Mats Gustafsson: The Knowledge of Experiences

Mats Gustafsson born 1964 in Umeå, Northern Sweden. Sax player, improviser and composer. Solo artist and international tours and projects with a.o.  Sonic Youth, Merzbow, Jim O´Rourke, Barry Guy, Otomo Yoshihide, Yoshimi, Ken Vandermark and in working groups The Thing, FIRE!, Gush, Boots Brown, Swedish Azz and Fake (the facts). Large ensemble work with Barry Guy New Orchestra, FIRE! Orchestra and the NU – ensemble. Over 1800 concerts and over 200 record productions in Europe, Australia, Africa, North & South America and Asia.




Collaborations with contemporary dance, theater, art, poetry as well as projects with noise, electronica, contemporary rock and free jazz. Discaholic – running the discaholic corner website. Producer of international festivals and concert tours as well as work with own record labels Slottet, Olof Bright Editions and Blue Tower Records.


Interview by Michael Limnios

Cover photo by Lisa Nordwall

How has the Avant-garde & Jazz Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Well, playing alternative music – non-mainstream music – means something. On a deeper level. You don’t do this to entertain. You do it, because you NEED to, by necessity. Because you believe in something, and the possibility of change – that makes the journeys worth while and necessary. Playing this music is a political act in itself- especially in the times we are living right now.

How do you describe Mats Gustafsson sound and projects? What characterize your music philosophy?

Long story… ha ha! But yes, I believe in sharing. The moment, the stage, the experience — -and sharing that with others. You only learn through yours and others experiences. That is the only way for things to develop and go on a deeper level. In music. In life. To share music – improvised music – in the moment is beautiful. And when it works it can be of the highest poetic beauty and knowledge… when it does not work… it shows something else…

Which meetings have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Every meeting is important. The meetings that leads to a long-lasting relationship – that really can go deep artistically — and the new meetings that u need in order to feed the old relationships. In music. In life. Advice works only to show the doors… the true knowledge people find when they open those doors. You have to find your own knowledge – no one can really tell you what is what and why – u need to find out by yourself.

Joe McPhee told me once – “Don’t look up, while walking behind an elephant”

How started the thought of Discaholic Corner?

It is a serious attempt to spread knowledge over some forgotten music and artists. Music that people are not aware of. And since I M a discaholic myself …. It helps my sickness to work with it. To write about it. And to make all those interviews. It also gives me possibility to trade records w fellow discaholics and related humans. It is a good thing. One piece of vinyl a day keeps the doctor away… the whole thing is growing slowly… the awareness of it all.

What touched (emotionally) you from the rare vinyl albums?

It is a necessary cocktail of the content of the music, the cover, the liners, the sound, the feel, the rarity, the object itself… it all adds up, to something that can’t be described. The mystery factor. It is an endless search for new music. Music to get inspired by and to learn from. I find new perspectives every day in my archive. Information and inspiration that feeds my music. That feeds my life.


Photos by Johan Bergmark

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

A miss a lot, ha ha. But there is no point in being sentimental and look back too much. Only to learn of course. There is obviously a huge misunderstanding within the jazz world… when it comes to playing/ executing… w musicians that only copy and paste…. When you don’t understand that it is ALL about creating your own language and to find your OWN solutions. Things develop…. Even if it is hard to see a real new development within the jazz music…. It is all post- post – post this & that. I really believe it is more important to REALLY find your own voice and to interact with many different individual players and make experiences from that. Learning and sharing.

Fears for the future is of course related to the political and economical situation of the world at the moment. And the insane lack of caring about the environment…. It looks bad. Very bad. But we need to keep positive and we need to keep fighting the stupidities, the global and the local ones. Seriously – something needs to happen soon… the kind of consumption and media dominated world that we are living in right now is no good… no good for anyone, except for those in power. We need to fight it down. And we will. Music is the healing force.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

That is a hypothetic question and not interesting – since I want real change. Change that we can make ourselves. But, yes…. Awareness. Is KEY. Awareness is all. Let people be aware.

What is the impact of music and especial of Jazz and Avant-garde on the socio-cultural implications?

Is there a socio- cultural implication – do you think? ha ha! – anyway, well, it is simply needed in the world we are living. As a non – mainstream force… that makes people think and consider. That moves things forward. Art and culture has that function. Will always have. No way to change that around.

What are the lines that connect the relationship between music, visual art, poetry and theatre?

Everything and nothing. It is up to each individual to find out. What is true to me is not true to you. It is ALL connected. If you want it to.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

Again, a hypothetic question (laughs) if you get me time machine, I’ll give you a very serious answer. So, yes for now, a nice trip to really KILLER historic record shops would be nice…. Pick some really deeeeeep shit up!


Mats Gustafsson – Home



Photo by Cato Lein