I first met Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson at the Nickelsdorf Konfrontationen Festival in 1999, where he was playing with the AALY Trio and I was doing a one-off trio with Jim O’Rourke and Christian Fennesz. I had already been hearing about Mats from Jim as someone else of our generation coming to free jazz from a punk-rock background. A couple of years later Mats invited me to a festival he was organizing in Ystad, Sweden. It was an amazing experience, involving people like Sonic Youth, Christian Marclay, and YoshimiO from the Boredoms. I fondly remember doing a trio with Mats and Peter Brötzmann where I went running to my amp to turn up, my usual volume no match for their acoustic saxes.
Since then Mats has led a couple of other powerful trios—The Thing and Fire!—and collaborated with many other artists, from Neneh Cherry to Merzbow. It’s been a while since we connected, and when the pandemic hit I noticed he was slated to play solo as part of Experimental Sound Studios’ superb series of livestreamed Quarantine Concerts. I’ve been fascinated by the development during this reconfigured reality of solo concerts being the only type to continue to be booked and promoted, solely online. I was excited to catch up with Mats and discuss these issues and others via Skype at his current home in rural Austria—the same town, in fact, where we first met.
Alan LichtSo have you been in Nickelsdorf since everything went haywire?
Mats GustafssonIt’s been an interesting journey, because I was on tour with Christof Kurzmann in South America when shit hit the fan. He’s in the high-risk group, because he had a couple heart surgeries, and he’s been smoking since he was like, two. When we left, this virus didn’t seem like a big deal, but traveling with Christof really changed my mind about that.
I have a feeling that we will work a bit differently in the in the future, and it will take a long time before we can start thinking about doing regular concerts again.
ALIt’s interesting—as musicians we’re used to “the show must go on.” People go onstage with fevers; I’m sure we’ve both done it. But with this everything shut down so quickly. People are getting more and more scared. It doesn’t make sense to do a show now if you can do it six months from now.
MGWhat surprised me is that in the EU every country has different rules. And Sweden had almost no limitations in the beginning.
ALYeah, there was an article in the Times about how Sweden was sort of the outlier in that way.