Madison's Crustacean Records has been around for 15 years now, and it still has its finger on the pulse of punk rock.
Consider this chorus from Skullcrane, one of Crustacean's newest bands: "What are all those punk bands gonna sing about now that there's no Republicans in the White House?" Skullcrane's upcoming release, Columbia Heights Nights, suggests the answer to that question. The CD title commemorates the after-dark culture of the group's suburban Twin Cities hometown. Republicans might be out of power, but suburbia will forever endure as a favorite punk target.
Last month, Crustacean added Skullcrane and three other regional punk/metal bands - Imperial Battlesnake, Bloodcow and 20 Dollar Love - to its growing roster of artists. Over the past three years, the label has extended its reach well beyond Wisconsin. The addition of bands from Omaha, Chicago and the Twin Cities continues that trend.
Crustacean's recent ambitions began in 2005 when WORT DJ Jake Shut started helping label founder Chris Langkamp operate the business. The new batch of bands comes to Crustacean from Round 13, a now-defunct Minneapolis indie label. Brad Van of Madison's Droids Attack was involved with Round 13 and helped bring the new bands to Crustacean.
"What happens with a lot of these co-op record labels is that they peter out pretty quick," says Shut. "But a lot of bands don't want to deal with distribution and marketing. They just want to focus on their music."
The label was formed in the 1990s by a group of small-town Wisconsinites bent on forging their own rock 'n' roll counterculture. The Crustacean team has long cultivated a restless punk-metal Midwest image, and the Round 13 bands are an easy fit.
20 Dollar Love pays homage to their hometown (Burnsville, a southern suburb of Minneapolis) as they hammer out bluesy '70s hard rock.
Imperial Battlesnake pitch themselves as metal militiamen rising out of the deep, black ocean to "blast corporate faux-metal into paste." The Chicago combo don't play sludgy down-tempo metal. Their sharp, high-energy riffs and thundering rhythms are made edgy by the full-throated screams of vocalist Chris Costanza.
By contrast, the metal of Omaha's Bloodcow sounds more polished and rooted in production. Songs like "Four Days of Fire" and "Last Penetration" begin quietly with single guitar notes before rising into full metal fury.
Shut says the Round 13 bands make Crustacean "about 10% more metal than we were before."
This weekend, Bloodcow, Imperial Battlesnake, 20 Dollar Love and Madison's Droids Attack will be representing Crustacean Records at Austin's South by Southwest music festival. "Droids Attack had been involved with Round 13 since that label got started," says Shut. "Crustacean doesn't keep our bands under contract, so Droids Attack was about two-thirds with us and one-third with Round 13."
2009 is the second consecutive year Crustacean will have a significant presence at South by Southwest. Last year, the label showcased Peelander-Z, the Birthday Suits, Screamin' Cyn-Cyn & the Pons, Ouija Radio and the Gusto.
This July, Crustacean will celebrate its 15th anniversary with the kind of band you might expect from a loud music record label. "715 will be reuniting, and we'll bring back bands like Uncle Eddie and Plastic," says Shut. The celebration is scheduled to last over three nights, including one night at the Frequency and two at the High Noon Saloon.