Blå is coming to a place near you

Imagine the renowned Norwegian jazz venue Blå in Pretoria, Chicago, or Moscow with their own crew of sound and light technicians, bartenders, even their friendly doorkeepers along with Norwegian musicians. 2005 will see it happen, as Blå exchanges venues with eight other clubs around the world as part of Norway’s centennial anniversary in 2005.

Blå's Sigurd Reinton and Gry Bråtømyr

“Making the invisible visible”. Blå’s slogan through six years of existence is still a strong part of the club’s identity. Explained simply, Blå (Norwegian for blue) is a jazz club, but in the widest meaning of the term. Strange, noisy, danceable, unheard of, friendly, crossover, experimental - we could go on and on. A multitude of musical expressions define Blå most clearly.

Since they opened their doors in an old factory building down by the Aker river in Oslo, Blå has without doubt created a stage for all kinds of “invisible music”, giving bands like Jaga Jazzist, Atomic, and Cloroform the chance to become visible. But also literature evenings, film presentations, performance art, and concerts for children have gotten a new stage in the industrial building.

In 2005, Norway celebrates 100 years with a “voice of our own” in the international community after the peaceful dissolution of the union with Sweden in 1905. Numerous events are taking place nationally and abroad to present Norway of today, yesterday, and in the future. MIC English will return with more updates on musical happenings taking place during the celebration.

By sending Blå abroad, and inviting clubs such as The Spitz in London or Empty Bottle in Chicago to Oslo, new voices are also heard. But the Club Exchange is just one of three international projects Blå is pulling out of the sleeve these days, in addition to four national formats.

Music under Europe is inspired by Music under Oslo, which is a one-day festival in April taking place in five underground stations. Unexpected music in unexpected places is the idea behind the festival, where tube riders can walk straight into a vibrating concert atmosphere on their way to work. Now it is time for Europe to feel the groove underneath as well, and the subways in Barcelona, Paris, Copenhagen, and Newcastle are up for some great shows.

All Ears is Blå’s third international format. All Ears is a festival for improvised music, initiated by the talented drummer Paal Nilsen-Love at Blå, which has finally given free, improvised music a festival space of its own. There are plans for an expanded festival in 2005 to be held both in Oslo and Stockholm, with Norwegian and Swedish musicians.

After all these events, can we expect to see a South African or Russian Blå in the near future, Blå branching out in franchises, in other words? MIC English asked Sigurd Reinton, and Gry Bråtømyr,both project managers of Blå 2005.

“No, not at all,” Reinton says.
“No, Blå is an environment, not just a scene.”
“We are not imperialistic, it would be totally uninteresting for us to create a branch, but people are of course welcome to be inspired by Blå,” Bråtømyr adds.
“Others may very well call their clubs Green or Yellow or Red, but some of the charm disappears.”
“With the club exchange, we want to be an integrator between the clubs, kind of a “first mover.” Someone has to start somewhere, and we are willing to pull some strings in the beginning. But eventually, every club can use the network as they prefer, and hopefully, all the eight clubs can meet in 2006 to get to know each other better and to discuss how we can further our co-operation,” Reinton says.

The eight clubs are Nefertiti, Gothenburg (Sweden), The Spitz, London (UK), Empty Bottle, Chicago (USA), Copenhagen Jazzhouse, Copenhagen (Denmark), WMF, Berlin (Germany) Sonár, Barcelona (Spain, actually an electronica festival), Tings an Times, Pretoria (South Africa), and potentially Chinese Pilot or Art Garage in Mosow (Russia).

Common for all the projects Blå are working on are their long term potential. After the champagne and governmental funding have dried out in 2005, the projects and the international network are hopefully still vital.

“It is not the clubs that are the most important, but the environment around them. In that sense, I think Blå is rather unique compare to lots of clubs abroad, where different people have lots of different concepts at the same club. We are interested in finding clubs with a unique environment, like Blå, where people are working because they want to be part of the environment, not only because they want to work in bar, Reinton says.

When Blå has taken place at Nefertiti in Gothenburg or Tings an Times in Pretoria, you are not suppose to notice it by the stage setting or the price of beer, but by the music and the atmosphere.
“Blå has a very creative and quality conscious environment; the light technicians are not just turning on spots, but perform artistic work, just as the sound guys. Several of our bouncers are graphic designers. For us it is important to create a room that is Blå, a creative room, and it will change at every club since different people are going and they will create their own Blå universe,” Bråtømyr says.

The Pretorian reggae club Tings an Times will not be served reggae music by their Nordic friends. Unpredictability is rather to expect.
“We wish to infringe with the club we are visiting, and surprise them,” Reinton says and smiles, without revealing any artist names yet.

Blå has an informal agreement of NOK 350 000 in financial support by the Centennial Anniversary-Norway 2005 (the organisation that organizes the 2005 celebration for the Norwegian government) and is applying for funding both nationally and internationally. Significant partners are the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norwegian embassies, and the City of Oslo, among others.

“Still, we don’t know how much money we are able to bring in. We know that eight club exchanges are a lot, but still doable. If we cannot provide the funding we need, we have to look more carefully at our plans and see what we can exclude,” Reinton says.

When you are going abroad with your concept, you are of course bringing Norwegian music. Is it possible to describe a Norwegian sound?
“Self-confidence,” Reinton states without hesitation.
“Musicians at Blå dare to express their soul, they deliver the most personal performances,” Bråtømyr says.
“Norwegian music is coming from the grass roots, growing from below, not polished sound from big labels. I think that is part of the Norwegian success,” Reinton says.
“As long as people think they are good at something, they don’t have to part of a musical genre, but can create their own sound,” Bråtømyr says.

If Blå was the official presenter of Norway abroad, who would you present?
“Ibsen and Dimmu Borgir. And neither of them has actually been at Blå!”

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