ACT. That stands for Action. Movement. Continuity. The German label has been a driving force behind jazz music in Europe for more than three decades. Swedish artists, and in particular Esbjörn Svensson and Nils Landgren, grew up with ACT and were allowed to blow off steam with everything from ABBA to the avant-garde – partly because ACT, under patron Siggi Loch, was less philistine in its thinking than its Munich-based rival ECM. The label catalogue from ACT now contains some 650 releases. Loch, the Clive Davis of European jazz, is nudging 83. A generational change is on the cards. From Munich, you look north and from there you see the future.
Andreas Brandis has been running the business since 2015 and has also been a partner since 2022. The Berliner, who has worked for Deutsche Grammophon at Universal, and other labels, will take over ACT at some point. »I knew Siggi through my work, but we never had any personal contact until he contacted me by email,« Brandis tells HHV. Loch had wanted to meet, but didn’t give a reason. »His wife Sissy was also there when we met in Grunewald at the small but legendary Italian restaurant Capriccio. After a couple of minutes of small talk, Siggi came out with it and said: ›Listen, I’m looking for someone to join the company and run it with me, and perhaps take over.‹«
»That was amazing,« Brandis says today. But he is living with his family in Berlin at the time. ACT, six hours away on the A9, is based in Munich. Brandis, who is half Loch’s age, is also expecting his second child with his wife. »I thought about it for a long time and talked to my wife, but in the end I said yes out of conviction. I was supposed to sign the contract on Whit Monday 2015. At four o’clock in the morning I texted Siggi from the delivery room – the baby’s coming!«
Remaining true to yourself and the cause
A few days later, Brandis eventually signs. He is now responsible for making decisions about the music, as well as the budget, legal obligations and managing the staff. He focuses on the latter first. After all, people were used to Siggi being at the epicentre of the label. »Suddenly people were confronted with a young Johnny-come-lately. Many people in the industry also believed that a dominant personality like Siggi Loch would not be able to let go. The challenge for me was to show them that it’s possible. At ACT, I had to prove myself and my abilities first of all.
These stem from both areas of the industry; he learnt about the indie business under Björn Mathes at Ferryhouse. Working for a major player like Universal has also given him a good feeling for advocacy. One thing that sets him very much apart from Siggi Loch, »and Siggi would agree to this, is the fact that Siggi has been a boss all his life. He has never been a team player, but I’m very much a team person. I think he was impressed by the way I succeeded in building a functional team so quickly that was eager to take new steps.«
»He would agree that he was never a team player.«
Brandis can invariably be found in the studio at ACT these days. The intention is to remain a label that produces music, because ACT has never been just a service platform for distributing music. ACT’s raison d’être, Brandis explains, is much more about the added value the label can offer artists. »This includes not only marketing and PR, but also the credible representation of the musician’s art. In other words, we’re sparring partners, talking about the music before we record it and developing stories that the listener wants to be a part of.«
Jazz is an affair of the heart
The company relies heavily on interpersonal relationships for this reason. The artists on the label are like an extended family to Siggi. »One of his closest relationships, with Michael Wollny, is now one of my closest artistic relationships,« says Brandis. »I’m sure it’s emotionally difficult for him – to let them go and see someone else forge a new relationship – but it also shows how generous Siggi is.«
Jazz at ACT can be anything from traditional to indie, Brandis explains. »A good example of this is Dearest Sister from Sweden, who could definitely be classified as indie pop. Even with a band like Kuu!, who play an anarchic version of rock, punk and jazz, you realise how different their audiences are.« Brandis wants to continue to cover that range – »from sophisticated avant-garde to what some call commercial jazz«. Because the diversity found on ACT not only relates to Siggi’s love of diversity in jazz, he says. »It is also my life.«