Not only did Portlandia land us with a serious crush on Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, it reminded us of why we fell in love, almost 20 years ago, with the oddball spirit of northwestern cities. From Eugene to Portland to Olympia, northwestern cities attract — and keep — some politically, socially, and culturally inspired folks. Of all these parallel-universe towns, none has made more tangible and lasting contributions to American film, music, or literature than Seattle, and Flavorpill finally is set to launch our Emerald City Edition. We think it’s a good fit.
Starbucks is sponsoring our Seattle launch, and by way of saying thank you (and in honor of their recent 40th anniversary), we’re running a retrospective of the city’s most noteworthy cultural contributions over the past four decades. Click through to check out our spotlight on grunge, the Seattle sound.
Grunge grew out of ’80s punk rock in Seattle and drew inspiration from local bands like The Melvins and The Fartz, with hard-rock groups like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin serving as meaningful, if geographically remote, influences on the northwest scene. The Melvins broke ground with some heavy, sludgy, slow-tempo sounds, and grunge bands like Soundgarden and Nirvana eventually developed that musical real estate.
In early-’90s Seattle, a revolutionary class of bands began to catch hold — Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney among them — combining fuzzy, distorted electric guitar sounds, contrasting song dynamics, and angsty lyrics. Corralled by Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman under the purview of indie label Sub Pop, the Seattle Sound soon became a bona fide, distinguishable rock movement.
Nirvana, Geffen Records, and Nevermind
Nirvana signed with Geffen in 1990 and uncorked their major label debut, Nevermind, in 1991. Record execs predicted low sales, but MTV played the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” the first single off Nevermind, pretty much on repeat as soon as it came out. In December, the album was selling 400,000 copies a week, and by January 1992, it had unseated Michael Jackson’s Dangerous at the top of the Billboard 200. Grunge music had officially ascended from the Seattle bar scene to the top of the international pop music scene. The success of Nevermind announced both the artistic arrival of grunge and its commercial viability and opened up an international audience and market for bands like Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains.
The Seattle music scene in general — and Sub Pop Records in particular — didn’t fizzle out when Kurt Cobain died, or when sappy, less inspired post-grunge bands like Bush and Candlebox emerged, or even when Blur and Oasis brought Britpop stateside. In fact, Sub Pop is still going strong with Seattle-based bands like Modest Mouse, The Shins, The Postal Service, and more recently, Fleet Foxes.
Stay tuned next week for Part Two of our Starbucks Seattle Culture Retrospective, and in the meantime, be sure to check out the Starbucks Signature Gallery: Take a picture of yourself with your favorite Starbucks drink, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org, and tag the pic with your drink of choice as the email’s subject. We’ll be giving away a $50 Starbucks Card each week and sending a Grand Prize Winner with the most creative pic on a VIP trip to Bumbershoot®: Seattle’s Music & Arts Festival this Labor Day weekend!