Crunchy Frog at 25: A Landmark Celebration for Denmark’s Finest Independent Label | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Crunchy Frog at 25: A Landmark Celebration for Denmark’s Finest Independent Label, September 13th, 2019

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"We aren't just a label. We're a family." It's those immortal words from Crunchy Frog head honcho and founder Jesper "Yebo" Reginal that exemplify the spirit of one of Denmark's finest musical institutions. Founded in 1994 and named after a 1968 Monty Python TV sketch, Crunchy Frog has been at the epicenter of Danish arts and culture for a quarter of a century. It's a labor of love that became something far more important to an awful lot of people. While it might be churlish to suggest none of the acts who've passed through the label would never have achieved international recognition otherwise, the importance of Crunchy Frog in ensuring the likes of Junior Senior, The Raveonettes, and Mew—to name but three—went onto become household names on a global stage can never be underestimated.

The idea for Crunchy Frog came from the four members of the band THAU, for which Yebo was the drummer. "We tried to get on this label which all our favourite bands were signed to, only they wouldn't have us. So we decided to start our own," remembers Yebo.

So THAU's debut album Utah—check it out if you want to hear the missing link between '50s rockabilly, '60s garage rock, and '90s grunge—became the very first release on the label. Eventually emerging in the autumn of 1994, it set the ball rolling for the next 25 years. Its sister Crunchy Frog club night also provided a springboard for new, emerging Danish acts to play in front of live audiences. A fledgling version of ambient experimentalists Mew being one band that graced a stage for one of their first shows at a Crunchy night.

Crunchy Frog has always existed on its own terms, the label being run by genuine music fans so therefore only signing artists they sincerely want to work with. Their philosophy has remained the same throughout the label's existence, mainly ensuring every artist on Crunchy Frog retains full artistic control. Having since expanded the Crunchy empire into a publishing and syncing company (Crunchy Tunes) and booking agency (Bobkat) as well as becoming partners in two of Copenhagen's finest drinking establishments, The Mudhoney and Whammy Bar, Crunchy Frog has gone to establish itself as a pivotal force in Danish underground culture. They've become a benchmark for other organizations of a similar nature to aspire to.

Now, here there are 160 releases later, the most recent being a specially assembled compilation And Now For Something Completely Crunchy, which pulls together 16 acts from the label past and present celebrating Crunchy Frog's 25th anniversary. Which also explains why Under the Radar finds itself in Copenhagen this weekend alongside fellow delegates—but more importantly long standing fans—gathered from all corners of the globe.

Everyone we speak to that's been associated with the label at various points over its two-and-a-half decades tells a similar story. "Their attitude of not compromising at all regarding what acts they sign. That's highly unusual for a label worldwide, never mind Denmark!" declares Frans Moller, guitarist for Malmo based noise punks Sista Bossen, one of the few non-Danish acts on the label at present.

"Yebo is really supportive and backs a musical identity," adds Johannes Gammelby, who's recorded for the label with three different outfit—Beta Satan, I Am Bones, and more recently The Malpractice. "If he sees something that is identifiable he backs it, and the label per se does too. It probably wouldn't be that different if they hadn't signed us but they did! The Malpractice has benefited from Yebo's continuous valuable input. He has a lot of significant, sensible qualities. This myth about labels telling bands what they need to do isn't like that with Crunchy Frog. Sure, they'll make suggestions but you can take it or leave it."

I Am Bones

It's that all-inclusive yet still predominantly singular vision that sets them apart from almost every other label that's ever existed. Obvious parallels can be drawn with Heavenly Recordings in the UK and maybe Sarah Records back in the day, not least in the way the former operates as a family and also chooses to work with acts that fit their ethos rather than chasing scenes or trends of the day.

"Maybe Sub Pop in '88 too?" suggests Gammelby. "It's their foundations for existence but also their ball and chain because it's very idiosyncratic and specific so has a hard time breaking through to the mainstream. But it exists on its own identity. What's going on at Crunchy Frog on an artistic level is by far the interesting thing that's going on in Denmark on a broader scope of things."

While its most famous exports are undoubtedly Junior Senior and The Raveonettes, having released both the former's worldwide hit single "Move Your Feet" and subsequent album D-D-Don't Stop the Beat in 2002, alongside the latter's seminal debut EP Whip It On the same year. Their continual quest in providing a platform for some of the most original and at times, extroverted music to emerge from creative Nordic is the reason why 700 people are gathered in Copenhagen's Pumpehuset venue for Crunchy Frog's 25th birthday party.

"If the music doesn't turn Yebo on, he doesn't sign it," insists Jacob "Poe" Staermose, a stalwart of Crunchy Frog's production wing haven't been part of the team for over 20 years. "It's a cynical attitude but also so fucking awesome!"

It was that pivotal Raveonettes release that set the ball rolling for many, especially beyond Copenhagen. Co-founder, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Sharin Foo gives us the low down on the duo's initial involvement with Crunchy Frog.

"Sune [Rose Wagner] and I had finished recording Whip It On and were looking for somewhere to release it. Sune knew Yebo and the gang as he'd played drums in his old band on various occasions, and they also played in The Tremelo Beer Gut together. It was a creative community of peers inspiring each other, even though it was a fairly short period of time that Crunchy Frog was our home. We got signed to Columbia Records within six months of releasing Whip It On, then Sune and I moved to London and started touring 250 days out of the year for the next two to three years. So it's a bit of a haze."

What that makes for is an extensively eclectic, musically diverse collection of acts ranging from the delightful post punk of Felines; a Copenhagen based four-piece who've been around for nearly a decade. To the classic, raw '70s inspired soul of D/Troit, whose music has been compared with artists such as James Brown and The Commitments. Indeed, it's the former that kick off the birthday celebrations in impressive style, channelling original New Wavers Delta 5, The Au Pairs, and Public Image Ltd. into their delicately poised, angular brand of caustic weirdness.

Felines

With 12 live performances packed into just over five hours, there's little time for changeovers or any prima donna hissy fits about soundchecks. Some artists haven't performed together for 15 years—take a bow Anna Koster and Loulou Iversen, aka Pussy and Itchypants. Perhaps better known as the backing singers with Junior Senior having also worked on PowerSolo's second album It's Raceday... And Your Pussy Is Gut!!! with whom they're performing this evening. Others collaborating with acts they've never played but been long standing fans. Its one mighty celebration that illustrates the close-knit community Yebo and the Crunchy Frog team have manifested throughout its existence.

PowerSolo

"If you don't have an idea it's not going to go anywhere anyway," admits Kim Hjorth Jeppesen aka Kim Kix, PowerSolo's Tunisian born frontman. "We've been with Crunchy Frog 15 years so they've had some influence on us. We're the oddballs on the label, maybe because we've been here so many years. They're good, hardworking people that like different styles of music and see the opportunities that can bring."

Indeed, a band like PowerSolo epitomizes the Crunchy Frog ethos. Their fusion of everything from old school rock'n'roll and blues to funk, soul, and everything else in between creates a perfect melange for a celebratory occasion such as this. Yebo himself even joins the band on backing vocals at one point before being presented with a gift by Hjorth Jeppesen and his brother, Bo aka The Atomic Child ("It was a painting of The Atomic Child and myself by an artist from Newcastle called Andrew Fawcett," Kix confirms after the show).

One of the longest serving bands on the label having been part of the Crunchy Frog roster since 2004, PowerSolo's modus operandi works on a similar scale to that of the label.

"We've toured as a band for 23 years, and I've had 22 musicians with Powersolo during that time. Both sexes and five different nationalities," reveals Kim Kix. "It's always different. Tonight was tight but we've done a lot of shows like this before. SXSW for instance. It's not that unusual for us, but tonight was special for us. Not just because it's Crunchy Frog's 25th year but also because its our 15th with the label. They're like us, Yebo and the team. He throws ideas at us all the time, and we buzz off each other. There have been arguments but nothing major. They have an influence on our records. They have skills and they're experienced. They're good listeners. They can hear things I can't hear."

A keen cyclist back in the day ("I used to race a lot. My sporting heroes when I was a kid were all cyclists, then later I got into music"), Kix and PowerSolo are also one of the hardest working bands on the circuit right now ("We've played over 100 shows a year since 2015"). So it shouldn't come as much of a surprise their set here draws one of the largest crowds of the evening.

One band who've successfully penetrated markets outside of Denmark are Shiny Darkly, whose goth-tinged darkwave also takes inspiration from 1980s post punk. Kristoffer Bech, who sings and plays guitar with the band takes up the story.

Shiny Darkly

"We were very young and hadn't played that much when we first became involved with Crunchy Frog," Bech says. "So they've done a lot for us. They take you under their wings like a big family. They make you feel very welcome and try to do their best for you. In the beginning they did some Crunchy Frog club shows in London and took us to SXSW.

"They're iconic when it comes to odd music. Their roster is very mixed. They don't have one specific sound. Instead their roster goes in all different directions. There is a chemistry between the bands. It's more like a family rather than a community. They do these parties like this one for their 25th anniversary, did a similar one when they reached 20 and also every Christmas. That's where we get to hang out with all the other bands, which makes it feel like something bigger. Tonight for example, it feels as if you're part of something big, even though it's not really that big. They make you feel big."

Often compared to bands like The Horrors, The Cramps, and The Birthday Party, Shiny Darkly exist in a place that's markedly underground yet possess a wealth of tunes that have the ability to crossover onto daytime radio at any given moment. Not that they've ever been ones to sit back and wait.

"We tried to break the UK and had some good times there," Bech says. "We used to have a UK manager. A lot of bands want to play in the UK because they feel as if they belong to that audience. We're very inspired by UK bands, especially the Manchester scene. We've tried to experiment with new genres so hopefully the UK influence won't be so obvious."

While this evening's set was a celebration of both the label and the band's back catalogue, a closing run through early single "Diana" being a particular highlight, Bech remains particularly excited about the trio's next musical adventure.

"We had a little break and we're healthier now, so we're about to start work on some new material," he says.

Nevertheless, Crunchy Frog has established itself as one of mainland Europe's leading independents. Hosting stages at SXSW, The Great Escape, Eurosonic, and Reeperbahn Festival in recent years.

"I know for sure that Crunchy Frog has a strong profile internationally," asserts The Raveonettes' Sharin Foo. "As well as a reputation of being a label with integrity that has a passion and love of music, and also tastemakers you can count on as a band and as an audience."

One of the busiest performers this evening is the aforementioned Johannes Gammelby, whose blistering performance with garage punks I Am Bones blew away the early evening cobwebs. However, it's when fronting his solo project of sorts The Malpractice things really fall into place. Aided and abetted by Copenhagen noise rockers Town Portal and Raveonettes touring guitarist Manoj Ramdas ("We bonded over a shared love of Faith No More!" insists Gammelby), they're a colossal force to be reckoned with in what's already been an overwhelming extravaganza of musical excellence.

The previous evening is spent in the intimate confines of Alice, a newly established bar off Copenhagen's Hans Square that first opened its doors last year. While tonight's show isn't strictly Crunchy Frog related, the links to the label are still there. Headline act Apparat Organ Quartet will play what's technically a warm-up show for their set at the 25th birthday bash 24 hours later. As one of Crunchy Frog's more experimental signings, the Icelandic four-piece are something of an aural and visual delight, fusing elements of krautrock and industrial noise with subtle pop nuances. Or as Crunchy Frog's Yebo describes them, "An electronic rock band with synthesizers rather than guitars."

Apparat Organ Quartet

Earlier, American musician Alex Maiolo will join forces with Mew's Jonas Bjerre under the guise of Triple XXX Snaxxx, playing a set that's entirely constructed on analogue synthesizers evoking the embryonic sound of Dusseldorf through to Orbital's latter day euphoric arena rave.

The managing director of Alice just happens to be Piet Breinholm Bendtsen, former drummer of Crunchy Frog alumni 18th Dye. Specializing in mostly electronic and experimental music, Bendtsen and Alice have created a subscene of their own in this Norrebro space. Something he is especially proud of.

"It seemed the right time to do this," Bendtsen tells Under the Radar. "No one else in Copenhagen was really focusing on experimental electronic music which is what we aim to do here."

Nevertheless, it's his lineage with one of Denmark's most revered shoegaze acts and albeit brief but inherently productive time with Crunchy Frog that Bendtsen is particularly fond to discuss.

"We were signed to Cloudland Records, which was a small independent label based in Copenhagen," he explains. "I remember Yebo's band at the time, THAU tried to get a deal there at the same time but for whatever reason weren't taken on. None of us knew why as THAU were great, so we kept in touch ever since and when 18th Dye decided to get back together after eight years apart, Yebo asked us if we'd be interested in signing to Crunchy Frog. They were the only ones that would give us full creative control so we took them up on it and recorded Amorine Queen, which I still think is probably our finest album."

So what's changed afterwards? It's probably fair to say the international focus has shifted towards Copenhagen in light of Crunchy Frog's success.

"I think other Danish bands and the Danish music industry in general were encouraged to have international hopes and ambitions raised after seeing Junior Senior, The Raveonettes, and Mew starting to break through to new audiences," suggests Sharin Foo. "Bands became very aware of nurturing a unique and personal sound and artistic expression. Not necessarily catering to a Danish taste per se, but perhaps finding that edge a bit more. Then again, there has been a whole wave of bands making music with Danish lyrics as well. I suppose that can translate abroad too. A band like Efterklang has no language barriers for example. Scenes and ideas always change. I don't think it can ever be attributed to one label or band as such."

Meanwhile, back over at Pumpehuset, old school garage rockers The Tremelo Beer Gut are creating a storm indoors, featuring none other than Yebo himself on drums alongside Ulrik "Nalna" Petersen on vocals on guitar, who also looks after the digital distribution side of the label. Their show is nothing short of a riot, with a female dancer and hula-hoop specialist joining them on stage for good measure.

The Tremelo Beer Gut

Afterwards, Johannes Gammelby is only too eager to tell us what it is that makes nights like this so special. "If you take 3% of the population of Copenhagen, intoxicate them then put them in a confined space, this is what happens," he says.

"It's given me a vessel to focus," Gammelby continues. "They are a really supportive community and really enthused about what I do. I receive encouraging emails when albums are being written and recorded. We've always done whatever we want, and still do without any hesitation. If people don't like it that's their problem. I couldn't care less. Crunchy Frog are nice people and they do things properly. It's become something of an institution in Danish subculture and they've maintained that position for a number of years."

Amen to that, long may it continue.

www.crunchy.dk

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