Seattle, home of grunge. Where riot grrrls mix with crusties in the mosh pit. Move on 5 years and have things changed? Well, yes. Seattle's no longer the influence it was during those heady times - Nirvana gone, Subpop moved on, and the city seems to be a tourist trap with accommodation prices seemingly doubled in 3 years. And the tourist map - Subpop's on it! Has it all turned sour?

One thing which any music lovers does when visiting a new city is to scan through the FM radio dial. Seattle isn't what you would expect - mainly AOR - Bob Seger, Steely Dan etc, a bit of country - not what you'd expect. There is the local college radio, KCMU which is ok, but only one area sticks out - FUCC @ 89.1 FM, the local pirate station. Spoke to Mark X, a DJ there. What's up with the local radio?

The reason the pirate station exists is complex and you will get a different answer from different people. I personally want to be involved because of the opportunity to broadcast good music in a city that lacks

 
     

       
truly adventurous radio. Others do it for more of a political/anarchy reason. On the whole, I'd say it exists because there's a need for challenging and adventuresome radio in Seattle - not because the "kids" want it. Most of the demand for it at this time is from the station's employees and their friends. That is, its signal is weak enough to force most if the station's audience to be attained through word of mouth, and most of those people are well into their 20's & 30's - no, um, teeny-boppers.

 

There's still a thriving scene in Seattle if you know where to look. There's good deal deal where you can see up to 8 bands, some good some bad, in one night for $5. One is the Fenix Underground, owned by Northern Exposure's DJ Chris Corbett. Also, Record shops, like Orpheum in the swingin' Broadway district, open till MIDNIGHT. And cd's are 13 DOLLARS or less, even ones imported from the UK! The local stuff is even cheaper - and there are more indie labels spring up and coming out of the Subpop shadow...

How do they afford it?

Steve Mack, ex-That Petrol Emotion, now living in Seattle and working as producer as well as having a new band, Anodyne, had some inside info:

Microsoft money actually dribbles down to us artsy-muso types here; a lot of the locals are employed by Mr. Gates, and exorcise their guilt by funneling money into local bands. (insert sarcastic smirk here) It actually works out fairly well. I know of at least three labels that are funded by some soft of software industry cash.

       

       

Subpop refused to grant us an interview... but we're not too worried about that now but maybe their time is gone - they may have given us Nirvana after all, but they also gave us Soundgarden. Has grunge gone HM? Kevan Roberts is the Seattle correspondent for Kerrang! magazine.

I think Sub Pop have diversified since the "grunge explosion" but having said that they have always been reasonably diverse. Even when their main acts were Soundgarden, Nirvana and

Mudhoney they were putting out stuff by the Walkabouts, Terry Lee Hale etc. But - regardless of how diverse they have become - their biggest sellers remain Bleach and the Sub Pop 200 (and they must have made a few quid from their points on Nevermind too).

And obviously this income (as well as the funding from Capitol) has allowed them to go out and sign a variety of artists. Although they are always going to be linked to the grunge thang I think of them as being an indie label much like Matador now. They're always going to be linked with Seattle/grunge for the obvious reasons but I think (and they'd certainly say so in any case) that they have moved on quite a long way since, probably as much out of boredom,

artistic integrity or whatever.

I can't remember which of it was - but one of the partners (- Bruce Pavitt or Jon Poneman) was recently in a local publication as saying they were just as excited by the new cocktail

       

   

trend as they had been by the dirty guitars of the past. Hence

their interest in the likes of Combustible Edison, Friends Of Dean Martinez, Eric Matthews etc.

First time I ever came over here (in 88-ish) and heard Mudhoney, Nirvana and Soundgarden they all initially sounded like HM, or more accurately, rock bands to me. Just had better dress sense and haircuts (some of them), smaller egos (onstage at least) and were less inclined to sing about wanting to "rock you all night long"

I guess the popularity of the whole grunge thing when it hit also left a lot of the more traditional HM bands bankrupt - both in a metaphoric musical as well as a real financial sense - so some of them really obviously attempted to get on the bandwagon (Motley Crue etc) while others were a bit more subtle.

It wasn't just Subpop that fired the grunge thing of course, but very few labels lasted the way they did. But one label which did was one with an interesting history who is coming round full circle today. Box Dog is run by Smitty who was in Mr. Epp with Mark Arm of Mudhoney fame.

Box Dog has a Mr. Epp CD coming out in October. Epp was an old Seattle art/noise/punk band from '81-'84 that featured Jo Smitty, Mark Arm, Steve Turner, Darren Mor-X, and Todd Why?.

We also have a 7" by Hovercraft coming out some time this fall.

Todd Morey was the lead singer and main guy in Atomic 61, a Portland band that just broke up. They never really got famous but they had a small following. Elizabeth Davis (of 7 Year Bitch) was their bass player on their first few records. Darren Mor-X is most "famous" as

   

   

the drummer for Steel Pole Bath Tub but he's also played with Tumor Circus(Steel Pole + Jello Biafra +_ Charlie Tolney), Dosed Bernie and others.

It's not just grunge either - it seems that Seattle has often been the forerunner of many trends, and now it seems to be 'experimenal'. Patrick at Apraxia Music Research told me more...

5 years ago I was trying to get an improvised music band together and the only shows we could get were really crappy opening slots at rock clubs and/or "headline" gigs at a completely ridiculous no-hope hole where the owner's idea of "payment" was a discount on a pint of beer. Meanwhile rock was raking in the dough at the big clubs, as it is now.

But now there are a few places, one or two, where "this kind" of weird music is encouraged and supported

And whatever noise scene there is has certainly _not_ replaced the Subpop scene. For one thing, our little scene will never impact the masses. The music simply isn't marketable. For another thing, the "avant-noise" scene in this town has been there all along, since before the subpop thing, since before the sonics, since before the jazz scene in the 50s. Seattle and Washington in general has a deeply entrenched histoy of new music, going all the way back to John Cage's stint at Cornish College, where he first worked with prepared piano.

Weird quirks, like my band Blowhole being asked to perform at Lollapalooza last year, don't reflect a greater acceptance of our music but instead reflect a desire by the public and by Lollapalooza's marketers to _feel_ like they're covering all the bases. We were treated well but ultimately we were there because someone thought it was a "fuckin' rad" idea, not because they were truly interested in presenting a wider musical spectrum.

   

     

So it seems that the name of the game is diversity? Scott Colburn of Gravelvoice told us of his varied roster.

Of the bands we work with, most are considered fringe. Sun City Girls are cult figures in their own right. Ed Pias plays excellent hand percussion, trap kit and exotic ethnic percussion. CGT are truly experimental. almost soundtracky. Eyvind plays with Frissell, Zorn, Horvitz as well as solo violin. John Fahey...well he is an acoustic folk guitar legend. I also work with Blowhole which is a sometime rock, sometimes noise, sometimes whatever..