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Faith & Industry

John Rogers

As it hits its twentieth birthday, Crunchy Frog is going from strength to strength

 
Pumpehuset, a Copenhagen live music venue spread over several levels, is jumping this afternoon. A stage, DJ desk and bar have sprung out of the yard, under a fortuitously blue early-autumn sky. The area is overrun with excited kids, queueing up to get autographs from a pair of children’s entertainers, one of whom sports a metre-long prosthetic beard. Their parents mingle amongst a gathering throng of dolled-up gig goers, all munching on tacos. Independent Danish master-brewer Mikkeller has a set up stall and is letting people taste some of it’s hundreds of recipes, including a specially made Crunchy Frog ale. Because today, one of Denmark’s veteran indie labels celebrates its twentieth year in existence, and people are in a celebratory mood.

There are many familiar faces amongst the crowd for those who follow the label. The Railthin Brothers, twin mainstays of the unhinged psychobilly band Powersolo, are doing the rounds, smartly attired in suits and fedoras. Junior signings Shiny Darkly arrive, shaking hands with their label-mates and making introductions to their new keyboard player. Thor Rasmussen from Snake & Jet’s Amazing Bullet Band is DJing, and there’s a generally good spirit amongst the crowd.One of the bands playing is Beta Satan, a pulverising and short-lived electronic punk outfit whose guitarist Johannes Gammelby went on to front current Crunchy act The Malpractice. His second band proved to have more staying power, and their 2014 sophomore album MASS has been widely acclaimed in Denmark.

Johannes Gammelby on stage with band members

Johannes Gammelby on stage with Beta Satan (Photo: Jessica Vulpius)

“It wouldn’t have happened without Crunchy Frog,” he states. “They pull us together and will us on. Now and then you remember that you’re on this awesome label and allowed to do pretty much anything you want, and you get inspired to do stuff because you have the ability to do that with Crunchy. The freedom is second to none.”

It’s sentiment echoed by many people involved with the label, such as photographer Søren Solkær. “The artists have total artistic freedom,” he says. “A lot of the bands have strong ideas on how they want to present themselves. They have a strong sense of the visuals they want to represent the music. The Junior Senior picture of them eating a big burger and a small burger, which turned out as Universal’s most-requested picture for ten years, came from an idea the band had, and I just executed it with them – everyone on Crunchy Frog seems to come from a very creative place.”

Friends & Family
It’s a testamant to the label that so many have turned out to celebrate their anniversary. Some label friends have flown in especially, including Jon Spencer’s right-hand-man and collaborator Matt Verta-Ray. “I think the main reason Crunchy has such a good vibe is that it’s started by artists,” he drawls. “Everyone on the staff is creatively minded. It’s a label basically of grown up kids – kids who have a vintage Mercedes and pay the rent on time and whatnot, yeah – but who also think making records is a fun thing to do. Every new poster, every new record that comes back from the pressing plant is an exciting thing. And that makes it exciting to be on the label.”

“It’s such a personal label,” says Thor Rasmussen, sipping a beer when his DJ set is over. “There’s the safe feeling of a good family – a nice sensation of happy times, sharing meals and sharing stories, sitting down at long tables with other bands and having chat. They become friends, and of course, they influence you.” He laughs, before continuing: “But sometimes, like in any family, you throw a teenage rebellion, and then Yebo is like the dad, with the artists being the teenagers.”

Yebo is the nickname of Jesper Reginal, the drummer turned label-boss who lies at the heart of the organisation. Throughout the evening, his tall frame is ever visible – whether announcing bands on every stage, playing drums, or playing host; stage-managing, socialising, or generally rushing around in a busy, happy whirl, shaking hands and giving bear-like hugs to the assembled friends and family.

“I was a drummer in a band where I was also the primary songwriter, called Thau,” he remembers. “We’d made an album and sent it to a couple of labels. One of them was the Danish label Cloudland, who said they’d give us a distribution deal if we promised to make a proper label, and actually do the work. So we did – they really took us under their wing, and gave us mailing lists and stuff.”

The evening was well attended, with both old and new friends

The evening was well attended, with both old and new friends (photo: Jessica Vulpius)

A Successful Music Courier
This was the birth of the label as a DIY entity. “We were doing everything ourselves, and had no money,” says Yebo. “We used to ride bikes to take the review copies to all the journalists in Copenhagen, even Greater Copenhagen. We didn’t have an office, it was run out of my bedroom.”

“Thankfully we got critical acclaim,” he continues, “and sold the first 500 CDs, and then made another 500 and sold those. We tried to be professional, write press releases, do all the legwork. We did another EP, and then we quite naturally started releasing more music by like-minded noise-rock bands.”

By 1998 the label started signing bands like Superheroes, who had a more accessible sound, resulting in success on a wider scale. The second Superheroes album was a turning point for the nascent label, remembers Yebo. “It was the first time we had black numbers in the bank account. Before that, the numbers were always red. My partners had day jobs, but because I was a songwriter and a musician I had the time to work for free on it, for six or seven years. Then when Superheroes became popular, we actually started to get a little bit of a salary.”

Everything changed in 2002, with a trio of releases that would change everything for Crunchy Frog. “Within four months of each other, we released the third Superheroes album, and we released albums by Junior Senior and The Raveonettes,” says Yebo. “For the first time, I was able to think, ‘we’ll probably be here in two years time.’ We became more of an established label then.”

Crunchy Frog was suddenly running to keep with its own success. “A lot of requests were coming in, a lot of money from license deals all over the world,” remembers Yebo. “We had to hire someone to help with the administration, the business side, and just to cope with it all – I was drumming for Junior Senior and flying around the world. One of my partners took leave from his work in television and came in to be the day-to-day manager of the label.”

Trail & Error, Trial & Success
The label has come a long way since the days of shoestring budgets and hand-delivered promos, and it now operates on an international scale, with a permanent staff of six people and a strong presence at industry events in Europe and America. The in-house publishing company has become an important element of the business, with Crunchy Tunes getting ever more active in working on sync deals and publishing for the bands.

“We found out by trial and error – and trial and success – that there’s money to be made in publishing via independent sub-publishers around the world. It’s not cost intensive, and just relies on finding the right publishers who like and understand our music. In far flung places like Australia we’ve made good money in sync, via adverts for anything from cars to lollypops – with bands that could be considered ‘niche’, like Powersolo. Anything can happen.”

International networking via gigs, tours and showcase festivals have proven to be very important in building the label’s network.  “In the mid 90s we went to tour in the east side of the USA,” remembers Yebo. “It cost a lot of money, and we didn’t really know what we were doing – we just booked some gigs and did some radio promo and hoped for the best. But getting people in front of good live bands can always have an effect and make things happen. Every overseas showcase or gig we do is also an opportunity to buzz our contacts, start conversations and invite people along. Sometimes they’ll come and sometimes not, but one year down the line, some business opportunity will pop up as a result.”

Keep On Keepin’ On
“All these efforts come to some fruition somehow,” he says. “You keep doing it, you keep pushing… after twenty years, if you ask someone in the industry if they have heard of Crunchy Frog, many will know us, and even more will say “yeah, I think I heard about them.”

This hardworking, optimistic philosophy radiates outwards to everyone around the label. The atmosphere of the party is one of a family celebration, full of smiles and warmth. And they show no signs of slowing down – the label is still searching out new music and signing new bands, at a rate of roughly one each year.

“Shiny Darkly is one of our newer signings, and one of the few bands we’ve ever signed solely on a demo,” says Yebo. “They sent some music to Jessica, and we all perked our ears up immediately. I think they have the same potential as The Raveonettes – great song, great energy, the possibility to go all the way.”

With bright new signings, a dedicated core staff, and an international operation that most indie labels would envy, Crunchy Frog at twenty is still going strong. With the support of their many dedicated listeners and with colleagues dotted around the globe, they remain a shining example of what can be done in today’s music industry.