He has never played in a band. He doesn’t like to be on stage. But with passion and devotion Joel Borg made it to the top ten in Swedish music business. As a PR & marketing manager at the booking agency Luger he has a huge impact on which artists end up at Sweden’s stages. But above all, Joel Borg has evolved as the face of Way out West – the festival that fills Gothenburg’s green lung Slottsskogen with old rockers and hipsters every summer.
He is so popular that some people think, he is the man behind the whole success. But according to Joel Borg it is the exact opposite: The secret of success does not lie in one person alone, but in many who follow the same goal. To talk about this and other ideas, we visited Joel at his new countryside home – a quiet spot with cats, hens and a garden, where he lives with his family.
This portrait is part of our ongoing collaboration with ZEIT Online who present a special curation of our pictures on their site.
How did you end up in the music business?
My best friend Krille and I started making the magazine DZ/Denimzine when we were 14-15 years old. We sat down in his basement in the small town Nässjö, put the paper together. Then we went do the workplace of my dad, where they sold copying machines, and made colour copies. We started of with a hundred, which was pretty much. But we took the paper with us to a lot of gigs, mainly in Gothenburg and the outskirts of Nässjö. I think it cost two euros to make it, but we sold it for one. We were lucky that we had such a great support from our parents. In 2003 we turned into a real magazine that was distributed all over Scandinavia, which went really well and we sold 10-15 000 copies. Every number was a blast. When it got so big, we started to think about: who is on the cover and what had to be included in the magazine to maintain the circulation. But the reason that we started the magazine was that we wanted to put up small, unknown bands, which was a niche and that did not work out with all the upcoming questions. The original idea wasn’t to make money, it was about having fun, but suddenly it turned out to be more work than fun, so we closed the magazine at its peak.
Then you started to work for music festivals?
Well, we were still doing the magazine when I was working for Luger on a temporary base and I got involved in the touring festival ‘Where The Action Is‘. So I moved from Gothenburg to Stockholm at the end of 2006 and shortly after Way out West was born. I ended up spending a couple of years in Stockholm. But now it is nice to be back to Gothenburg – as I used to know the club scene very well and it is exiting to get a feeling for it again, six years later.
Now you and your family live on the countryside – how come?
First, we thought about staying a bit longer in Stockholm. But neither me or my wife Josefin have any relatives there. So when our son was born we wanted to live closer to the family, its nice to have a babysitter, haha. And then we saw the advertisement for the house outside Gothenburg online. We bought it without having even visited it. Sometimes you have to do stuff without thinking and just trust your good feeling. And it is great now. When we moved in, I stayed at home with our son a couple of months, so we had a great start. Then we got hens. It’s not a lot of work, you just feed them and clean their house. Although our black rooster he has become a bit of an outcast because of an older white roaster. I have to lock him away from the others, so he can drink and eat something. We turned into good friends and I do not have the heart to get rid of him at all.
Do you get a lot of eggs?
Between two and seven a day. They are much tastier then eggs you buy in the supermarket. And the hens are a great help, too, because they eat all our leftovers. They love old lettuce and apples. One day we would like to supply ourselves alone by also growing potatoes (and other root vegetables) and other vegetables and trade them with for something else from the neighbors.
Are you more ecoconscious since you became a father?
Yes, totally. I want to make it better for him and for his children and grandchildren. It feels good to know that you are not the most responsible in messing up the world for several generations. We try and buy most stuff secondhand stuff at yard sales now. Buying new stuff is the worst thing you can do. But in general people tend to consume far too much nowadays. Even though it is very simple not to buy new products, just as easy as not eating meat. But we should not forget about the bad things we do neither. There are no saints, we are all a part of a society that is not very sustainable in the long run. But if you do as much as possible to decrease you negative offprint on our planet, at least you can say: I did my best.
Are you a vegetarian?
No, me and Josefin eat fish and seafood, preferably caught locally. But apart from that we have a vegetarian diet. So has our son, until he is old enough to decide himself. You have to do what you can. But is also important not to make it seem like you have to do everything yourself. I fly to Austin to check out bands – that’s not good at all. A few people can’t do everything, it doesn’t solve any problems. But if everybody does a little bit, it will make a big difference for our planet. It’s weird with meat – it’s really a holy cow. When we decided to only serve vegetarian food at the festival area, there were a lot of complaints. Before we took that decision, I read a lot to have as much knowledge as possible for the questions of the people. And when I found out how our meat consumption affects the environment and learned about how badly the animals are treated, it was a lot easier for me to avoid meat. But it’s a though question, usually you don’t read so much about this – which is a bit of a shame. At the same time it’s a challenge – how can we mediate it without being boring? We just want to share, give a little push in the right direction, but not tell people what they should do – that’s the last thing you want to do at a festival. The individual choice is important. But we didn’t force people, if someone wanted to eat a hotdog, there was a stand only 200 meters away outside the festival area. For us it was more about focusing on the problems of the meat industry, the negative effects on the climate and the emissions of greenhouse gas.
You somehow turned into Mister Way out West – how do you feel about that?
That image couldn’t be more wrong as we are a big organization. Right now we are a group of six to seven people, who work for the festivals almost all year around. During the festival itself the staff consists of more than thousand people. Obviously as I am the marketing manager and did most of the press the first years I am the most visible one -so it’s quite natural in a way. But I tried to tone that part down, tried to show that we are many and that particularly the audience is a huge part of it. But that image is set deeply. Mainly because media loves to have a face. In daily life I don’t have a problem with it since I absolutely share the values that we communicate through Way out West. But it’s good to mention that we are many who create this together as often as possible. That actually applies for everything. It is so much better if you do things together. If you are many you can do really great stuff, I really believe in that. It’s also important to stretch the fact that every person is important and every voice has the same weight.
Is life a bit calmer when it’s not festival time?
No, it’s work all year around. Luger organizes over 1000 gigs a year, in one way or the other. Then we have three festivals – besides Way Out West – we also have Stockholm Music & Arts and Popaganda. It’s a lot of work with the festivals. The first two years of Way out West we concentrated a lot on getting everything ready and on the last day when everything was over, all you felt was pure emptiness. You bust your ass off for a year and suddenly you find yourself in a big vacuum. Now it’s different, we have so much experience, so that the workload never gets that crazy. For better and worse. We have found our roles. Now it’s just work and many expect that we’ll do it as good as possible. At the same time, you can never relax, as we always have to move forward. When the day comes, when you feel there’s nothing left to improve, then the only thing you can do it to close it down or hand it over to someone else.
But you don’t feel like you have reached that stage yet, do you?
No, we have loads of things ahead of us and it only gets better. Every year we get new ideas for things we want to realize and how to improve the festival.
Is it a dream job?
Of course, it is a dream job. I get to do things that I think are fun, but one can never forget that it is work. Its not always milk and honey – it can be dangerous to work with the one thing you like, because it can ruin your love to it.
In which situations does the work feel less positive?
Almost never. It is what it is. Despite all our work, it is good to know that we create something to give people an experience. That is a very positive base. But there are definitely times, which you have to sit through. For example to make Way Out West meat free was something we decided together. But since I was seen in the media and couldn’t keep myself from writing about it on Twitter, I often had to take the fight with angry, white men, aha. But it also works the other way around: I get a lot of credit and compliments, which aren’t really meant for me, more for us as a group. That feels a bit awkward. But I think that we all pause for a moment to reflect about how well off we are in general and how grateful we should be. So I’m very grateful and maybe that’s why I have the energy to take all those fights and the urge to make things better.
You never get tired of music?
There is a lot of music at my home as well. But music for me is still connected with a lot of joy. Josefin also loves music and my son loves to dance. It not the same as at work. I see music in different ways, might even listen to it in different ways. At my office music is work. If we’ve booked a small electro band from Brighton, then I have to listen to it just to know what I talk about. I am fortunate enough that many times my music taste matches the stuff that we work with. Earlier I went to a lot of gigs, but now I rather go home by night and hang out with my family, of course. Family and friends always go first. Nowadays if I go to a gig, I mostly stand in the back, listening to the music like an old man. But luckily it’s me that has gotten boring and not the music.
Where do you find new inspiration?
When we closed down our magazine in 2009, Krille and me started a ’club’, called ‘What We Do Is Secret‘ – now active in Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg. It’s a smaller forum focusing on not so well-known artists, which we think are fun. For me the club has become a bit of my momentum, a way to keep my love for music alive. We only have bands that I am personally dedicated to. There’s always going to be new artists and bands, and that gets me stoked. The club is our thing, our project outside work, which is fantastic. Part of the club nights is also just to meet likeminded, to hang out and have fun.
Did you ever imagine that you would be working with music when you made the first magazine?
No, I don’t know what I had in mind. I think I never thought so far ahead. I always tried to live in the present and to prioritize doing stuff that I think is fun. When I was little I guess I wanted to be a fireman and football pro – just like everyone else. I never played in a band either. Of course I played guitar as everyone else, but I could never imagine myself on a stage. On the other hand, I could definitely see me having a place to rehearse at, where you can hang out, have a beer and make up songs, but only for the social part. I really hate being on a stage. So I guess, that’s why we started the magazine – it was our small contribution to push others who not so well known yet in music. We have always been like that, wanting to do our own thing. I think people get very limited by what already exits, by wanting to fit in. But it’s really easy to start something. You only need a direction, a will and you can basically do anything. You get to experience some downfalls, but that makes you evolve, so you can do things better. If everything always goes according to your plans, I think it would be rather boring. That’s what shaped me. The setbacks give you real progress, that you fought for your goals. I absolutely have no proof for that, but that’s what I believe.
Photographer: John Wennerberg
Interview&: Text: Cecilia Karlsson