Bringing overseas music acts to Australia has always been an expensive past time reserved for either very large businesses, or the somewhat mad. With the amount of money to be made (and much more easily lost) it takes significant cajones to open a boutique business focused on touring underground electronic and hip-hop music from overseas. So it’s a good thing Jess and Anand Krishnaswamy, the married couple behind Brown Bear Entertainment, are not shy, retiring types.
Their two-years-young label is on a roll, and Sydney’s music community is reaping the benefits, with show after sold-out show of tastemaker producers, rappers and DJs that would otherwise have taken years – or a very cashed-up festival – to bring here.
“I think one of the most important things in our relationship early on was a passion for music,” says Anand, who married Jess right before the pair started BBE. “It’s become beneficial in a business sense. We’re hungry for music. We argue about it all the time, we’re always all over it.”
BBE often knows who is going to be hot before radio or local labels do, thanks to a connected matrix of overseas managers and bookers who respect the duo for their personal touch. An example of this touch can be seen in Cyril Hahn being invited to Anand’s parents’ house for a home-cooked meal (he really likes Indian food). “When an artist is overseas vouching for you, that’s immeasurable exposure,” says Jess. If you’re attending one of the shows the couple has booked, chances are it’s the act’s first time in Australia. It’s what Jess calls, “A big educated risk.” But judging by the crowds, it’s a risk worth taking.
“There’s no precise science to it,” says Anand. “We spend a lot of time in the office talking and strategising.” And like the true fans they are, they also insist on being at every show possible, together. “I’ve realised that if you spend all this time booking this tour, why not go on the road and realise the fruits of your labour?” says Anand. “See what works and what doesn’t.”
BBE’s hands-on touring philosophy gives it a unique position in the Sydney scene, and brings to mind upstart labels Future Classic and Modular, both of which became major success stories as a result of deep artist and audience engagement.
The Krishnaswamys know their fans so intimately that they call them their “kids”. Their young, hyper-involved social media fan base alerts the couple to whom they should be listening to and booking. It’s a grassroots approach that has paid off. Flosstradamus, a hyper hip-hop hybrid from the States with little airplay, sold out the Metro Theatre three times this year. “Trust is a big thing,” says Anand, “and it goes both ways.” Which means the artist you hassle BBE about today could be in your city next month.
At every possible opportunity, BBE tries to book headline shows that benefit the egos of their charges, but also deliver a tailored experience for fans, including custom lights and staging. Jess says one reason that scene stars such as Ryan Hemsworth and Cashmere Cat enjoy working with her and Anand is that they understand multi-act festival fatigue. “It’s like, ‘Can I come out and do my own shows, pick my own supports and merch, talk to kids my own way? Or do I want to play on the fifth stage at a festival at three o’clock in the afternoon to not that many people?’”
BBE’s strong base in Sydney is backed by the very public way it spoils its artists, from taking Kaytranada to Mary’s Burgers for his birthday, to helping Gelato Messina name a flavour after Little Dragon. With BBE, everyone wins.