ACT Turns 30, Looks Forward


Siggi Loch (left) and Andreas Brandis.

(Photo: Courtesy of Act Records)

ACT Records has become one of the most significant European jazz labels during its 30-year existence. As the German label celebrates, it also moves into a fresh phase of development.

Founder Siggi Loch, entering his 80s, recently made Managing Director Andreas Brandis an official partner in the company. The process of handing over the reins began in 2015, when Brandis joined ACT, moving from Deutsche Grammophon.

Loch himself has a background with WEA, in the 1980s, so the pair share a similar grounding in mainstream record companies.

Prior to Jazzfest Berlin in November, Loch and Brandis sat down to discuss ACT’s history, as well as its future.

“I started looking for a successor when I turned 70,” says Loch. “I had no intention to either let my life’s work end with me, nor sell it to anyone. ACT is my life, and my life is not for sale. It took a while and there really was no one suitable for a couple of years.”

At the same time, Loch realized that the industry had changed, and the only way a label could survive is by becoming a 360-degree music company offering artists everything they needed, including live music opportunities.

“Eventually, a trusty friend from the music business recommended Andreas, whom he knew and valued from working with him in several constellations. So I called him up, and we met. It turned out that Andreas had the exact same view, and I knew after just an hour of talking, for the first time, that he was my man.”

Brandis concurs. “It sounds a bit like an odd movie plot, that someone offers you his most important value in life right on the spot, and just knowing you from recommendations and references. But Siggi always had, and still has, this impressive instinct for people.”

When asked about the genesis of ACT, Loch looked back at his initial ambition. “I got the jazz bug from Sidney Bechet at the age of 15 during a concert in Hannover,” he says. “My first record was Summertime on Blue Note. After reading the story of Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, I started dreaming about my own jazz label. The first attempt was in 1967 when I chose ACT as the name for my label, but then I was offered the job as founding managing director of Liberty Records, Germany, the beginning of my career as a record executive that brought me finally to the presidency of Warner Europe. I left this position in 1988 and started the first phase of ACT with two partners, and failed.”

In 1992, Loch tried again, and this time the momentum stuck. The history of ACT, having issued well over 600 releases, is so crammed with notable albums that it’s a bewildering task to select favorites.

One artist who brought the label to many people’s attention was the Swedish pianist Esbjörn Svensson, leading the band e.s.t. in a run of remarkable albums, prior to his cruelly early demise in 2008.

There were pianists like Joachim Kühn and Michael Wollny, multi-artist concept productions Jazzspaña and Europeana, and the early fusions of French guitarist Nguyên Lê. Later signings included the Swedish players Nils Landgren (trombone) and Lars Danielsson (bass).

Landgren has just released ACT30: Three Generations, another multi-artist concept album, uniting players from the history of ACT, in a feast of collaborative action.

Considering the future of ACT, Loch is optimistic. “It was a relief to have found a person who could continue the work of ACT,” he says. “But, of course, at the same time, I cared too much, and still do, to just let everything happen.” DB

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