By: Paige Greely
For a long time, the Pacific Northwest has been overlooked as a place far away from the rest of the country, with its own society detached from the rest. But in 1962 the rest of the world turned towards Seattle for the World’s Fair, or Century 21 Exposition, and its new addition to the city skyline: the Space Needle. The futuristic landmark introduced the city to the rest of the world and showcased its untapped potential. A select group of people emerged from the previously overlooked city; many of which would eventually rock our radios.
The first being Jimi Hendrix. Now known as a rock and roll legend, whose influence can still be heard today, even 45 years after his death of a drug overdose at age 27. But Hendrix was not the only rock star to come out of the Emerald City.
During the 1980s a “do-it-yourself” attitude towards music became the way for angsty youths to express their thoughts about society and complications in everyday life. Bands started setting up shows in their garages, basements, and dorm rooms for their friends and other attendees for free. People not only recognized their talent, but figured they could do the same. The freedom of the music scene, without its labels, producers or sponsors, caused the growth of this creative outlet to grow rapidly.
Seeing shows around the city was common practice and happened on a regular basis, as bands were forming left and right. While the music venues were soon hosting future legends of grunge.
Small time bands began producing their own albums and releasing them independently to their devoted followers. Others started radio broadcasts to play these newly recorded albums and to publicize grunge music scene events or shows. People began smaller, independent music labels in hopes of bringing attention to their favorite bands.
Sub Pop Records is one of the most renowned independent labels in business today. Founders Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman began representing bands who wanted to dedicate themselves fully to their music, but still wanted to get their name out there and gain a following. Sub Pop is still respected globally as a fosterer of creative music and signer of musicians who love what they do.
Seattle, like its stereotypical reputation, can be grey, wet and cold. The same could have been said for throughout the city’s popular culture. Rock and roll began to evolve and artists formed a new genre with dark lyrics and threatening sounds.
But they were not like the hair metal bands, like Metallica, that were popular during that time. There was a more classic essence to the new grunge genre, mainly because it brought music to its roots, becoming focused again on lyrics and explaining a situation by performing those lyrics to a similar musical tone.
The drummer of Nirvana, and front man of the Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl quoted about the 1980s music culture, saying, “the late ’80s was full of over-produced pop that kids had nothing to grab hold of. You had a bunch of formulaic pop songstress bullshit, and music was boring.”
Grunge bands were tired of hearing the same music; they therefore, began to create with a new fire. While the listeners, also tired of the pop, loved the new genre. Grunge bands soon picked up momentum from their local fans and began touring in vans around the country, spreading the word of this newly emerged music scene where artists were about the music and not corporate money.
There are many bands that should be thanked for Seattle’s music reputation as the birth place of grunge rock. Legends such as Mudhoney, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and of course, Nirvana are just a few proud Seattle-lites that pushed the bounds of music. All these bands were compiled of mostly Washington state natives who had come to know each other within the cities open-minded and creative society. A majority of these bands still perform and release new records to this day.
The community that was, and is Seattle grunge, became globally famous about 10 years after is birth, when in 1991, a song called “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and a band called Nirvana, went mainstream. The grunge music was raw and unlike any other music being played on the radio. People may have not understood the lyrics or the message they carried; but, through its originality and pure angsty sound, people all over the world got angry and they loved it.
Nirvana and its front man Kurt Cobain had the mainstream music market in the palm of their hands. Their audience base drew attention to the rest of the grunge bands in Seattle and throughout the Pacific Northwest. The Pacific Northwest was no longer a disregarded section of the country, but rather one of the most important players in the rock and alternative music scene. Grunge, as a genre, still dominates the Seattle music culture. Likewise, the same attitude of being in it for the music and not the money that made the grunge scene so interesting has brought fame to many artists such as indie folk bands Fleet Foxes and The Head and The Heart and rappers like Sir Mix A Lot and Macklemore.
Seattle-ites are well versed in music culture, but especially grunge, because it is partially responsible for why we love the city. The open-mindedness of Seattle, along with its culturally minded atmosphere, has produced many globally recognized people, and not just musically with Jimi Hendrix and grunge bands, but also scientifically with Bill Gates, Paul Allen and Microsoft, and artistically with glass artisan Dale Chihuly.
Seattle-ites have much to be proud of on the creative front, and now it is even expanding to our athletics. Russell Wilson, quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks said in 2013, “why not us?” before leading his team to win Seattle’s first Super Bowl title a year later.
It seems fitting that Seattle got put on the global, and cultural map, because of a scientific exhibition. For today the city is a hub of cutting edge technology and artistic expression. Though it is now a known cultural destination, Seattle still has so much to offer musically, artistically and technologically to not only the US but to the world at large.