The man behind Sweden’s biggest music festival

Festival season is just around the corner – are you ready? We spoke with Sweden's "king of live music" about the importance of live events, gender equality, and why festivals are going vegetarian.

The man behind Sweden's biggest music festival
Ola Broquist. Photo: The Local

Ola Broquist looks simultaneously out of place and at-home in the offices of Luger in central Stockholm.

“Do you want coffee? Ice cream?” he asks as he walks up the red-velvet stairs.

Eccentric black light fixtures and full-length windows adorn the large meeting room, and Ola slumps down comfortably onto a vibrant red armchair in his blue jeans and t-shirt.

With his long blond hair and beard and his merry blue eyes, Ola could easily be mistaken for a “typical” punk-rock Viking Swede.

But as one of the founders of booking agency Luger, he’s also arguably one of the most influential players in the Swedish music scene.

”It all started with punk rock,” he grins. Back in 1991 Ola and co-founder Morgan Johansson lived in Sandviken, and co-founder Patrick Fredriksson lived in nearby Gävle. And they liked putting on concerts.

“Basically we wanted good music and artists there, and we didn’t have concerts. So we put on our own.”

All was well until they outgrew their tiny venues and wanted to expand the operation.

“We kind of clashed with the city. They weren’t putting any effort into this area. So we decided to start booking artists to other cities instead, as revenge,” Ola chuckles.

The trio started booking artists for concerts in bigger cities, and organizing tours throughout Sweden. And from there it just grew and grew.

Today Luger represents more than 120 Swedish artists, promotes foreign artists in Sweden, and is also the organizer behind some of Sweden’s biggest music festivals, such as Way Out West (Sweden's largest music festival), Popaganda, and Stockholm Music & Arts.

The Luger formula

But the concept, Ola says, is still quite simple.

”We only work with artists we like,” he explains. “Artists who have awesome music, or maybe who are simply awesome people. It’s quite a luxury, being able to work that way.”

The company represents Elliphant, Icona Pop, First Aid Kit, and Mapei just to name a few. But it has also been responsible for bringing big names such as Alicia Keys, Florence + the Machine, Tori Amos, and Prince to Swedish festival stages.

But the guys at Luger don’t just focus on what they like. Their dream is that the festival scene has something for everyone.

”20 years ago, ’festival’ was synonymous with youth, alcohol, and dirty camping in the countryside,” Ola remarks. “That kind of festival still exists of course – but it doesn’t have to be that way. Now there are many possibilities.”

Luger has been part of the transformation in Sweden, for example with their festival Stockholm Music & Arts, which takes place on the island of Skeppsholmen in late summer each year.

The festival hosts artists from a variety of genres, famous and obscure. It’s not just about music but also works with Moderna Museet to get art involved. And there’s no camping – visitors attend the festival and then leave.

When asked if the goal of the festival was to keep things, well, cleaner, Ola laughs.

“Not clean, no. But…accessible. We think that music should be accessible for everyone. It shouldn’t be a problem or a pain in the ass to go to a festival if you’re 52 and like Björk. Same if you’re 19 and like ‘older’ music. It should be easy and fun to attend. The audience should be diverse.”

Swedish values

It’s just one of several areas where Luger is making a difference – and while Ola says he doesn’t like to toot his own horn, he admits that the company has a large platform, one that can be used to promote positive changes.

”We made Way Out West a vegetarian festival, for example, and that got lots of attention,” he explains. “What we do one weekend in August doesn’t actually play such a big role, but it sparked discussion and debate all year long. We shouldn’t underestimate our ability to be a positive influence.”

Starting this year the Popaganda festival will be vegetarian as well, and Ola says that Music & Arts is something like “60 percent vegetarian”.

“I’m not saying all festivals have to be vegetarian,” he adds. “But if we can inspire those who always eat meat to eat vegetarian just once a week for the rest of the year – well, that’s worth something.” 

And then there’s that little issue of gender equality – not so little in Sweden.

”We work as hard as we can to always have an equal line-up,” Ola states. “It’s a big deal here – and I dare say Sweden is best in the world when it comes to gender-equal festivals.”

While there is still work to be done, Ola says it’s easier for female artists to break onto the music scene in Sweden than in many other countries.

“There are fewer road blocks,” he says. “We have a lot of strong, talented female artists.”

When booking international artists for festivals, though, he says different perspectives on gender equality can lead to culture clash.

“When you tell an English or American agent, ‘Hey, this matters,’ they’re just like, ‘What?’ Many of them have never even considered the issue. They try to push yet another male artist and we say no, but sometimes people think we’re crazy,” he laughs. “But it’s only a matter of time, I think, until it’s on everyone’s agenda.”

The future of festivals

So what’s next for the live music scene, in a country that has given the world both Pirate Bay and Spotify? Will the festival craze last?

“I’m not worried,” Ola says simply. ”There are more festival-goers every year, more tickets sold every year.”

And in an era when almost all music is streamed, concerts are more important than ever, he adds.

”The whole concert experience is very hard to replace,” he says. “You can take away the CD – that doesn’t matter. But concerts – that moment of contact between the artist and the music – that’s essential. And it’s become more important for artists economically as well.”

And if against all odds people should prefer streaming concerts to actually attending…well, he’s not worried about that either.

“In that case I’ll look for a new job,” he grins. “But I don’t think so.”

This article was produced by The Local and sponsored by Musiksverige.

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What are the best concerts in Sweden this autumn?

Now that Sweden has lifted its audience restrictions for public events, The Local's Paul O'Mahony lists his recommendations for the best gigs to attend over the coming months.

Crowd at a music concert in Debaser, Stockholm
Crowds return to Stockholm venue Debaser after pandemic restrictions on events were lifted. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

Sweden’s musicians, concert promoters and venue operators have struggled to varying degrees through the pandemic. One surefire way to help get them back on their feet is to give organisers and artists the financial reassurance they need by pre-booking concerts. 

Of course these recommendations only apply if you feel safe attending large events; remember that you should stay home and take a Covid-19 test if you experience any symptoms that could be linked to the virus, even if vaccinated. And make sure to check with organisers if there are any specific coronavirus requirements you need to be aware of. 

Coming up: top gigs in Sweden over the next few months 

As a regular gig-goer, live music is the one thing I’ve missed most over the past year and a half. So it is with some excitement (and, I’ll admit, a degree of trepidation) that I prepare to go see Norwegian band Pom Poko this Friday at Hus 7 in Stockholm. Their melodic art-punk album Cheater sparked the year into life on its release in January. They’re also playing Plan B in Malmö on Saturday night

Plan B is also the venue when Squid hit Sweden with a thrilling dose of post-punk on October 15th. Tickets remain available for the show at the time of writing (an absolute steal at 120 kronor), though that’s sadly not the case in Stockholm where their October 16th gig at Melodybox sold out a long time ago. (Although you can sign up to be added to a waiting list). 

Another artist well worth checking out in October is Gothenburg guitarist and singer Amanda Werne, better known as Slowgold. Her live shows are great and she is embarking on a Swedish tour on October 8th. 

Emma-Jean Thackray, one of the UK’s most interesting jazz artists, will be at Fasching in Stockholm on October 15th

For the best kind of sonic assault, Anna von Hasswolff’s band Bada are scheduled to play in Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg in late October. 

Have any of you ever seen Gothenburg electronic veterans Little Dragon live? I haven’t but might check them out in November when they swing by Malmö, Stockholm and Gothenburg

Amason are also heading out on the road for a Scandinavian tour in November. If you haven’t heard Amanda Bergman’s voice in a live setting before this will be a treat. 

The inimitable Sibille Attar released her superb second album A History of Silence at the start of the year and she’s finally getting the chance to play her eighties-inspired gems live at Slaktkyrkan in Stockholm on November 18th

Cassandra Jenkins long lurked in the background as a musician in touring bands for people like Eleanor Friedberger and Purple Mountains. But this year’s album An Overview on Phenomenal Nature has really established her as an artist to be reckoned with in her own right. She’s coming to Södra Teatern in Stockholm on November 26th

Always popular in this part of the world, The Jesus and Mary Chain return to Sweden for dates in Stockholm and Gothenburg at the end of November

Wry Finland-Swedish indie outfit Vasas Flora och Fauna have some of the funniest (Swedish) lyrics and catchiest tunes around. They’ll be in Stockholm and Gothenburg the first weekend of December

UK experimental rockers Black Midi are also playing Stockholm and Gothenburg on December 4th and 5th. So prepare to travel if you want to catch both them and Vasas Flora and Fauna. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Bob Hund’s annual ‘week 48’ show also takes place on December 4th. But that has been sold out for ages so no decisions to make there. It is also worth noting though that Sweden’s hardest working band has also written a musical that’s going to be performed in Helsingborg (October-November) and Gothenburg (November)

Bonus: For a post-Christmas pick-me-up try to get down to Little Simz at Slaktkyrkan on January 14th if you’re in Stockholm. The UK rapper’s new album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is one of this year’s best releases. 

Selected artists playing Sweden in 2022: Henry Rollins, Sarah Klang, Yann Tiersen, Mogwai, Pearl Charles, Wolf Alice, Lloyd Cole, Lord Huron, Future Islands, Josh Rouse + Vetiver, Tricky, Snail Mail, Porridge Radio, Aldous Harding, Shame, The Kooks, The War on Drugs, Echo and the Bunnymen, Kings of Convenience, Fontaines D.C., Alex Cameron, Lucy Dacus, The Divine Comedy, Mdou Moctar, Iggy Pop, Chubby and the Gang, Sparks, Belle & Sebastian, The National, Sharon Van Etten, Teenage Fanclub, Tindersticks, Suede, Viagra Boys, Pavement. 

For bigger arena shows, Ticketmaster covers a lot of the bases. Big-name acts with gigs in the offing include Ed Sheeran, Zara Larsson, Whitesnake and, lest we forget, ABBA

And that’s just a fraction of what’s going on. Tour schedules are busier than ever now that artists are finally getting back on the road. To keep track of what gigs are coming up I can recommend checking in with Luger, FKP Scorpio, and Live Nation. Follow your favourite venues too: sometimes they cut out the middleman and do their own booking and promotion. I also use the Bandsintown app, which comes with the added bonus of receiving messages from your favourite artists which let you pretend to be their friend. 

Enjoy the gigs, and stay safe! 

Paul O’Mahony is editorial product manager at The Local. In his spare time he plays the best new indie and alternative music as host of the Signals show on Nerve Music.