When I started talking about a festival, it was as if it was something everyone had been waiting for, says Polly Eldridge, the woman who came up with the idea of putting together four days of cutting-edge Norwegian music for the discerning London audience. The Fertiliser-festival, which was launched under the slogan "Good Shit From Norway", proved to be a huge success, filling up the clubs at London's Brick Lane last weekend.
Fertiliser was also co-promoted by the high-cred music magazine The Wire, which sent out the sampler "Fjord Focus", containing 15 tracks of Norwegian music with their October issue. I have been playing Norwegian music for everyone I know, and they all say that this is some of the freshest new stuff they have heard in ages, says Project Manager for The Wire, Anne Hilde Neset. When asked by MIC what she regards as the essence of the Norwegian sound, she promptly answers:
There is no uniform sound - that is exactly what makes Norwegian music so good these days. You will be taken by surprise over and over. I played some Norwegian stuff for the editor of The Wire recently, he said he never would have guessed where it came from - and I agree with him completely. Whereas earlier, Norwegian music often seemed to be very melancholic and cold, you now get all sorts of new exiting stuff, which often is incomparable to anything you have heard before, says Neset.
MIC spoke with Xploding Plastix-manager and Norwegian liaison Vegard Strømsodd before the festival. He felt this festival to be another sure sign of the high status Norwegian music is earning abroad:
- For the bands, this is a fantastic opportunity to show off. With some luck, there may also be bookings, distribution deals and record contracts waiting in the wings for some. This festival is likely to get good media-coverage and lots of attention from everyone who regard themselves as being on the cutting edge of jazz, electronica and experimental music, said Strømsodd, who caught word of the festival through the Norwegian Embassy's cultural attaché to London, Øyvind Stokke.
- I got a call from the embassy one day, and it was Stokke, saying: "Vegard, you simply have to be a part of this - two Brits are planning a music festival with Norwegian bands exclusively!"
Strømsodd, in turn, immediately rang the two: Polly Eldridge, who has visited Norway numerous times, and his former teacher from the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, Andrew Missingham.
- Andrew is insanely well updated on all sorts of music, and especially on Norwegian electronica, while Polly has been in charge of the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, where several Norwegian bands have played. She now works with the Norwegian/English-project "Food", said Strømsodd.
While Missingham and Eldridge have done a fabulous job, much of the silent groundwork had already been done by the music itself, quietly and effectively promoted by the Norwegian Embassy in London. They have sent Eldridge and several others to Norway several times, to give them a chance to absorb Norwegian music, and take the impressions back home to the UK. The embassy has also supported the festival both economically and practically, along with fronting the "Fjord Focus"-project.
- We are most comfortable in the background somewhere, and have done our bit by connecting the right people with the right music, says Stokke, who can reveal that this work has been going on for a long time:
- Our job is to be attentive towards what the Brits find interesting, and help them to the goods. The Norwegian music-scene has grown immensely in both size and quality the last few years, especially in the genres jazz, rock, pop and electronica. For us, it is important to invest in showing off Norwegian music, and make sure we reach the younger audiences in doing so. Part of this work is done by sending key-people from the UK music industry over to Norway. The Fertiliser-festival is a giant pay-off for us, it shows that the impressions Polly Eldridge has gathered on her many trips to Norway has made an impact, says Stokke.
When browsing through the diversity of British media, the praises of the new, innovative Norwegian music scene are evident for all to see. BBC's Jazz review writes:
- Anyone interested in the state of modern jazz will probably have noticed that Norway is producing some of the finest and most adventurous jazz musicians on the planet at the moment, from straight ahead acoustic outfits like Atomic to the nu jazz of Bugge Wesseltoft and Wibutee or the dark electronic improvscapes of Supersilent.
Time Out describes Norway as the new land of hip-ness - a place where the best melodies and hippest grooves are made right now- without stealing anyone else's ideas.
Fertiliser-goer and internationally acclaimed music-writer Stuart Nicholson said to Norwegian daily Dagbladet:
- Norwegian musicians are definitely in the driver’s seat. People wait in long lines to see Nils Petter Molvær in Paris, Finland or London. They don't stand in line to see American jazz musicians. Bugge Wesseltoft, Close Erase or Jaga Jazzist all build their music on a jazz foundation, but they do it in their own unique ways, said Nicholson, who used several Norwegian names to describe what he sees as the future for the jazz genre in his new book "Is Jazz Dead".
- Europeans know they can play better than the Americans, and they can also play several jazz-dialects, to put it that way. Young Norwegian musicians especially stand out by experimenting and updating the genre. They take the best from American jazz, and add something new and fresh, says Nicholson to Dagbladet.