The lasting impact of the Bergen wave

He brought us Kings of Convenience and Röyksopp, but Mikal Tellé thinks the music from Bergen is more long-lived than a hasty wave. This week, foreign music journalists are travelling to Bergen to observer the talents with their own eyes as by:Larm kick off with 160 concerts on 16 different stages and 1300 representatives from the music industry. MIC have asked Tellé and some foreign journalists what is really going on in Bergen.

Mikal Telle

”I think most people from Bergen find the term “the Bergen wave” ridiculous. No one looks upon it as a wave, it is just something a journalist once wrote. If it was only a wave, it would be over now. What we are talking about, is a growing music scene that has established itself. It has not happened suddenly, it has taken several years,” says Tellé Records himself, Mikal Tellé.

Only 27 years old, Tellé has been in the music business since he was 18. For the past nine years, he has opened four music stores, established Tellé Records, as well as the labels Éllet Records and Tellektro, and released world known names such as Kings of Convenience, Röyksopp, and Ralph Myerz and the Jack Herren Band. These days, he is focusing on spreading Tellé records all over the world. The label got one step closer to the goal when they recently signed a deal with Vital Distribution in UK. In his spare time, he once in a while spins records at clubs.

But if he does not like “the Bergen wave”-term, could Tellé please explain what is going on in Bergen? Why all this great music coming from a small, rainy city, surrounded by seven mountains?
“Bergen is a small city with a good music environment. It is easy to get to know people with the same interests. Some say the environment is a bit closed, but I would disagree. When you live outside the capital, you cannot chose among numerous concerts every day. Here, you have to create the fun yourself. And when things have gone really well with several, such as Kings of Convenience, Röyksopp, Ephemera, yes, even Kurt (World Idol), it fuels the enthusiasm,” Tellé says, who also credits Bergen-based Gjřa Studio and Duper Studio for giving the chance to many good artists.

Searching for the new sound
Norway was declared “the new France” by the music industry two years ago, after Röyksopp with an unique new electronic and melodic sound “finally placed Sweden's more low-key neighbour on the pop map,” according to The Observer. What started out as a close-knit group of friends with a burning interest for music in Norway’s second largest city, soon materialised into top spots at national hit charts and eventually rave review and tours abroad. The small city, a transparent music environment and entrepreneurs such as Rec90 and Tellé Records, are explanations for the creative explosion from the late 90’s and still going on today. Instead of copying the Brits, Sondre Lerche, Sergeant Petter, Poor Rich Ones, and Ephemera, to mention a few, started searching for their own sound, and found it, indeed. Critically acclaimed singer/songwriter Magnet, gives Duper Studio credits for producing some of the most acclaimed Norwegian releases. And the wave has not lost momentum. Julian Bertzen and Mathias Tčllez have just started cruising.

The increased interest for the “Norwegian sound” or “the Bergen wave” has brought journalists to Norway, looking for the magic. One of them was Frank Sawatzki, a German music journalist who wanted to know more about Idol Kurt’s hometown Bergen.

“Both me and my colleagues have noticed a melancholic sound coming from Bergen. It is easy to imagine that people are sitting inside, indifferently looking out of the window at the pouring rain. But that is just a cliché. It must be something else, “ Frank Sawatzki said to Norwegian daily Bergens Tidende.

“The city is not big enough and not built for a glamorous rock scene. It might be the way musicians work, I don’t know. Ten years ago, Norwegians copied England and America. Now, the Norwegian music is different. The musicians start with their own mind, believe in their own material, and stick to that”, Sawatski continues.

On his exploration, he met with St. Thomas and Mikal Tellé, listened to Ai Phoenix, Nathalie Nordnes, Julian Berntzen, and William Hut, and paid a visit to the legendary record store Apollon.

It started with Midnight Choir
Another music journalist, culture editor Bernhard Flieher from the Austrian newspaper Salburger Nachrichten (circulation 350 000), bumped into Norwegian music through the band Midnight Choir, available through Glitterhouse Records. He has followed the Norwegian music scene for the last few-six years, and visited the country more than 10 times.

“Norway has a very vivid scene, with a lot of different styles, such as the jazz musician Nils Petter Molvćr, as well as lots of interesting new electronica. Among my rock favourites are Madrugada, Salvatore, and The White Birch, in addition to Midnight Choir,” Flieher says to MIC.

But the most unique Norwegian band he has seen is Kaizers Orchestra.
“I think it is outstanding that a band sing in dialect. It sounds a bit like Norwegian folk music, but since I don’t know it, I can’t compare. We don’t have a band that mix the traditional and modern and make it into the charts. They played here in Salzburg four-five weeks ago and they were fantastic, so vivid and powerful.”

How do you find Norwegian music, living in Austria?
“For me it is not difficult since I know where to look, I know the labels since I’ve been working with music for the past 20 year. But for the general music fan, it would be quite hard. You would not find Norwegian music on the radio.”

So you blame the radio?
“I don’t know how it is in Norway, but here we have really bad format radios here in Austria, with pre-programmed playlists. All you hear is Britney Spears and Eminem, we don’t get the chance to hear different music, unless you look for it yourself. There is just one alternative, FM4, which has a great music profile,” Flieher tells us.

Focus on Norwegian talents
By:Larm was started in 1998 because a group of friends thought there were not enough focus on Norwegian talents. They had been to festivals in England, and argued that it was possible to do something similar at home. This year, by:Larm received more than 1000 demos from hopeful artists, a new record. By:Larm has become an important showcase for bands on the verge of success both in Norway and abroad. British press agent Jim Johnstone from No 9 Publicity is flying in from London to check out the venues in Bergen. After seeing Jaga Jazzist a number of times, which he calls one of the best jazz bands in the world, he has been curious about Norwegian music.

“I am curious to see Lars Horntveth, since I am familiar with Jaga. That is the only name I recognise from the program, but I will ask people to point me in the right direction,” Johnstone says.

He especially mentions Kim Hiortřy (“High was the first Norwegian album to make an impression, a very special record”), Kaptein Kaliber (“fantastic!”), and Magnet (“some friends of mine really like his new album”) as some of his favourites.

“The impressive thing about music from Norway is that it is so broad and experimental. I was unfamiliar about the rock bands until recently, but Norwegian pop and electronica at their best are at such a high level, “ Jimstone says.

Busy spring for Tellé Records
Back in Bergen, at Tellé Records’ office, Tellé has just released Kaptein Kaliber’s new record. Totally six albums will be released this year on the three labels Tellé Records (electronic pop music), Éllet Records (rock), and Tellektro (techno and harder electronic music).

What do you think when people refer to you as one of those who started the whole Bergen thing?
“It is flattering, and great that we can release these artists’ albums, it is very nice that people are having success. But I was just one of them who started early,” Tellé says.

While by:Larm is going on, he is handing out an Alarm prize, and he is going to see his bands playing. But otherwise, it is a laidback week for the boss of Tellé Records.

“Most of the time, I am going to sit on a café, and looking at all the people, talking with friends from Oslo and England.”

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