Bugge Wesseltoft

Back to the Future

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At the heart of the “future of audio” are people – inspired individuals who dare to give shape to their creative vision and artistic imagination. Decision makers who prefer to reach their audiences and customers through great audio. Audio lovers who work relentlessly on innovative projects, who redefine and recreate sound experiences that touch the very souls of their listeners. “People” is dedicated to all those musicians, artists, engineers, producers, decision makers, owners and audio designers who fill and shape our world with sensational sound.

Bugge Wesseltoft is a trailblazer. He stands for innovative, Norwegian jazz, which he is constantly reinventing. He finds his drive in the fusion between electronic music and live improvisation. For Wesseltoft, it's the future of jazz that counts. But he’s also happy to reflect on his past.

  • Author: Gunter Ullrich
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His father was a jazz musician, making Bugge Wesseltoft’s path to music something of a foregone conclusion. First, though, as a teenager in Norway, he focused on punk. By that time, he had long since taught himself how to play the piano. Before long, though, he began wanting to emulate his father, and he turned to jazz. Wesseltoft wanted to study the genre at university, but his large number of gigs got in the way -- so he discovered his father’s music on his own. And reinvented it. Wesseltoft, now 51, founded his own label, Jazzland, and is regarded as a pioneer of Nu Jazz. “There is a greater exchange between the electronic music and jazz scenes today, which I personally find a lot more interesting," Wesseltoft has said.

Mr. Wesseltoft, are you a jazz revolutionary? No, I don’t really see myself like that. When I started mixing jazz and electronic music, it may have sounded quite fresh for many people. I mean, I wasn’t the only one doing it, but there weren’t many of us either. There were a few people in Norway and a few people in France. We were simply early adopters. Now, of course, there are many musicians who are mixing the two kinds of music.

What sets you apart from everyone else? I think I’m able to mix live music elements fairly well. There are fantastic programmers and fantastic producers. But fusing electronic music with live improvised music takes a while. I searched for the optimal mixing method for 10 years.

And you found it. Were you bored with traditional jazz of the kind your father and all the legends played?I like the old jazz. Thanks to my father, I grew up with it. And I still love listening to the music of the old legends. But when you're younger, you should also do something youthful, something new, and not just copy traditional music. You should find something that inspires you and find your own style.

In the late 90s, Wesseltoft traveled around the world with his music. He met other musicians, broadened his artistic horizons in Asia and Europe and absorbed these multicultural influences. He immortalized them on his album, “OK World,” which he describes as an attempt to bring together different cultures and their tastes in one project. It was a project that didn't have much to do with jazz, yet it was still of great importance for Wesseltoft's career.

Bugge Wesseltoft

Where do you get your inspiration? Recommendations of my friends and colleagues. I try to listen to as much music from as many different genres as possible. The music my kids and their friends listen to, for instance. They always show me new stuff that I've never heard before. At the moment, I'm fascinated by dubstep mashed up with hip-hop songs. I try to combine what I hear there with my jazz ideas. There's a lot going on in the techno scene as well. There's so much from which you can draw inspiration, and then weaving these things into jazz is the soul of jazz. It further develops the genre.

Do you see the music you make as something new or as a further development of something that already exists? I don’t think that any artist is completely independent in their creativity. Everyone is inspired by something. Nothing comes out of nothing. Every artist is furthering something that already exists one way or another. Otherwise we’d never end up with anything new. Jazz is always evolving and these days, there are even some very good jazz musicians in China. As far as I’m concerned, this is all positive.

For Wesseltoft, jazz is another way of saying “open music.” A kind of music offering great freedom. It is exactly this freedom which he believes justifies calling his own music jazz, even though there are a number of conventions in the genre that he disregards. He eschews lengthy solos, for example, and uses different keyboard riffs, percussion beats, samples and vocals to fuse electro and jazz. He believes his approach has to do with his roots in Norway, a country on the margins of mainstream Europe, far removed from the influence of leading jazz musicians such as Dexter Gordon – who might have once lived in Scandinavia but who never made it to Oslo. Wesseltoft and other Norwegian musicians plowed their own creative furrow outside the sphere of such influences. In the early 90s, their “New Conception of Jazz” brought together some of Norway’s best jazz musicians: Ingebrigt Flaten (bass), Anders Engen (drums), Eivind Aarset (guitar) and Nils Petter Molvaer (trumpet), to name but a few.

How did it all start? The original idea was to fuse live improvisation with live electro. It evolved fairly spontaneously, with some of us jazz musicians jamming with DJs after we’d performed in clubs. We all really enjoyed it. The DJs could play around with a traditional sound while we got to experience a different kind of audience from the one we were used to. The result was a very energetic groove that was perfect for a club crowd.

What’s happening on the Norwegian jazz scene today? Oslo is very lively, even if it’s smaller than a lot of other European cities. That has its advantages: Every musician here knows all the others, and you come into contact with a wide variety of musicians. We have a good club scene here and a lot comes out of it.

What other places would you recommend? Berlin is obviously the capital of electronic music. But the Internet, YouTube and Soundcloud fosters talent all over the world. Personally, I like the sort of underground movements you see in Russia, China, South Africa and even Angola. Globalization is good for music. I think it’s really important to gather experience all over the world and see what’s going on in different countries.

Bugge Wesseltoft

You founded the label Jazzland as a platform to grant artists a certain creative freedom. How important is it to be able to make music unencumbered by existential concerns? No one is completely free and independent and all musicians must be able to earn a living. You need to strike a balance between popularity and the underground – which is where the most exciting and inspiring things are happening. That’s where there’s the creative freedom to experiment. That gets harder the better-known you become. There comes a point when everything starts to revolve around sales, money and agents. That’s when the music starts to get commercial. If you want to keep growing, you need to surround yourself with the right people and move in fertile creative environments, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.

You, yourself, often work together with others. “Trialogue”, the album you made with Berlin-based producer and composer Henrik Schwarz, recently won a lot of acclaim. “Trialogue” is exactly what I’m about. Live jazz with computer-generated sounds. We also had Dan Berglund on board playing bass.

The collaboration with Schwarz seems to be a very fruitful one. Definitely. We’ve been working together for five or six years. I love working with Henrik. He’s a brilliant musician and music-maker. Henrik probably sees himself as a musician but I would describe him more as a very pioneering music-maker. He has technical skills and encyclopedic knowledge that lets him do fantastic things. We’ll be playing a few concerts together starting in January 2016.

For a variety of reasons, Wesseltoft put The New Conception of Jazz band on the back burner a few years ago. After so many years playing with the same line-up, things were feeling stale and he felt like working with other musicians. Since then, the 51-year-old hasn’t played in a stable band. Until now.

What are you currently working on? Right now, I have a few projects going. But I’m mainly looking ahead to next year, when we’ll be marking the 20th anniversary of The New Conception of Jazz and playing together again. So I’m getting ready for that. I’m once again listening to a lot of music – at the moment, some pieces from Bach. And I’m working on some mixes for the band featuring jazz and live saxophone, drums and piano. We’re planning on presenting something new and very exciting next year.