Colorado has never provided fertile ground for independent labels: With only a few exceptions (most notably, Boulder-based W.A.R.?), most area imprints that started with high hopes wound up quickly dying on the vine. But that hasn't stopped hearty local entrepreneurs from attempting to buck the trend--and Fort Collins's Morris Beegle is arguably the heartiest of the bunch. His creation, Hapi Skratch Records, has been around for a little over four years, and he sees no reason why it shouldn't survive for several more. "I see this as a slow, grassroots type of thing," he says. "And if one or two people explode out of here, it could turn into a lot more."
Beegle's plans are certainly ambitious. This year he expects Hapi Skratch to release approximately twenty CDs, most of them by local artists, and to distribute the discs internationally via a variety of avenues, including the Internet. He's also involved in publicizing live appearances by his signees and sponsoring showcases intended to prove to music lovers and industry big wheels alike that Hapi Skratch artists are worth hearing. His latest events take place this week: Dave Beegle (Morris's guitar-playing brother), Latin warbler Juliana Munoz, the ska act Crypto Star and Wyoming blues merchants Blinddog Smokin' are set to appear at the Supreme Court (located in the Adam's Mark Hotel, 1550 Court Place) on Friday, April 16, and at the Aggie Theater in Fort Collins on Saturday, April 17. In Beegle's view, these performers "are some of the cream of our crop, and I'm going to do what I can to drag people from New York and L.A. and Nashville out to check them out. And then we'll see what happens."
Clearly, Beegle could use some help: Although Blinddog Smokin' is one of the most successful acts in the Hapi Skratch stable, the band has sold only about 6,000 discs thus far. But Beegle sees these numbers rising, thanks to recent agreements with VNR Distribution (a Kansas company that works with Best Buy outlets nationwide), Baker and Taylor (an Illinois wholesaler), and Florida's Alliance Entertainment (which services most major U.S. music chains as well as 3,000 mom-and-pop accounts and Internet sites such as cdconnection.com and borders.com). In addition, Hapi Skratch has its own Web address--www.hapiskratch.com --where the label's wares can be sampled and purchased. And an arrangement between Beegle and broadcast.com gives computer users the chance to listen to more than thirty Hapi Skratch offerings in their entirety.
Lining up such pacts comes naturally to Beegle, who worked for others in the record game before taking matters into his own hands. He grew up in Loveland and, after graduating from Loveland High School, enrolled at Colorado State University. But after a year at CSU, he moved to Atlanta and became a student at the Music Business Institute there. After completing his coursework, he got a job at the Handleman Company, a rack jobber that supplies music to mass merchants such as Wal-Mart. He put in seven years with Handleman--three in Atlanta, four in California--and during that span, he learned the ins and outs of music retailing so well that he decided to try flying solo. "I wanted to start my own company," he says, "and rather than doing it in California, where there are hundreds of businesses like that, I figured I'd come back here."
Hapi Skratch was born on April 1, 1995, a couple of months before Beegle relocated to Colorado permanently, and it soon put out its first album: Finesse and Fury, a reissue of a 1992 long-player by Fourth Estate, a band co-starring brother Dave. The next year brought with it the first Hapi Skratch turn by Beth Quist, one of the state's most idiosyncratic talents, and a CD by Indica Gypsys that Beegle remembers ruefully. "Indica Gypsys was a real learning experience for us," he allows. "We ended up financing the project a lot more than we anticipated because we wanted to make them into a national thing. But the maturity wasn't there, and when the band self-destructed, it ended up costing a lot of money."
This flop was a painful experience for Beegle, and so was his split with Mike Swann, an original partner in Hapi Skratch who left after a year. But Hapi Skratch kept going, issuing four other full-lengths in 1996, six more in 1997 and a whopping seventeen in 1998. The discs are a diverse lot: For instance, Lalla Rookh's Book One: Tales and Traditions features traditional Celtic sounds; Reconcile's Bed and Breakfast finds singer-songwriter Mike Lopez swimming in pop; Jonny Mogambo's Colorado Golden spotlights funky bar-band stylings; and Danny Vertli's Hymns and Prayers operates within the contemporary Christian genre. However, the recordings have at least one thing in common: impressive production values. Simply put, Hapi Skratch discs exude the kind of professionalism that's rare on the local level. "I think that's been a big part of the local-music problem in Colorado--that bands continue to put out inadequate-sounding records," Beegle says. "That's why we try to have the bands talk to us before they go into the studio--so that we can play them examples of why you get what you pay for. And we've been fortunate to work with some really good engineers and people who care about putting out a good piece of product."
The cash that pumps life into Hapi Skratch comes mainly from the musicians themselves. They pay their way into the family--or, as Beegle puts it, "we look for bands that are going into the studio and have a budget to press and record a disc, and then we try to bring them into our program." For this reason, the quality of the music on Hapi Skratch albums can vary wildly. But what prevents Hapi Skratch from being dismissed as a vanity label is Beegle's unswerving commitment to Rocky Mountain talent.
"We believe in local music," he says, "and there's no reason that we can't have a really cool music scene happen in Colorado. Maybe it's the mountain air, but people around here seem to care more about the Broncos and the Avalanche and the Rockies than they do about the music. But we just hope to make a bunch of records that the artists can be happy with, and I think people will enjoy them if they give them a chance."
In the beginning (or at least closer to the beginning than we are right now), there was vinyl--and as you'll discover by perusing this local-platter roundup, there still is.
Not many folks have noticed, but Acrobat Down has quietly become one of the very finest bands in Denver--and its two most recent offerings prove that it's getting better all the time. First up is 5 11 86, a thoroughly enjoyable four-song EP. "False Start" features busy, almost Meat Puppet-y fret work, heavy-duty drumming and a vocal arrangement that hops, skips and jumps; "So Long" uses an eclectic framework to intriguing ends; "No Simple Captain" is ultra-catchy and highly propulsive; and "The Littlest" pits a melodic vocal against a roiling guitar pattern. Overall, it's a swell piece of work that Life/ Robots, a two-song single on a Swedish label, Her Magic Field Records, actually manages to top. "Hold the Line" drops bizarre racket and random radio samples into a mid-tempo piece that stands as the combo's clearest, cleverest production to date--and while the flip, "The Drudge Match," doesn't quite hit these heights, the juxtaposition of old-school wah-wah and new-school synth makes for a fascinating workout. Even if you've had it up to your gullet with indie rock, you'll likely be down with the latest from these Acrobats (Acrobat Down, P.O. Box 104, Denver, CO 80201).
Sissy Fuzz is no more, and a new group, Breezy Porticos, has already risen from its ashes. Before the combo disintegrated, however, it left behind a fine single on Japan's One Hundred GM Records. The three songs on the self-titled effort have already been applauded in this space (see Feedback, December 17, 1998), but "Summer Saliva," "Waffle Poultice" and (especially) "Don't Fear (the Reverb)" benefit from superb mastering and the wonderfully warm sound of vinyl. A fine way to go out (available in area music stores). Stereophonic Action Plan, by Gina Go Faster, is considerably rougher stuff. "Time Beau Hall" rolls forward under the power of an extremely garagey guitar sound and gruff, unpolished vocals; "Beer Commercial" hits the spot thanks to a double-time pace and some entertainingly dopey "ya-ya-ya" background vocals; and "Radon" raves like a golden nugget. Folks in the market for revelations should shop elsewhere, but Plan's homemade quality makes it consistently likable (King Bee Records, P.O. Box 1164, Denver, CO 80202).
Although the twelve-inch release Spies Like Us is credited to Hidden Agent, it's actually the work of Justin Hardison, among the more accomplished makers of electronic music in these parts--and the three tracks here are more than up to his standards. "Antidepressant" merges Bond-ian bursts, disembodied vocal snippets and canny trip-hop to produce more than eight minutes of aural bliss; "Original Codename Version" takes the drum-and-bass route, soaring on the strength of helicopter phasing and insistent rhythms; and "Nebula Nine Euro Trash Mix" loops together clubby grooves and a strutting, Yazoo-era synth. Spies is music that will appeal equally to heads and feet (Careful Productions, 129 West 2nd Avenue, Denver, CO 80223). The Haywoods hail from California, but Denver's Wormtone Records (run by Denver Rock-N-Rhythm Billy Weekend founder Kurt Ohlen) is the firm responsible for issuing their latest EP, Rockin' by the Bay. The four-songer is an audio journey into the early days of rock, with lead singer Chad Silva sounding like Bill Haley fronting Elvis Presley's Sun sessions band on "Big Iron Wheels," "Rainy Day Rockin'," "The Way I Rock" and "The Real Thing." This last title is debatable: The Haywoods are actually cloning the real thing rather than breaking new ground. But their imitations are so accurate that it almost doesn't matter (available in area music stores).
Cindy Wonderful, my local-music nemesis, is back with three new salvos on her Stupid Records imprint--and two of them are even more quizzical than usual. Donut Star Lives crams eight cuts onto a seven-inch--meaning that none of them have much of an opportunity to develop into actual songs. That's certainly the case with Gordon Klock's "Coded Elasmosaur Ointment," Bio-Bitch's "My Friend Dropped His Carmel Apple" and Wonderful's own "On My Mind"--and although CO2O-E1's "From the Roseanna Sessions" and Quaternium 15's "What's in Your Future" contain some intriguing electro-noises, their fragmentary nature prevents them from making much of an impact. Discover Sal 3 Fold, a single credited to Sal 3 Fold (which also appears on Donut Star Lives) suffers from similar flaws: Its two numbers, "Rocky Mountain" and "Sal Core," are sonic collages that toss together a dizzying array of machine-made tones that seldom cohere. The result suggests that Wonderful and company just got their hands on their first sampler and were so thrilled by what it could do that they decided shape and structure were unnecessary. Wrong.
Far better is Kyli Forever, the Stupid Records debut of, yes, Kyli Forever, whom Wonderful describes as her protege. "Way Way Down," "Lisa," "Insanity" and "Alley Way" (as well as a more complete rendition of Wonderful's "On My Mind") are stacked upon electronic beats, but Forever uses them to her advantage rather than allowing them to use her. Her relaxed singing and deadpan lyrics are matched perfectly on songs that come and go quickly but linger considerably longer. In fact, the only thing that's wrong with Kyli Forever, as far as I can tell, is that it's on cassette, not vinyl, and therefore doesn't really belong in this column. But that's my fault, not hers (Stupid Records, 865 Northridge Road, Highlands Ranch, CO 80126).
You had to figure that the scheduling of a Smashing Pumpkins/Queens of the Stone Age date at the Ogden Theatre, rather than at an arena, would piss off thousands of people who wanted tickets but were unable to get them. But a series of snafus surrounding the peddling of passes for the Monday, April 19, concert led to more acrimony than anticipated. Typical is the account of Donna Childers, who claims to have stood outside the Ogden in the middle of a snowstorm on April 2, the day the show went on sale, only to be told that the computers had crashed, making it impossible to buy tickets there. Subsequent attempts to make a purchase online or over the phone through the Ogden's new ticketing service, Oakland-based TicketWeb, also failed, leaving Childers wishing she could smash some pumpkins--or maybe some heads.
Promoter Jesse Morreale, speaking for nobody in particular presents, which is putting on the performance, understands Childers's frustration, but he insists that the computer meltdown suffered by TicketWeb has been blown out of proportion. "There's a lot of stories that are being passed around, like people calling up radio stations and saying they were first in line and got screwed, and that's total bullshit," he says. "The people who didn't get tickets because they got there at a five o'clock [when the sale began] didn't get tickets because they got there at five o'clock."
The truth, as it turns out, is a little more complicated. Ronda Lee, who was staffing the Ogden Theatre box office on April 2, had fifty preprinted tickets on hand, and when those were gone (after just eight minutes), she was unable to access more from the computer because of difficulty with the server. For that reason, the Ogden box office was closed, leaving folks like Childers out in the cold. Patrons who went to other walk-up outlets were somewhat luckier: When the computer collapsed, early birds were given vouchers that could be exchanged for tickets later. "We had 1,200 tickets total, and we had an allotment for walkups, Internet and phones," Morreale reveals. "And that number didn't change because the server went down. There may have been a delay, but the people who got there first still got tickets."
Morreale concedes that poor communication may have led to much of the confusion over the matter, but he stops short of promising wholesale changes. "This was a fluke circumstance that gives people an excuse to complain about our ticketing service," he says, "but everything was up and running really quickly, and we sold 4,000 Allman Brothers tickets the next day without a hitch. The situation with the Pumpkins was unfortunate, but these things happen."
Feeling better, Ms. Childers? I didn't think so.
On Friday, April 16, the Boulder Theater is hosting "Millions for Mumia," a benefit for Mumia Abu-Jamal, a journalist whose presence on death row has long been denounced as blatant racism by his many supporters. Speakers include Ramona Africa, the minister of communication for MOVE, a controversial organization based in Philadelphia, and hip-hop performer John Africa. For further information, dial Donny Hutchinson at 303-499-2084. Meanwhile, KVCU-AM/1190, the University of Colorado-Boulder's new radio station, is staging a "buy a watt" promotion through April 17. Yes, it's a pledge drive, but since Radio 1190, as the outlet is calling itself, is one of the few places on the dial these days that won't induce vomiting, please give generously. Call 303-492-5031 for details.
Backbeat contributor Brad Jones has declared the aforementioned Queens of the Stone Age the critic's choice for this week (see page 96), but allow me to tout two more dates: Built to Spill, with Delusions, Thursday, April 15, at the Bluebird Theater, and Friday, April 16, at the Fox Theatre. Why? Because Keep It Like a Secret, Built to Spill's second release for Warner Bros., is one of 1999's finest discs, thanks to frontman Doug Martsch's lyrical guitar playing and quavery singing, not to mention evocative compositions such as "The Plan," "Carry the Zero" and the cleverly referential "You Were Right". The group is excellent live, too--and tickets are a lot easier to come by than they are for another concert I could mention.
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The same can be said about the following. On Friday, April 15, Dan Hicks shows off his hot licks at the Soiled Dove, with G.B. Leighton. On Friday, April 16, Electric Summer heats up the 15th Street Tavern, with the Blast-Off Heads, and New Mexico's Jason Riggs finds Common Grounds, at 3484 West 32nd Avenue. On Saturday, April 17, Sweet Honey in the Rock makes a perfect snack at CU-Boulder's Macky Auditorium; the Nadas end a four-night run at Josephina's; and the Wrigley Sisters double your pleasure at Cameron Church. On Sunday, April 18, Mary Flower and more raise funds for Sing Out! magazine at Swallow Hill Music Hall, and Full Moon in Vegas shines at the Bluebird. And on Tuesday, April 20, crooner Julien Clerc visits Teikyo Loretto Heights Theater, and the Dropkick Murphys punt at the Bluebird. Call for a fair catch.
Backbeat's e-mail address is: Michael_Roberts@westword.com.