If you spend much time hanging around the Stockholm independent gig scene, you’ve heard of Fritz’s Corner. They’re a non-profit music organisation who arrange shows and concerts at venues all around Stockholm, from those long-gone (RIP Debaser Slussen and Squashhallen) to those thankfully still with us like Kägelbanan and Lilla Hotellbaren. Fritz’s Corner was founded in 1997, so it’s about to celebrate its twentieth anniversary. Which is what we had initially planned to do this article about. But when we met Fritz’s daglig ledare Johan Nordqvist (day leader, person in charge of the everyday running of the club night) to talk about the history of the club, he drops the bombshell: Fritz’s Corner is winding down for good after their anniversary shows on November 3 and 4. Which makes this piece a little bigger than a simple anniversary chat. But having learned about the end, we’ll start at the start. And it all starts with the club’s founder Henric Sandgren, way back in the 1990s.
Fritz’s Corner’s official date of birth is 1997, but its roots go back a little further, according to Sandgren: “The club actually started out in late 1996 under the name ‘Bottleneck’”, he says. “The name (which I thought was kind of cool at the time) came from a venue in Lawrence, Kansas, where I had been earlier to visit my best buddy Jacob Felländer. Visiting Jacob, I also met his roommate Andreas Malm, who later became 1/3 of the Bottleneck club. The last third was Mårten Sterner, who Andreas had met at a party in Stockholm after moving back home to Sweden. Andreas, Mårten and I were all really into buying records and looking up new and upcoming bands. The only problem was that there were only a couple of places [in the city] for upcoming and unsigned bands to play.
“I remember we spent a lot of nights going to gigs at Tre Backar on Tegnérgatan, as well as Hyndans Hörna in Gamla Stan and of course Kafé 44 on Tjärhovsgatan. This town needed more venues and we decided it was up to us to make this happen. The idea was to do clubnights on Sundays (!), when most restaurant staff had their day off and could use a club with live music. At the time I worked as a bartender at a tiny bar on Västerlånggatan in Gamla Stan called Tre Kronor. The owner also had this nightclub called Chapeau Claque in the same building, and asked us if we wanted to try to do our club there, which we did. We started out with only unsigned bands but after a few weeks (and big success) record companies and agents started calling us, asking us to have even more well-known bands. The cover charge was usually 30kr and the bands got to split all the money from the door, and we got a percentage of the bar sales. It was a weird place, the interior looked like one of those old ferries going from Sweden to Finland. Every Sunday, we built the stage from old pallets and rugs. In the basement there was a really ancient small room with a vault that we used as backstage. A friend of mine, Niklas Luthman, owned this music instrument agency called Luthman Scandinavia and he sponsored us with bass and guitar strings, drumsticks and instruments so the bands could jam and have fun backstage after the shows.
“This club only lasted for about a year or so but to name a few we had bands like Fireside, Loosegoats, Monster, Teddybears Sthlm, Honey is Cool (with Håkan Hellström on drums!), Grand Tone Music, Mazarine Street, Nymphet Noodlers (with members of TSOOL) and Bad Cash Quartet (when they were only 16 years old, so they had kind of a nanny with them!)”.
Henric, in full flow, continues with the story: “Anyway, after about a year the Swedish government decided to shut the place down, and we had to find a new venue. The PA company we used urged us to talk to this guy Leif, who had an underground venue behind a squash club at S:t Eriksplan. We had a meeting with him and decided to give it a shot, and best of all was, we were asked to do it on Saturday nights! We now changed the name to Fritz’s Corner, after a song by Chicago two-piece Local H, my favourite band at the time.
“This club had to be a members-only club because of Swedish alcohol laws. We had great success in promoting the grand opening and sold out the 450-person capacity. We now had 450 names and addresses for our new members register, a really good start! We quickly decided that in order to keep cover charge as low as 50 kr, we would have people pay a yearly membership fee of 150 kr. It all turned out really well and we pretty much sold out every Saturday night. By this time, we had a little office room at Luger’s Headquarters and they helped us get some really good bands. It was a cool place, the main stage room held around 250 to 300 people, and then there was a narrow corridor leading to another room with a bar, holding around 100 to 150 people. No windows, totally underground. It turned out to be the kind of place where people could go even on their own, because they knew they’d meet a lot of people they knew at the club. A lot of bands that played at the club became regulars and started new bands while drinking beer and watching other bands play. The cover charge was so low that a lot of people came to the club, even if they had never heard of the bands that were about to play that night. You could really feel that that this club was something new, and something that Stockholm had been missing for a long long time. Some of my favourite bands that played here in 1998 and 1999 include Royal Trux, The Make-Up, Low, Songs: Ohia, Bob Hund, TSOOL, The Hives and Monster”.
And some point however, the club has to be passed on, and since the mid-2000s Johan Nordqvist has been at the helm of Fritz’s Corner. We met him in the Fritz’s office to go a little deeper into the structure of the club.
So how did you personally get involved in Fritz’s Corner?
I was doing shows at a venue called Mondo. Friends of friends were in Fritz’s Corner, and I ended up getting voted onto the board. Then I finished my studies, and I told people that I was looking for a summer job, and they said ‘Hey, come and work for Fritz’s Corner instead, we need someone to take care of our shows at Kulturhuset’.
So you had shows at Kulturhuset at that point?
Yeah, we did summers there. For many years. This was summer 2005, so I promoted the shows there. We had shows every Saturday at Debaser Slussen, I guess for around ten years, from when Debaser Slussen started in 2002. Then Frida Hammarström, who worked at the office at Fritz’s, moved on, and they asked me if I wanted a full-time job, and that was the beginning for me at Fritz’s Corner. I’m daglig ledare. I’m in charge of everything gig-wise, working with bookings and stuff like that.
How does it work, what’s the organisational structure?
As a non-profit organisation, I have to answer to the board. As an organisation we have members, and if you become a member in Fritz’s Corner you get a say at the yearly meeting. So members can have an input in what we do. Members also get other benefits, for example when we did Saturdays at Debaser Slussen we had an age limit. I think it was 20 for normal visitors, but members could get in at 18. Entrance was also cheaper for members. Membership back then was 150kr, so you could get in for 20kr in the first hour, so if you went two times a year you had made your money back. Nowadays, we don’t do shows that frequently so the membership has declined.
How does one get elected onto the board then?
The membership elects the board at the yearly meeting. People can be nominated, and there’s a vote on whether they should join the board. It’s one of the reasons why the club has been around for twenty years, because we’ve always been able to add new people, new blood, who bring new energy.
You’re doing the bookings, so what’s the profile you look for in a band you book? You’ve got a mixture of local and international groups, so what do you look for when you book a band?
First of all, it depends on personal taste. If I like it, hopefully I can book it. But as long as it has quality, as long as it’s interesting it can work. We like the bands that we book, and I think you have to start there. If you only count the economics of it, it’s going to quickly turn boring I think. We’ve been lucky to have the opportunity [to book bands we like]. Like for example, when we had shows at Debaser Slussen, because the venue was popular and people went there, we would have around 300 people watching the bands, and after the bands finished the venue would fill up anyway, so we always had around 500 paying customers. You could kind of book the bands that you wanted to. For Lilla Hotellbaren, it was kind of the same deal, as they paid for us to be there and they covered the bands’ costs. So as long as we had a good turnout, they were happy, they audience we happy, we were happy and the bands were happy too.
Do you focus on new bands?
We try to have our ear to the ground on up-and-coming indie bands, partially because it’s fun to discover new bands and to have them play at the club. For a smaller venue, economy is important even for us, and you can’t pay that much money for a band to play at a venue if it’s only 100-person capacity. It’s not a 50,000kr fee, it’s more a 5,000kr fee. So that naturally means that up-and-coming bands are the ones you can and want to book. Though we’ve done bigger shows too, up to 800 people. Genre-wise, it’s always been independent music, more or less. It’s a demand issue. Because we’ve been around for so long, we’ve seen the shifts in audiences, at other clubs as well. For example, if we’ve done a lot of garage rock shows, then maybe another club pops up who focus on that, and we think ‘Good!’, because then we can move on to something different instead. Or if there is, for example, a really good metal scene in Stockholm, we might want to see those bands on our stages. As long as we feel it’s interesting and fulfilling for our members and our artists, we can do it.
Moving on, so what have been your personal favourite shows?
I like shows for different reasons. As I promoter, you always like the sold-out shows, or the shows where we had a lot of people, for example the Beach House (Beach House played Fritz’s Corner in 2010 at Debaser Slussen) shows. Or maybe the shows where I had tried to book the band for a long time, and finally it worked out. One example is a band called Lightning Bolt, who we booked in 2009 for the first time, but who I had been chasing since I started at Fritz’s. So four years later, I finally managed to book the band I wanted to see. So I think I would say Lightning Bolt at Debaser Slussen and Beach House. I also like the shows where there weren’t that many people there, but where those who are there are really excited about the band, and really happy to be a part of the night.
Johan and Henric are happy go through their memories from twenty years of the club, but the sad part is that this is the end. So why is Fritz’s Corner closing down? “The reasons for closing down are many” says Nordqvist. “We think that the twenty-year anniversary was a good date to quit. Everything has its time and in today’s music climate, there isn’t an obvious space for a non-profit organisation to compete with commercial actors. We sincerely hope that we’ll see new promotors and clubs fill the void that we’re leaving behind”.
It’s 20 years now, you’ve done 12 yourself. What are you most proud of from those years?
I think mostly it’s the number of bands and audiences that have played and gone to the shows. As we’ve averaged a hundred a year, then I’ve personally done 1,200 shows. If you look at it that way it’s huge, so that’s what I’m most proud of.
And the end of it all, twenty years is a pretty healthy run for a club in an environment as volatile as the live-music game. I ask Sandgren how he feels to see the club he started on Västerlånggatan still going all this time later: “It makes me so very proud! The guys and girls who have been in charge since I left have done such a great job with the club, really nursing it as if it was their own from the very beginning. Putting on shows with so many great bands in so many different venues, always looking for new ways to expand the club.
“I have quite a few friends who now are married and have kids with someone they first met at this club that I once started. Some of my best friends to this day, I met at this club that I once started. Kind of cool, I’d say. It was not my intension or belief from the start that this club would survive for 20 years, or that it would end up becoming such an institution. I know that Fritz’s Corner has meant a whole lot, to a whole lot of people!”
Fritz’s Memories: We asked the people who’ve been behind the club over its twenty-year span to look back on their favourite moments.
“Blonde Redhead at Takterassen. Why? That’s why!” – Georgios Kalafatidis, production for Fritz’s Corner 2007-2015
“Make Up at Squashhallen was one great memory. Also the last night at Squashhallen, where 22 bands played three songs each. One song was the oldest they could remember, one a cover and one as new as possible” – Stina Lorentz, former board member
“It was pretty fun at Slussen when a drunk Ryan Adams popped up onstage and played some songs together with Jesse Malin, while the singer in Schneider TM tried to strangle me because I hadn’t let Karl-Jonas backstage. One of my strongest memories.” – Göran Lagerberg, former board member
“I remember a lot of exciting times going to Squashhallen and not knowing who you were going to see, but knowing that it would be good. [Another time] When we carried Mustash’s backline and saw that it was Marshall stacks filled with fans to blow their hair onstage.” – Henric Herlenius, board member
“One show which was really good was actually moved, because of a double-booking, from Tanto Gården to the Hard Rock Café! It was Karate with CDOASS as support!” – Fredrik Herrmann, former board member
Fritz’s Corner celebrate their 20th anniversary with a double-day show at Kägelbanan on November 3 and 4. The line-up includes Hell On Wheels, Fresh & Onlys, Bring Me The Fucking Riot…Man, Shitkid, The Hanged Man, Hey Elbow, The Presolar Sands and Slug Bait.
Words: Austin Maloney