aggregation website metacritic.com. Pond, another psychadelic rock band from WA (and associated with Tame Impala) got 9/10 from NME for its album Beard, Wives, Denim. and a healthy 7.0 from Pitchfork last year.

Harley Streten, aka Flume, is another Australian doing well overseas. He scored a respectable 7/10 from NME and a 7.4 from Pitchfork.

He didn’t play at Glastonbury, but has two sold-out shows at London’s Heaven nightclub this week, then several European gigs before he returns to play at Splendour in the Grass at Byron Bay. Flume then heads to North America for a 15-show tour.

Beaumont added: "In every corner the Aussies are infiltrating, reversing the globe’s creative poles, showing the UK a brighter musical life". From the Glastonbury lineup he also picked out Xavier Rudd, Scott and Charlene’s Wedding and Matt Corby, whose "amorphous aura gives him a taste of ... the National."

Jono Ma said the positive attention for Australian music makes "a refreshing" change. "I’ve been in previous projects and seen other Australian bands receive a lot of criticism in the UK... [Now] the British press are always asking ’what’s in the water Down Under?'

"I don’t know if Tame Impala opened everyone’s eyes up over here and cast those eyes to Australia or if it’s a coincidence because there’s a great bunch of bands coming out of Australia."

Ma hopes the success of Australian bands is a sign of something shifting back home: "Jack [Freeman] our bass player has a theory it’s a reaction to a growing disinterest in sport... cricket and football is going down while music and the arts is rising. I love sport, but shifting from a sporting culture to a balance where we have a better arts culture is great. I really hope he’s right."