'Working class' roots keep Madison record label in the game for 15 years

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Posted by joe on July 12, 2009 at 17:55:54:

by Katjusa Cisar | July 9, 2009 | 77 Square

Who needs a record label these days? Anyone with reasonable Internet savvy, marketing mojo and the willingness to work hard can sell their own music.


Even the guys who run the Madison-based Crustacean Records admit that labels are somewhat of an anachronism these days.

"It's true that you don't need a record label in this day and age if you're willing to work hard and you know enough," said Jake Shut, who joined founder Chris Langkamp to run the label in 2005.

But Crustacean has successfully bucked that trend and gained the respect of both fans and the musicians on its 20-band roster; last year, it hosted a showcase of its acts at Austin's well-known South by Southwest music festival. This week, the homegrown label celebrates its 15-year anniversary with 10 shows in five cities from Thursday to Sunday, July 19, including four in Madison. (The other shows are in Minneapolis, Oshkosh, Milwaukee and Chicago).

"I think that we're a pretty working-class label that's managed to pull off a lot," said Shut.

Although Crustacean bands tend to fall into the genres of punk, metal, indie and Americana, Shut said the label is open to all music. If there's anything that Crustacean bands share in common, it's that they all have a reputation for putting on lively concerts. Last year, Crustacean released a DVD with interviews and concert footage of many of their acts, including Droids Attack, Ouija Radio, Killdozer, Bloodcow, Screamin' Cyn Cyn & the Pons and Things Fall Apart.

"Me and Chris have pretty big ears. We listen to a lot of stuff," said Shut. It might make more economic sense to run a niche label, he added, but the luxury of making Crustacean more of a hobby and less of a hard-nosed business has freed him up to follow the music he's most passionate about.

Crustacean Records got its start in Madison in 1994 as a way for Langkamp, now 38, to make and sell his band Crabshack's cassette tapes.

After a while, he was releasing CDs for his friends, too. There weren't contracts. Everyone took on a cooperative attitude of helping.

"For the longest time, it was just a collection of friends. It wasn't like we went out looking for bands," he said. "The bottom line is important, don't get me wrong, but I think (bands appreciate) the fact that we're real people and easy to talk to. They know we don't make money. We're still normal guys."

Langkamp also runs Sooper Dooper -- the "by musicians for musicians" disc production and packaging service -- out of an office on Park Street, and applies a similar business philosophy to Crustacean.

When The Frequency club owner Darwin Sampson took over Crustacean for a few years earlier this decade, he set a more business-like foundation for Shut, which started requiring contracts and seeking national acts.

But Langkamp's original vibe has stayed, and bands gravitate towards that, even nationally known acts like the Giraffes that might otherwise be "out of our league," as Langkamp put it. The Brooklyn, N.Y.-based surf metal band signed on last September. Spin named them one of the top 25 "must-see" acts at the huge Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Tennessee in June.

Previously the Giraffes had been on the bigger and better-known Tooth and Nail Records, but they quit in frustration when the label started focusing on "kids pop, monster ballads and stuff that makes money," said guitarist Damien Paris.

"They have a lot of money but they don't like to share their money. Everyone that we liked got fired. There's definitely no love lost with that company," said Paris.

Crustacean doesn't have the banking power that Tooth and Nail does, but "they're very artist-friendly."

"I still consider them not a label but a really close network of music appreciators," he said.

Plus, working with a Midwest-based label "cross-pollinates" the Giraffes' fan base with their label mates and expands their touring base beyond the same old East Coast circuit. Paris happened to be wearing a Frequency T-shirt "with pasta stains" the day he spoke with 77 Square from his home in Brooklyn.

"It's not your typical major record label," agreed Gavin Lefebvre, who will reunite with former Crustacean punk band SevenOneFive at one of the 15th anniversary shows.

"The bands work together and help each other. It's a central clearinghouse for contacts."

Lefebvre has self-released his music before, but he's grateful to be on Crustacean with his current band, the Skintones.

Recently, the Skintones were reviewed in Norway after the writer discovered them on a Crustacean compilation CD.

"They work really hard. They get us a lot more national spotlight opportunities," he said. "It's an extra boost that allows you to focus on your own performance and touring."

Shut, 37, is moving in August to Minneapolis to become "one of the oldest undergrads in the state of Minnesota." He'll be stepping down his involvement in Crustacean, but he's also hoping to expand the label's reach to the Twin Cities.

Langkamp doesn't have any ambitions for Crustacean beyond this point. "Just the fact that it's 15 years later and still going on and at its highest level is cool to me."

Every once in a while there's "one of those rock star moments," like doing shots in a limo outside CBGB's in New York with the guitarist from the Fierce Nipples, said Langkamp. But "from here, really no expectations or goals. I'm just thrilled that it's gotten this far. It's exceeded my expectations."


Crustacean 15th Anniversary Showcases
The Gusto, Screamin' Cyn Cyn & The Pons and Droids Attack

When: 10 p.m. Thursday, July 16

Where: Inferno Nightclub, 1718 Commercial Ave.

Tickets: $5 cover

The Show: A showcase of three very different punk rock favorites from Madison (straight-up, theatrical and blazed with robot-inspired metal goofiness).

Imperial Battlesnake, 20 Dollar Love, The Skullcranes and The Von Ehrics

When: 10 p.m. Friday, July 17

Where: The Frequency, 121 W. Main St.

Tickets: $5 cover

The show: The Dallas-based Von Ehrics play country-flavored punk ("Steve Earle meets Motorhead"); Skullcranes are furious punkrockers from Minneapolis; 20 Dollar Love sing meaty classic rock anthems about holy rollers; Chicago's Imperial Battlesnake are metalheads like Droids Attack (the two recently put out a 12-inch vinyl record together, splitting sides).

Birthday Suits, Things Fall Apart, SevenOneFive and The Skintones

When: 10 p.m. Saturday, July 18

Where:High Noon Saloon, 701 E. Washington Ave.

Tickets: $7 cover

The show: SevenOneFive was Madison's most popular punk band earlier this decade. They're reuniting this summer for one show in Wisconsin and one in Minnesota. They'll be joined by Minneapolis math punk duo Birthday Suits, Madison's hoarse punk rockers Things Fall Apart and Skintones' pop-punk-metal fusion.

Plastic, Bloodcow, Uncle Eddie and Mad Trucker Gone Mad

When: 7 p.m., Sunday, July 19

Where: High Noon Saloon

Tickets: $6 cover

The show: Local psychobilly mainstay Mad Trucker Gone Mad finishes the night, with reunion sets from Plastic and Uncle Eddie. Bloodcow delivers melodic metal.

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