Or as Nicholas Cage says to Sean Connery in “The Rock” regarding Connery’s prison hair style, “it is a grunge thing!” This is what Fodor’s says about Seattle grunge.
Grunge means grime or dirt—which went on to define a new sound coming out of Seattle in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Fusing metal and punk rock, grunge incorporated fuzz effects, feedback, guitar distortion, and anguished lyrics. The music form jumped onto the scene with C/Z Records’ release of Deep Six in 1986, introducing the world to Melvins, Green River, Malfunkshun, Soundgarden, Skin Yard, and the U-Men. Sub Pop, another record label founded in 1986, signed up major grunge players including Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney; they’re often credited with kick-starting the “grunge movement.” Although the sounds have changed, grunge (along with flannel shirts and Doc Martens) are what defined Seattle musically (and sartorially), and there are still traces to be found today.
Alice In Chains, Nirvana, and Soundgarden played at Central Saloon before headlining around the world; it still offers live performances. Check out the control room, lounge, and overdub studios at London Bridge Studio, where Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains recorded albums (tours by reservation only). “A Sound Garden” is the name of a public art piece in Magnuson Park, made up of 12 steel towers that produce grunge-like sounds when the wind blows right—the origin of Soundgarden’s name. Some music venues where grunge bands played early on are still open today, including The Crocodile (which has changed locations but is still the same storied club), El Corazón (called Off Ramp back then), and The Showbox. Shop for vinyl LP copies of every Sub Pop release (along with other wares and objets d’art) at the famous Sub Pop Airport Store at the SEA Airport and at Sub Pop on 7th, in the Belltown neighborhood.
One of the best places to learn about Seattle music, and grunge in particular is Paul Allen’s Museum of Pop Culture or MoPop at Seattle Center. Over the years, they have exhibited extensive collections from not only Seattle grunge, but Jimi Hendrix, Elvis, and other Seattle related music (Paul Revere and the Raiders, guitar gallery, The Ventures, Fleetwoods, and Bumps Blackwell).
Grunge 1985-1995 (Wikipedia)
Prior to the mid-1980s, the local hardcore and metal scenes were often violently confrontational with each other. The opening of the Gorilla Gardens venue changed that by offering two separate shows at the same time; as a result, both hardcore and metal were frequently played on the same nights. The softening of relations between the two groups helped inspire the look and sound of grunge, a term allegedly coined by Mark Arm of the brief joke band Mr. Epp and the Calculations who gained some local notoriety.
Two local bands later become well-known icons of the era: The U-Men and Green River, the latter of which has been cited as the true beginning of grunge. Local music author Clark Humphrey has attributed the rise of grunge, in large part, to the scene’s “supposed authenticity”, to its status as a “folk phenomenon, a community of ideas and styles that came up from the street” rather than “something a couple of packagers in a penthouse office” dreamed of, as well as Seattle’s isolation from the mainstream record industry. Rebee Garofalo attributes to the unlikely rise of Seattle’s alternative rock to the legacy of local rock left behind by the Ventures and Jimi Hendrix.
The grunge scene revolved around Sub Pop, a record label founded by Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman. Sub Pop was founded by Bruce Pavitt, who began with a local radio show and began releasing tapes of local bands. Radio stations like KJET, KGRG and KCMU and local music press like Backlash and Seattle Rocket and City Heat Magazine also played a vital role. Grunge’s entrance into the mainstream is usually traced to the release of Nirvana‘s Nevermind in 1991, though others point to the signing of Soundgarden to A&M Records in 1988 and their Grammy-nominated Ultramega OK, and the release of a compilation album called Deep Six on C/Z Records in 1986. Though Soundgarden failed to bring in large national audiences at the time, record executives saw enough promise to send scouts out to the major bands, many of whom signed to large labels.
The 1991 release of Nevermind catapulted the local scene into national fame. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains and other grunge bands became bestselling groups; many of their earlier fans greeted this development with cries of selling out, and the bands themselves struggled with the irony of alternative rock bands entering mainstream pop culture. Seattle grunge as national fare ended abruptly in a few years, however, beginning with the suicide of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain in 1994.
Seattle has been and still is, a hot bed of music. We have enjoyed many genres here: ABBA, Sting, Paul Simon, Chicago, Average White Band, Jeffrey Osborne, Tower of Power, the Seattle Symphony, John Handy, and many others.