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Know your local labels: Learning Curve Records

by Luke Muyskens

April 17, 2014

Minneapolis-based Learning Curve Records (LCR) rocks harder than most labels you’ve heard of, let alone the ones you haven’t. They’ve been steadily putting out noisy local records since 2001, they were part of the ascent of Twin Cities staples like the Hold Steady and the Soviettes, and they're currently waist-deep in the local rock scene, pushing newer bands like the Blind Shake, Skoal Kodiak, and Animal Lover.

The label was founded in 2001 by Quad Cities transplant Rainer Fronz, who is still the sole employee of the small but dedicated label. “I started Learning Curve Records because as an adolescent I felt like I was growing up in a cultural vacuum,” said Fronz. “In retrospect, a cultural vacuum is really what you make of it. I had to take the initiative to expose myself to new music. I mail ordered records, snuck off in the mall to buy cassettes, and lied about after-school meetings so I could drive to local record stores.”

Like many independent labels, Learning Curve had its roots in college radio. “In college I worked at the radio station at St. Olaf, where I was exposed to so many great bands and genres in the 90s I could barely grasp it,” Fronz said. “Nearing the end of college, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do next. I applied at a few radio stations. Nothing floated.”

Learning Curve found its start with the seminal noise label Amphetamine Reptile, popularly known as AmRep. “During my last semester of college I was an intern at AmRep in the Twin Cities, learning a ton from Haze,” Fronz said, referring to label founder Tom Hazelmyer. “I likely should have listened to his advice of 'don’t do it' regarding starting a label, but hey, why not? I saved up money and asked Vaz and Sicbay to do a split seven-inch…and Learning Curve Records was born. That is why I started a label. I want LCR to be a go-to label that consistently offers a solid selection of noisy, cacophonous rock.”

Learning Curve’s first release, Minnesota Attacks Vol. 1 with the label’s earliest bands Sicbay and Vaz, dropped in late 2000 and was followed by a second volume featuring Exercise and the Dames. Over twenty full-length albums from a variety of local and national rock bands came after. Some sold well, some didn’t—the label was never about money for Fronz, or any of the bands involved. The music was always the focus."

Fronz's, he said, are to "keep it abrasive. In-your-face-loud. I tend to enjoy the less approachable side of music, which doesn’t necessarily favor commercial viability, but I want to feel good about my releases and release records I enjoy. I listen to many other styles of music as well, but there are a million folks doing that already, especially in the Twin Cities. I release what I love. Scum rock.

“Many of LCR’s releases have a 90s feel, and there’s a market for it,” Fronz continued. “For example, events like Total Fest and labels such as Good To Die in Seattle feed the burgeoning underground noisy rock scene. LCR is the Midwest contingent.”

With such a music-driven, dedicated label, not every release has taken off, but the label has enjoyed its share of victories. “Running the label for so long, LCR has kind of become like an old friend,” Fronz said. “Each new release feels like a success when I get the first order for that record. I feel accomplished having cultivated a fan base that spans across the U.S. to Europe and South America. Attending All Tomorrow’s Parties in the UK with Gay Witch Abortion and seeing LCR shirts on attendees was rad. It’s amazing to be approached by random folks at festivals and concerts and have them tell you how much they enjoy the releases that have come out on LCR. That is success.”

It might not be the 90s any more, but Learning Curve rocks like it is, and doesn’t plan on slowing in the new millennium. “We just released an LP from Power Take Off, from Concord, North Carolina,” Fronz reported. “The three-piece is a monster of dirge sludge. The record is awesome. This is a must for any fan of Melvins-type grunge/sludge music. The album features local Adam Marx of the Seawhores as guest guitar player. In May we have two record releases. Animal Lover, from the Twin Cities now, but originally from Fargo. This three-piece creates a maelstrom of noise, drawing influence from luminaires like Shellac, Jesus Lizard and Hammerhead. These boys are one of the best new bands in the cities. Their LP Guilt is a beast. I can’t stop listening to it. The release show is at the Turf Club on May 15. Going to be a crusher. At the end of May we’re releasing the LCR debut from The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, a three piece from San Antonio, Texas. Their LP is killer. It’s a noisy sonic seduction. This summer we have some big releases planned as well; another Butcher’s Waltz split LP and another Fargo gem.”

Fans of Learning Curve and the music they put out can look forward to another Record Store Day release from LCR: Held Hostage Volume 2. The compilation includes exclusive tracks from the Blind Shake, Henry Blacker, Disasteratti, Dreamsalon, Gay Witch Abortion, Hollow Boys, In Defence, Hex Machine, Nightosaur, Power Take Off, and Pretty Please, and will be available on the Learning Curve website.

Luke Muyskens attends St. John’s University. He previously wrote for aboveGround Magazine and UGSMAG.

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This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.