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Upwards and onwards

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October 11, 2019

Like so many veterans of the live music industry, Tobbe Lorentz, an agent with UTA and marking 30 years in the business, started out on his own, help-ing out at shows and learning the ropes. But his talent for spotting talent and knowing how to help it grow soon shone through, as Johnny Black reports

Only three decades ago, the music business seemed entrenched in just two dominant markets for emerging artistes – the US and the UK.

However, Swedish agent Tobbe Lorentz, currently celebrating his 30th year in music, is front and centre among a growing band of movers and shakers who have established that today’s industry is not just global but, curiously, also importantly local.

Born on 17 April 1966, Lorentz came of age during the mid-‘70s punk boom.

“My first musical loves were Johnny Cash and Hank Williams but, looking back, it’s as if I was just sitting around waiting for the Ramones to happen,” he recalls. Then, inspired by the Ramones and The Clash, he threw himself into punk, attending gigs and forming his own bands.

He had grown up in Malmö, a town on the southernmost tip of Sweden, a virtual backwater even in terms of the Scandinavian rock scene.

“If bands came at all,” Lorentz explains, “they came to Stockholm, 600km away, or Gothenburg, almost 300km. There were never a lot of shows here in Malmö, and I could never really figure out why.”

Before he was much older, however, he set about changing all of that, starting with small steps that would eventually lead him to becoming the agent for Swedish bands including The Hives, Mando Diao and Opeth, and international artistes as diverse as Gogol Bordello, Gaslight Anthem and  Against Me!

His first step involved attending a Malmö concert promoted by local not-for-profit radio station 33-45, where he introduced himself to the organisers.

“I was only about 16, but I told them I wanted to put shows on too, and they said, ‘OK, cool, carry these boxes, load that truck…’.”

Malmö, he remembers, was “not a happening city. We had to build our own scene because there was nothing else going on.”

He didn’t know it at the time, but his capacity for hard work was not his only strong suit – geography was also on his side. The Danish capital Copenhagen is just 44km away, and was firmly on the international touring  circuit. There was the difficulty of the Öresund, a narrow channel which acts as the Swedish-Danish border but, even so 44km was much less daunting than 600km, and there were ferry crossings.

At first the volunteers of 33-45 had to content themselves with a couple of gigs a month, but for Lorentz it provided a vital learning curve. “I met tour managers who explained things, simple stuff like, ‘this is called a rider’, but it was the start of my education”.

Gradually they were able to increase the number of shows and, in 1984 with the help of a council grant, they secured the use of a small venue, Stadt Hamburg (cap. 475).

“We found we could attract bands that couldn’t afford to go up to Oslo [Norway] or Stockholm, but we could sneak them over to Malmö.”

Acts such as Sonic Youth, Black Flag, Laibach and Skinny Puppy started to make the trip to Malmö. “We did anything alternative that could make some noise – Discharge, GBH and we did Einsturzende Neubauten’s first show outside of Germany.”

Getting paid for it

Along the way, Lorentz was learning how to negotiate with agents. “It got to a point where Swedish bands were asking me to help them get shows,” he remembers. “So around 1989 I started my own booking agency, Ikaros. Then I realised the most amazing fact  that it meant I was getting paid to watch bands and hang out.”

He was also still performing in bands, as Edward Janson, co-owner of Gothenburg’s Triffid Concerts, remembers vividly.

“In the spring of 1991, I was a promoter at Klub Valvet [180] in Gothenburg. Through Tobbe I had booked American band The Accused, supported by Tobbe’s own band Lisa Gives Head, in which he was the vocalist. Ever since then, we’ve had a close relationship and I’ve booked a huge amount of Tobbe’s acts in Gothenburg, mainly metal, punk and hardcore, including Coroner, Bolt Thrower and MDC.”

Another who has known Lorentz since those days is Petri H Lunden, now owner of artiste management company Hagenburg. Having managed three of the five biggest acts to come out of Sweden – Ace of Base, Europe and The Cardigans – Lunden is wellplaced to assess Lorentz.

“From his days of talent-buying for a small indie club to where he is today is an impressive achievement,” says Lunden, “and his career hasn’t side-stepped once. Upwards and onwards seems to be his motto.”

Ikaros kept Lorentz busy until 1993 when Lunden, then at Hultsfred Festival (25,000),  took a more direct interest in his development.

“I was being headhunted by Telegram/Mistlur Records,” explains Lunden, “and we recruited Tobbe to take over my role in promoting, agenting and talent buying for Hultsfred.”

Engine running

The relationship between Lorentz and Lunden continued into the latter’s next venture, Gothenburg-based booking agency Motor. “They recruited me in January 1993,” states Lorentz, “at which point I folded Ikaros.”

That Lorentz was becoming a much more self-confident, dynamic operator is illustrated by his interaction with a Swedish hardcore punk band, 59 Times The Pain. Their guitarist was a young fellow called Magnus Larnhed.

“We already had an agent,” explains Larnhed, “but Tobbe stepped into our dressing room after a show and told us ‘this way of working will get you no-where, you need to start working with me’. That started a relationship that lasted from 1995 until the band called it quits in 2000.”

Larnhed is now owner of Citybird lml, which manages two of Lorentz’s bands, Millencolin and Graveyard.

Edward Janson recalls that during this period, Lorentz was spending half the week at Motor in Gothenburg, and the rest back home in Malmö. “For about six months he rented a room in my apartment,” laughs Janson. “Well, to call it a room is a bit of an exaggeration. I moved a bookshelf in the living room so he could sleep behind it. I’m not sure how happy Tobbe was about this, but in some weird way it worked.”

Lasting connections

Now the owner of Laurel Canyon Music in Sweden, Janne Kleman had just started booking Hultsfred Festival in 1995.

“We booked a lot of his bands through him, and built a working relationship which subsequently turned into a friendship. I went to his wedding, for example, and we’re still working together. The most recent thing I did with him was in July, a secret show with In Flames at the Nalen Klubb [300] in Stockholm. They played it under their secret identity, Jesterhead And The Swedish Soda Group. “

It was while he was still at Motor that Lorentz encountered two bands that would dramatically change his trajectory and, ultimately, bring him a much greater global profile.

First, in 1995 he saw Millencolin, an act from Örebro, who were signed to the Burning Heart label. “They were great songwriters, young and fresh, obviously very much part of the whole Green Day, NOFX, Offspring scene,” he says, “so I started doing their tours.”

Just a year later he took on another Burning Heart band, The Hives. “We had never seen or heard anything like them at that point. But it took a few years before everybody else realised that. It wasn’t an overnight success. They spent years out on the road fighting for their place.”

By now, Lorentz was attracting attention not just in Scandinavia, but also in the UK. “I was then running The Agency Group,  being very expansive about what the company wanted to do,” recalls Neil Warnock, now head of music worldwide for the multinational UTA.

“We had expanded into America and Holland, but I wanted to do more in Europe, and Tobbe was outstanding. He felt like really one of our sort of people,” says Warnock. “The more I talked with him, the more I knew we could work together. It wasn’t easy though, we chased him for about three years before he agreed to come aboard.”

Joining the Group

As ever, Lorentz was prepared to go his own way until he saw a good reason to change.

“Hives had become a very big act very quickly and I managed to hang onto them, which I think made me a desirable commodity,” he reflects. “I had a few offers on the table, but The Agency Group had been there early on, and they had an office in Copenhagen, so I didn’t have to move anywhere. It seemed very convenient.”

The Öresund Bridge, connecting Sweden to Denmark, had opened in July 2000, making a commute from Malmö to Copenhagen possible, so that’s what Lorentz did until 2004.

Steve Homer, now the co-CEO of AEG Presents in the UK, remembers Lorentz enthusiastically wading in on behalf of The Hives in 2001.

“They were signed to Alan McGee’s label Poptones, and we met up to discuss them potentially doing a UK tour from December into the beginning of the following year. We agreed to do it, and it went well, and it just sort of took off from there for The Hives.

“They were one of the hottest properties out there. Everyone wanted a piece of them. That led to me working with Tobbe on Gogol Bordello, Danko Jones, Turbonegro, Gaslight Anthem and more.”

Lorentz also began a productive relationship with Andy Copping, now executive president of UK touring at Live Nation Entertainment, when they met at the first Download Festival (85,000) in 2003.

“Tobbe is always looking for a fair and simple solution to any issues that come up, which is quite frequent in our world,” says Copping. “He always sees things from every side – the band, the label, the manager, the agent and the promoter. On top of that, we laugh a lot and regularly at the absurdity of the business.”

That year was also when Lorentz first worked with Stephan Thanscheidt of German promoter FKP Scorpio. “We met at Eurosonic in Groningen [ the Netherlands],” remembers Thanscheidt. “The first thing I booked from him directly was Danko Jones, but Tobbe and I come from the same background with our punk rock spirit, so we became mates quite early.

“I remember so many great concerts and nights, and great talks – mainly about football, but also about music – during all those years. We’re currently planning several tours for different markets in Europe, plus a lot of festival slots for next summer.”

Russian escapade

Another of Lorentz’s most lasting and rewarding relationships has been with the gipsy rock band Gogol Bordello, and he relishes the opportunity to recount one of the strangest adventures which he organised for them.

“The band was doing a UK tour in December 2007,” he reveals. “Just before they played Hammersmith Apollo [in London] on 8 December, they got a call from Moscow,” he relates.

Tour manager Paul Clegg takes up the tale. “The organisers of the Russian Federation Jewish Man Of The Year award asked if we’d like to play inside the Kremlin Palace, and they were offering a huge fee. The only catch was that the show was the next day.

“Tobbe somehow organised a charter plane out of Luton for us, so we flew off, only to be grounded by bad weather in Gdansk [north Poland]. After much frantic negotiation we clambered aboard a Mongolian Airlines flight which got us to Moscow just in time to play three songs and then catch a flight back to London, in time to be on stage at Brighton Dome on 10 December.”

Live Nation Norway head promoter Martin Nielsen has worked with Lorentz for well over a decade, and fondly recollects how, “he and I built Bullet For My Valentine from the bottom up. We’ve also worked on In Flames for a long time, so that’s close to my heart.

“Also, when we started the Metaltown [25,000] festival in Gothenburg our partner was based in Malmö, and of course Tobbe was there too, so it was natural that he would have a lot of acts on that festival.”

Lorentz, in his latest incarnation as a music agent at UTA (which acquired The Agency Group in 2015), continues to seek innovative ways to present his artistes.

Carlos Barth of Summit Management in Sweden is the manager of Mando Diao, and relates, “Just this summer, we did a really wonderful event with three of his acts, Mando, The Hives and The Sounds, at Dalhalla in Rattvik – an amphitheatre in an old quarry.

“It’s a beautiful setting in the middle of nowhere, with a lake behind the stage. The first show sold-out in two days, so we added the second one and set a new attendance record there, 6,000 people each night.”

Asked if there are still achievements he’s aiming for, Lorentz keeps his cards typically close to his chest. “More of the same, really. I just want to be sure that I can take care of my acts, do a good job, make sure they have a long and prosperous careers.”

Intriguingly, though, given that Lorentz’s first loves were Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, there was a hint of something few would have predicted in a recent conversation he had with AEG Presents’ Steve Homer.

“I had a long chat with Tobbe a few months back during which he told me he now wants to broaden his roster beyond rock,” reveals Homer. “And he mentioned country music in particular, which he definitely has a passion for. He says he likes the way that the people who work with country acts are team players, all focused on the same goals.

What others say

“He likes working as part of a team, so it’ll be interesting to see how that develops.”

Chris O’Brien, general manager of touring, Destroy All Lines, Australia

”I first met Tobbe when he was in Australia with Millencolin at the Channel V studios in 2000. Then, apart from the fact that he introduced to me one of the best Indian restaurants in London, I’m delighted to say that he is always looking for creative ways for his artists to tour Australia.”

Neil Warnock, head of music worldwide, United Talent Agency, UK
“I consider his most important characteristic to be his honesty. He has his feet on the ground and says it as it is. This is why people stay with him. Although he is based in Malmo, he’s as great as anybody in the UK in terms of being a proper, established international agent.”

Per Alexanderson, head of entertainment operations, Liseberg Amusement Park, Sweden

“Tobbe is really straight when it comes to business and I adore that side of him. He has a fixed price – we start with that and we end up with that more or less. We know each other so well after all these years. He’s one of those agents who is really working for his acts, all the way.”

Martin Nielsen, head promoter, Live Nation Sweden 

“The depth of Tobbe’s involvement is one of his strengths. It doesn’t matter whether the act is big or small, he gets very involved. He was instrumental in coming up with ideas on how we could approach Metaltown. He also takes an interest in acts that goes beyond just his personal roster.”

Bertus de Blaauw, head of booking, Mojo Concerts, Netherlands

“Tobbe is really committed to his acts, and understands them. Also, he’s an agent who listens. Sometimes he and I differ on what can happen with an act in Holland, because I live here, so I understand this market. But we can always work together because he understands my perspective.”

Dave McGeachan, DF Concerts, Scotland, UK

“I must have met Tobbe for the first time in about 2001. He told me about his brand new amazing act The Sounds. I went along with him to see them in Austin [Texas] and was completely blown away. We booked them soon after for King Tuts [300] in Glasgow, and it was one of the most exciting shows I’ve witnessed there.”

Carlos Barth, Summit Managementm Sweden

“Tobbe really hasn’t changed much over the years I’ve known him. He’s still edgy, you couldn’t ever put him in a suit. He’s really outside of the music business power elite, but I have never heard Tobbe speak one word against anybody else in the business. He has complete professional integrity.”

Stefan Matthey, Good News, Switzerland

“He’s a lovely gentleman, a nice friendly guy. He treats promoters with the same respect he shows to his bands. I have really appreciated working with him for so many years, doing shows with all of his acts including The Hives, Millencolin and Mando Daio. He’s a guy you can call up on any day if you have a question or a problem, and he will listen and try to find a solution that works for everybody.”

Thomas Zsifkovits, Barracuda Music, Austria

“Tobbe is my longest lasting international business relationship. We started working in 1999 when I first booked a Millencolin show. I have promoted all of his acts in Austria for 18 years. He and his wife Yannike came to my wedding 11 years ago. Today, he is still the same reckless b*****d as always.”

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