This individual puts up some intriguing stuff on YouTube, noted this one a while back and find it pretty revealing.

Core reality of my life; I’m British white middle class working an office job. My day doesn’t involve being on the receiving end of any form of discrimination, it doesn’t involve a macho environment full of people spoiling for a fight or running on drugs or adrenalin, I’m unlikely to be sexually assaulted (unlike, as the current government estimate states, anywhere between 60,000 and 90,000 women this year in the U.K. – as a sidebar, dang, kinda upsetting number huh? I know one friend who has been raped and two who have been attacked so it’s a fair guarantee even more of my loved ones will be…), I’m rarely exposed to aggression in any form – which means when I see violence in real-life I find it quite a punch in the gut – but frankly I’m delighted to lead such a lucky life, one where I’m totally unused to any such unpleasantness.

At first viewing perhaps it’s easy to say “oh, look, it’s Kurt Cobain being aggressive,” but I actually feel a far greater empathy as a result of viewing this. Let’s start with the obvious and with the end item; the notorious Dallas, Texas performance in 1991. Cobain smashes a piece of equipment with his guitar, a bouncer (I can’t remember if he owned it or if his friend did) takes offence, waits for Cobain to dive into the crowd then proceeds to grab him by the hair, takes the opportunity to get some punches in – Cobain twats him with the guitar and on they go, bit of a fight, gang of people step in, blood, stand-off, audience chanting… That’d put a spoiler on anyone’s day. This isn’t the only fight in Nirvana’s history – but physical violence is mercifully rare, as it should be in anyone’s life.

The video, however, is wonderfully edited to include events leading up to the incident. Cobain’s equipment is malfunctioning, people are fiddling with his pedals, eventually the guitar cuts out altogether but he tries to soldier on and keep singing, keep performing. This is the difference between being a performer and most other jobs; your entire job is compressed into one hour, two hours – if something goes wrong then that’s it, you’ve achieved nothing that day. Worse, not only do you fail, you can’t fix it quietly – you fail publically, in front of your audience, you can’t hide it or take it back. That kind of full exposure is rare in the majority of jobs. You drop something? Fine, most of the minor worries of the day-to-day can be fixed without anyone even noticing. Something goes wrong? Most of the time you have hours left to fix it and can go to bed without it excising your mind too hard. I have a boss – a couple times a year I have to own up, my bad, I screwed up. It never feels good. Cobain doesn’t have one boss, he has a crowd of people all there witnessing things he often can’t control. That must be an unusual feeling – stand up, give a presentation, see how embarrassed you feel when you drop something in front of them, or the PowerPoint slides don’t click on, or someone points out you’ve made an error…It feels personal.

The technical failures are present here and also in the clip from November 1993. OK, if my laptop switches itself off and I can’t complete my work, I’m furious. I leave the room, I cuss the machine – I’m frustrated, I’m annoyed. Cobain doesn’t have the virtue of being able to walk away – he’s stuck there on stage with a few thousand people observing, he feels responsible and, of course, he’s pretty well trapped in a cone of human focus and attention. It’s the same frustration present whenever one’s tools are defective, they’re letting you down at the critical moment, it ruins what one is trying to do. In the Dallas incident and the Bethlehem, PA case Cobain takes some brief anger out on the equipment – Gods, some days I do wish I could hurl the laptop down a stairwell…Know that feeling? Then these two clips will make more sense.

Add something more to that, however, Cobain complained of people walking over his effects peddles and equipment to get on stage. Heh! Again, sat at my desk it’s unlikely anyone is going to tread on my keyboard or kick my phone – but to not only suffer an equipment malfunction as a consequence but also for there to be someone obviously and thoughtlessly responsible…Again, the annoyance is understandable. In the Dallas’ clip, whatever the guys crouched at his feet – who seem to be trying to sort the peddles out – do, they accidentally cut the guitar altogether to a long howl of feedback. Unhelpful. Similarly, trying to do one’s job, trying to blast through the 90 minutes one has to get right that day only to have a whacking great spotlight blinding you altogether as in the opening clip? I’ve seen people throw fits because of the glare on their screen as they try to work, they can’t see what they’re doing…How’s about an industrial size searchlight’s worth of glare? Feel better? I can’t think of any job that would be improved by someone at the back of the room aiming a torch at your eyes. Again, rather than seeing it as Cobain being moody, it seems a pretty reasonable reaction to a rather major annoyance. Getting back to the time factor; do your whole job in a ninth of the time – sure, sounds good to keep things short but it’s more like compression, a ratcheted up intensity level that also deepens the impact of negatives.

The opening show on the clip, Brazil, is notorious for Cobain’s basically drug-addled performance. Again, I’ve seen people with migraines leave the office because of strong light, can’t imagine how ugly enduring a comedown on stage in front of 45,000 people must feel. Most of us have felt time crawl during a hungover day or the day we crawl in feeling like death warmed up because of sickness, or travel conditions fry us or soak us before we make the office and have to endure a full day of discomfort – watching this clip reminded me of that equivalence between anyone’s world, anyone’s day job, and that of a top-level musician. Even without the drug issue he’d be entitled to days where it’s a wonder he doesn’t puke on stage or lose a lung coughing. Top marks for attendance!

Personal pride has a lot to do with it too. Most human beings want to do a job well, they don’t want to fail. Cobain doesn’t want a crowd of people telling him he’s sh** – no one would become a performer if their only interest was in failing or being ignored, dismissed, criticised. Cobain took his work seriously, he wanted to do his best by crowds – at least through the majority of the band’s performances. The band at one point were getting sick of playing “Love Buzz” but he reminded them that, at the time, it was their best known song, it was what people wanted to hear and he thought they had to do it – he cared about satisfying the ‘judges’ stood in front of him for that hour or two. The band may have practised for hours in the run up to a tour, they were tired, run-down, exhausted, home-sick, hungry – they had to make it all count for something. For something to interfere with and prevent that from happening must have felt terrible.

The July 1989 show in New York was the end of the tour – they felt so awful by then they cancelled the rest of their dates and headed home. Jason Everman was unceremoniously kicked out the band – or simply never asked back, the kind of personal circumstance that, understandably, would affect anyone trying to do their best. Instead a drunk grabs the second mic, shouts “fucking shit!” and proceeds to interfere with the gear as the band alternate between trying to usher him off the stage and encouraging him in the right direction by nudging and shoving him – what else are they meant to do? Remarkably, they’re still playing even as he demolishes the song – it must be embarrassing trying to complete one’s job while a drunk sprawls around in the middle of it. It all spills over into minor violence and the song breaks down. No wonder. There’s a well-known bootleg of a show in Vienna in 1989 where the band are heckled by a drunk who shouts “play songs about fucking girls!” at them for the best part of five minutes – that’s an awfully long time for someone to shout at you. Enduring the intoxication of others is irksome even when it’s a friend (mea culpa – sorry friends! Your tolerance has been appreciated many a times!) but to endure the drunkenness of strangers is a really drain. When they move on to actively interfering and interrupting your performance, souring the experience of those you’re trying to impress and perform for…Rotten.

Just as I’m not subject to aggression or violence in my day-to-day, I’m not subjected to unwanted physical attention either. At the Leeds 1990 show on the clip Cobain is trying to play as a guy proceeds to hug him. Overreaction? It seems more like a violation of personal space at a really rotten moment to be honest. You’re trying to do your job, you’re trying to concentrate, you could screw up in front of a thousand people, some lumbering drunk grabs you – great. It clearly wasn’t meant maliciously, most things aren’t, but it doesn’t make Cobain’s reaction disproportionate or unreasonable – last thing needed when trying to sing, play guitar, keep up with your band is an outside factor getting involved. Plus if I was suddenly grabbed from behind I’d flinch at the very least. Unfortunately there’s a perspective that performers are public property – that, as entertainers, their bodies are there to be touched, groped, molested at the whim of the audience. It’s a curiosity actually, that buying a ticket for a performance, to some people, entitles them to view interference with the performer as acceptable – the enjoyment and entertainment of one or more members of the audience takes priority over anything the performer might feel, a very dehumanised and dehumanising response to having bought entry.

It isn’t just audience members and bouncers who might interfere; November 1991, the Paradiso…Cobain glares into the camera lens then eventually snaps and gets right up in the cameraman’s face, smothering him. There’s a sense of that children’s game, you know the one where you hover your finger just an inch off someone’s skin then say “I’m not touching you,” so you can annoy and still claim mock innocence? Kids are so cunning – always pure malice, they know when they’re doing wrong. The cameraman feels he’s entitled to get ‘his shot’ so intruding into Cobain’s performance, getting in the audience’s way, hovering the lens next to Cobain’s face – so long as he doesn’t actively hit him – it’s all fine. Of course it’s not, Cobain makes his “how would you like it?” point by standing over the cameraman, interfering with the guy’s camera, waving his guitar over them – again, it’s not violent but he’s crossed the line into physical contact because the intrusiveness of the camera has been sorely underrated. Again, imagine doing your job as someone hovers by you, staring, watching, observing your every move. Musicians already have to get used to an abnormal environment in which they will be watched with that intensity – so they create other lines and boundaries to their psychic space. As a contrast, Cobain seems nonplussed by the stage-divers charging past in Leeds – any contact is incidental, any proximity is accidental (though probably a bit irksome if too close and if uninvited) …Bar that one deliberate moment. Same with the cameraman – it’s the deliberateness of the observation, not its mere existence, that pushes over the boundary.

The second clip is simply Cobain clipping his mouth on the mic in 1991. Minor, but still, getting popped in the face by a piece of metal, catching it in the teeth – it’s not a pleasant experience being smacked in the mouth, teeth are sensitive! Things being thrown on stage, thrown at the band, that’s not uncommon. Trying to work and being spat at, just being rapped by bits of metal or plastic – it’s a niggling irritation and an occasional pain. Again, it’s a fair reason to get annoyed, to react poorly – it’s more a sign of the band’s chosen path that they’re clearly used to it, there are few cases of them stopping or asking people to desist. If someone chucked stuff at me just because I was stood in front of them I’d have a heck of a lot more to say. In a way it’s an indication of the band’s learned discipline as performers that this kind of incident barely pauses them if at all. That’s a major factor when viewing this video; the determination to keep playing, to continue singing, to not fall out of time…That’s a demonstration of serious practice and strong discipline – something underestimated when it comes to serious musicians. An unpractised, untrained human being would usually react or fail when subjected to such things – these guys? Nah. Strong.

That leads us to the final clip for discussion – penultimate one on the video. Cobain chucks down his guitar rushes to the front of the stage and points out the person he wants removing; the band taunt them on their way out. This wasn’t an uncommon occurrence unfortunately, the band witnessing guys in the crowd using the tightness of the space to grope and molest girls. One of the favoured clichés of the tabloid newspaper is to describe some awful act – a mugging, assault, sexual assault, theft, whatever – and make sure to say how no one did anything, that people didn’t want to get involved. It’s a sad truth that caught in a moment, indecision and inactivity are understandable first reactions after which the chance to do anything has usually passed. It’s to Cobain’s credit, and the band’s, that they didn’t let it pass. There were some things they didn’t want to play witness to at their shows.

So…A long ramble…But what does a bad day at the office look like for Nirvana? It might mean verbally abusive drunks, physically aggressive drunks, physically aggressive staff, invasion of space, unwanted physical attention, others damaging your property, others interfering with your equipment, people sabotaging you as you try to get stuff done, people throwing things at you, people doing unpleasant things a few feet away in front of you, equipment malfunctioning or breaking down altogether stopping you in your tracks…Add that to the challenges of the physical environment; a sweaty club, a smoky room, a wind-swept outdoor venue, lights so strong they hurt, equipment too loud or so quiet you can’t hear it, a crowd yelling, staff wandering around, tight space so you can barely move or so wide you can barely communicate with your comrades as you work – imagine the niggling difficulties one has to overcome and get round if you’re changing workplace every single day…Then just add on the normal day-to-day stuff that affects most of us; clumsy moments, bad moods, not being at one’s best, walking into things, walking on things, being off rhythm, just failing like everyone always does at some point – of course, multiply that by the fact that a band performance means that each band member is subject to whatever failings their colleagues feel that day, not just their own. Nirvana played around 370 shows in their life span – in that space of time they must have grown one hard skin, far more than I have in thousands of days of working. That’s a lot of intense days at work for the Nirvana boys.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go stand at the window and rubberneck on the couple having the argument in the street outside.


Gosh, this bloke has already found the vinyl – I still need to see them but I admit it I’m starting to become one of those people who strokes vinyl album sleeves and says how pretty they are…

Wanted to do a quick round-up of reviews I’ve seen of the “No Seattle” release – I’m making such a fatal newbie error by actually reading the reviews, I guess my fragile lil’ soul will be crushed the first time I see one saying “this is worthless” but for now I’m pretty chuffed seeing that there’s pretty clear good feeling about the bands and songs on this release. Kudos bands! Whoop!

One cause of satisfaction is how different reviews state completely different favourites! I mean, personally, the two songs I sing around the house are Starfish “Run Around” and Medelicious “Beverly” but other tunes play in my head – I love Yellow Snow too…Looking through what’s below, however, there’s such a diversity of taste – people pulling out completely different preferences. Definitely a cause for satisfaction that a compilation should accommodate such divergent interests and preferences.


I found this one on Norman Records’ site – the one below is the official Irish Times review:

What consistency! 8 out of 10 and 4 out of 5! Heh! Lovely…But look at it – Helltrout, Vampire Lezbos and Bundle of Hiss on one – Kill Sybil, Crunchbird and The Ones on the other.

The guys at Nirvana Italia kindly chipped in their own review here (thanks Raffaele and Stefano!) and they like Starfish, Nubbin, Thrillhammer, Chemistry Set! Sheesh! Everyone loves different things – The Wire magazine preferred Hitting Birth’s Coil-esque piece:

There’s also this at the Alternative Grunge Crew site:

I admit I’ve no idea what this piece on This Is Underground says…But I’ve always loved the photo of Soylent Green in the meat locker in Tacoma.

Was pleased to see my copy of the Wire drop through the door with a nice big back cover advert – looks good at that scale:

The Wire

No Seattle_Advert

Have I said this already somewhere? Over the past two years as I’ve paid out my evenings in endless Nirvana working – the 50 hour working week followed by 20-30 Nirvana hours – I’ve found myself asking daily whether all this work is an exploitation of something I love or a celebration? Have I stayed on the right side of the line, behaved with integrity, fairness, honesty, decency? I’m fully aware that ultimately others decide that – it’s why I’m so pleased in one sense when people call me out on something, challenge me, argue against me – if people didn’t do so I fear becoming immune to reality, unable to even consider that I might be screwing up. Of course it’s pretty crucial in life that one put away the questions ultimately and make a leap into action – without justifying amorality or a refusal to recognise the moral consequence of a choice.

Given that awkward combination I’d have to say I adore the artwork Soul Jazz have chosen for the “No Seattle” compilation. Why? Well, genuinely, I had nothing whatsoever to do with it so it came as a surprise to me – it’s intelligent, nuanced, affectionate, funny, vicious…What a combination – complexity writ large as the packaging to a compilation that I’ve said all along is about restoring a bit of complexity to the overly simplistic picture that claims all the late Eighties-early Nineties in State of Washington was about is Grunge. Each image introduces something new.

No Seattle

So. I felt uncomfortable when I first saw the front cover – and that’s a true compliment given I’m rarely moved by album art. The cover brought me face-to-face with my dilemma; when is doing honour to a memory taking advantage of it? The cover is, of course, a parody of the long-since clichéd and over-used “Nevermind” cover. But no…It’s more. It’s a raspberry being blown underwater by a puffy cheeked youngster. For a start it’s funny – it’s said in many a book that people underrated how funny grunge was, how funny the bands involved were and how much fun and humour there was in that scene. The photo foregrounds that more casual fun right there on the cover. Nice to see some irreverence rather than the po-faced and funereal weight that period often comes attached to (mea culpa, I’m as guilty as anyone on that score.) Of course, look closer and you’ll see sweet young thing ain’t sweet no more – touch of stubble maybe? Acne perhaps? Freckles for sure… Awww, the smooth-skinned lil’ blonde is long long gone…Time has moved on and we’re looking back at something warts n’ all. Idea shown in an image – I’m the inferior in trying to tell you about something that a single picture captured so well.

That raspberry fits the image for the whole release – “Forgotten Sounds of the North West Grunge Era” – raspberry blown at the whole damned cultural baggage wrapped around it, an expelling of the near-religious veneration of a long dead man of just 27 years of age, moving on, moving on, celebrating what else was there – a pool party, something entertaining. Going deeper under the surface – finding what else lies there. In the case of the Pacific North West – a ton of really good bands like Thrillhammer, Shug, Machine or Kill Sybil. It’s appropriate and using an image that has been cheapened by magazines and media with not even the slightly respect for the North West music scene…It’s nice to bring it on home to people who deserve it.


The back cover contains a visible camera lens – a mouth swallowing the image. Yeah, I’m thinking too much maybe but there’s a reason that image is there; someone at Soul Jazz decided that what we were trying to escape was the over-sold banner of “grunge” so chose an image that suggests it was less a musical reality and far more a well-marketed convenience, a media lens not a god-honest-truth we were receiving undiluted and uncontrolled. The black surround blots out everything except what the photographer has chosen to focus on – now tell me that’s not the entire tale of North West guitar music in its media heyday? The reality eaten by an open mouth devouring all – the selective truth that was stuck in front of the camera and snapped until it drowned. Again, “No Seattle” was a release Stuart and Steve at Soul Jazz spoke of as trying to capture what else was going on, drawing in the lost and forgotten – that back image sums up “No Seattle” not in the central picture but in the black surround – it’s that blackness we’re looking to see what bands were there, what fun songs and tunes to be discovered.

The couple on the back cover though, again, another contrast with the original underwater picture anyone who knows anything about Nineties music can conjure inside their head in a heart-beat – go on, you know the one, baby – fish hook – dollar – dick. Here, it’s suddenly clear that far from repeating Spencer Elden’s immortalised penis, his foregrounded and clear masculinity, we’re looking at a girl. More so, far from 1991’s innocent and exposed nakedness, this child covers up, protected with goggles, hair net – there’s no innocence now, Seattle-Grunge is it even possible to mention the words without ending up hooked to the cavalcade of sales and marketing that spewed out during those years? Again, I’m brought back to my own self-criticism; I am fully aware that acknowledging the legacy and exposure Nirvana has given to an entire scene makes it easy for kneejerk accusations of taking advantage to be made. They’re unavoidable. Well, I’ve got my swimwear on, ear plugs-and-goggles, I’m ready to hear those who want to call bullshit. And I’m ready to defend too; there are twenty-three bands here who were kicking out a joyous noise to the heavens back when I was a pre-teen soaking up my Transformers the Movie Official Soundtrack – that’s what this release is celebrating, a fertile and lost web of creativity from which certain individuals were snatched and well done to them!

The thumbs up intrigued me…Again, I think it’s a wise choice. Even on the surface detail – it’s a positive, warm and celebratory gesture rekindling the happiness of the North West scene where all these friends and colleagues mingled, partied, played, collaborated. The release at least catches a sliver of that – I think it’s possible to link near every band on the release and usually not just through the Nirvana lens acknowledged in the middle. The big thumbs up carried a darker thought for me – again, a reason why I’m impressed with the art – in that I think it clearly said shows neither participant in the photo unaware of the moment in the way the baby was in 1991. Let’s face it, the underground sold up two decades back, we’re all here in 2014, some twenty-three years later and there isn’t much more than a pretence of resistance to the dollar on a fish-hook. The mainstream music culture reverted to type and now doesn’t care about questions of integrity so long as everyone claims they’re having a good time, shouts about a party over and over to numbness – the point of the cover of “Nevermind” wasn’t that the baby was going to refuse the dollar, it was just how deep was that hook going to go when the baby caught hold? The two figures bend their knees in submission to something that’s pretty inevitable – we live in a culture with money as the medium of exchange and we all need a bit of it to live and to create. The compromise, the bent knee, is not something resisted, it’s just something where we choice how low we bow, what for and when. The child grew up so self-aware; thumb raised in acknowledgement that we should worry, it’s a choice and she knows what she’s doing. Again, kudos Soul Jazz for making me think about the artwork so well – and heck, I darn hope the release sells because I think they do great work which deserves supporting and I think the bands deserve a day in the sun too! I reckon it’s worth more than a few dollars.

I think it means something that the child is accompanied by an adult by the way – this is all the music people made in their wild youth and now they mostly have kids of their own, people to care for. That’s no disgrace, it’s a glory – everyone gets a few second lives, a few repeats and new beginnings. And it doesn’t have to be a conflict, sometimes it’s a pleasure. That’s a happy photo on the back of two people safe n’ happy. Must be a lot of people these same bands inspired in the past to copy their “hell yeah!” thumbs up and just play, make some noise! Do something! The adults on this release can look back with pride on their own youth and simultaneously have a few art babies copying their gestures too.


The image on the CD and inside the back cover took my breath away. The light, shade, turquoise water, crystal eyes and blonde hair – it’s a simply beautiful photo. No qualifications for once, no deeper thought – it’s just beautiful. In amid the thoughtfulness, the knowingness, the sarcasm and parody there’s something of beauty. Darn straight! It’s called the music – and here it is as an image. For all the observation, the looking at the outside all I’d say is it’s about overcoming doubt and qualification and opening this up to see what’s on the inside – and I see beauty in the music on this release. I’m so glad they chose to use such a variety of participants for this release. The child is near androgynous beauty – no gender, I think a girl which would be another neat lil’ kicker in that it’s concealed on the back to some degree and exposed inside. I think there was a sore gender imbalance in what the mainstream bought from Seattle and the North West. For a scene that contained so many kick-ass girls and female-fronted bands and female participants it’s a tragedy record companies only bought the boys with the lank hair…There wasn’t a quota to the release, no ‘gender bar’, but I was satisfied with the way the end line-up shared a lot more space boy-friends, girl-friends, just FRIENDS! Everyone in together – good. Now that is a far more truthful picture than was ever drawn.


Then again, there’s one last trick isn’t there? Oh the horror, the horror…Could they have chosen a child that looked any more like a young Kurt Cobain? So, returning to the daily question I shared at the start of this night time composed ramble…I think work inspired by the love of music that Nirvana gifted to me so many years ago, I tend to come back to a few lines of a song. I like the lines for not denying compromise, failure, the need to constantly and repeatedly re-examine and re-judge oneself but for clenching teeth and finding the courage to go forward though I wince at the accusatory last line unless aiming it at myself. Minor Threat “In My Eyes” is one heck of a call-to-arms:

“You tell me that nothing matters / You’re just fucking scared…You tell me that I make no difference / Well at least I’m fucking trying / What the fuck have you done?”

An immediate thank you to Mr. Douglas Baptie for arranging me the opportunity to ramble a bit for the Digital Fix – a rather snazzy, funky, fresh n’ cool blog and culture site of far greater sophistication and professionalism than anything I do here!

It’s a bit of a rant – being fair – but essentially what I’m trying to say is that grunge was one part only of a very strong community of guitar-based sounds and styles in the U.S. North West and that it’s nice to give a touch of credit to the wider circle of participants.

There have been local compilations and celebrations – like for example, or “North of Nowhere: Nineteen Bands from Bellingham” plus some of the output of K Records – but never an attempt to survey the region across that core decade from mid-Eighties to mid-Nineties and to present a proper retrospective of what was happening outside what Sub Pop was selling and the majors were buying.

I do wish Sub Pop would collate a couple of good compilations consisting of material from the Sub Pop Singles Club plus the wider range of stuff that they released on singles and EPs and LPs back in their first spell of glory – there’s so much there…

Greetings from a U.K. bank holiday for which we’ve laid on some awesomely English rain.

Just wanted to share this piece, it’s a blog run by Joe Carducci, co-owner of Eighties underground powerhouse, SST Records – also published author and all round renaissance man and talent. Thought people might enjoy it.


Apologies for the delay – always something going on around here, always something… 

So, recap! Disc 1 CD / Volume 1 LP = 

  • Starfish – featuring former members of Olympia stalwarts Treehouse and Helltrout
  • Vampire Lezbos – long running punk outfit with a neat twist of humour and politics
  • Nubbin – it’s poppy, it’s fuzzy – it gets two songs for being so cool
  • Saucer – one of two Bellingham bands on the release, piano, neat twists in time signature
  • Machine – mix 1/4 Nirvana pre-Bleach, a perfect teenhood punk upbringing and tight playing to create a Machine
  • Medelicious – no shame in saying, my favourite song on the release, would have been a pop-punk hit 5 years later
  • Hitting Birth – industrial, tribal, somewhere between Coil and Public Image Limited circa Flowers of Romance
  • Crunchbird – poetic, snarling, calm before angry storm, sonorous deep vocals
  • The Ones – Americana meets garage rock before the former was even invented, lite-energy, friendly
  • Pod – an instrumental three piece creating punk rock mantras to spiral into
  • Thrillhammer – A welcome gift from Portland. Straight-down-the-line scorching alternative rock 
  • Yellow Snow – A neat linkage between the alt. rock era to come and the electro-pop that went before
  • Helltrout – Olympia’s ‘other’ heavy rock band in the 1988-1991 era somewhere between grunge and metal

And Disc 2 CD / Volume 2 LP? Well, let us see, let us see… 

First out of the gates, and celebrity of sorts, Bundle of Hiss. Kurt Danielson did a huge (and deeply kind) favour by fishing out an unreleased BoH song – Wench. Further favours were done by the omnipresent Mr. Jack Endino who felt there was no need to remix it, it just needed a quick mastering and polish which he was willing to do for free to see the song get out there. I guess it felt right – credit to Stuart Baker of Soul Jazz Records who selected the line-up for this release – that the songs that run closest to ‘grunge’ in either sound or involvement sit right at the centre, the dividing line between the two halves of the compilation (Helltrout closing out Disc 1, BoH kicking off Disc 2.) It’s a charmer too – dark love song? Quest? Clear precursor of the glory that was to follow with Tad? All of these – plus it’s good fun. 

A Starfish reprise, a song called Run Around – again, I can’t help it, I loved the Breeders’ Cannonball back when I was 16-17 but had only passing delight in the accompanying album. I think Starfish are far more ‘together’ and extremely similar in sound and style. Second favourite song on the compilation for me – I admit to singing it around the house. The mellow opening is great, gentle, bass-heavy, neat vocal turn before the voice is double-tracked and thumps into the chorus. All sorts of great touches – the first chorus bleeding into the next verse, a kicking solo…And tight at two and a bit minutes. 

Thrillhammer reprise – Bleed – ooo…Neat discomfort…Rip-roaring echo of grunge – perhaps a touch poppier…That “just like heaven” chorus refrain sticks in my mind…Then I notice the lines about “…something crawls between your legs and you begin to bleed…” and I suddenly think “wait! Must listen more closely! There’s something happening here…” I love it when songs get me singing along then warp into something different. Remember that song “Stop the Cavalry”? Heck, Christmas song sung by a man in a World War One trench wishing he was home with his family and not facing death in muddy fields…

Chemistry Set were a real web of connections – one of the big early bands in the region were the Young Pioneers which spawned people who later went on into bands like Swallow on Sub Pop, most guys in the band went onto other regulars on the scene and they all lived in band houses frequented by people like Bruce Pavitt and half the ‘soon to be famous’ denizens of Seattle. The song itself made me think of R.E.M. when I first heard it – the jangling guitar like keys in a pocket but I think there’s a lot more warmth, richness, psychedelic influences and a beautifully building outro with new elements arising and falling away to the last fade out. 

My Name – intro to ‘Voice of a Generation Gap’ immediately made me think ‘Know Your Enemy’ by Rage Against the Machine – ha! Fun. My Name were a big presence on the North West punk scene, a really quality outfit. This first song by the band has the mellow sparky verses with their upbeat melodies, before the rocking bridge…Then the big chorus asking where the leader of the musical moment is or is going to come (“give me a Jesus of the present-day…”) Eerie in a way. Be careful what you wish for – there’s that further echo of “who will be king and queen of the outcast teens.” The chugging spoken word bridge is a great touch – a walk round a supermarket and life in general all at once, lyrically sophisticated. There’s so many twists and turns to this song – they’re a talented bunch.

The first disc had a neat crowd-pleasing piece (to my mind) in the form of Medelicious’ Beverly. Disc two marks the same stage with a swooning female vocal, breathy, night-time whisper vibes. I think the violin is a wonderful addition to the song – a much under-used instrument in the indie-canon which lends the same inspired emphasis as Nirvana’s addition of a cello to Dumb on the In Utero album. It’s a great instrumental backing – an upbeat chorus on a song that sounds like a goodbye. Makes me feel sleepy – I’d put this on repeat before heading to bed.

Shug are a huge new favourite – they kick-ass. My take on quite a few of the female punk bands of this era is that they utterly out-muscled the blokes again and again – there’s something far more raw about a female voice at screaming razor-edge while still under control. Maybe it’s the same as early Norwegian death metal – it’s the higher pitches that make for nails on blackboard sharpness – most male vocalists can only offer a more grounded and well-earthed growl, a rumble of thunder rather than a lightning flash. The vocals here are awesome – tweaks applied to the end of lines, crystal-clear mumbling on the verses, an awesome range of technique and style on display. Plus it’s a real rock n’ roll lifestyle track – “between the smoking and the drinking and the red hot sun it’s a wonder I haven’t lost my mind…” 

Treehouse – again, another real favourite – Debbie Had a Dream. Fragile vocal intro, can’t tell if happy or sad – then the propulsion of the guitars and bass locked in tight for the verses. The chorus spirals beautifully, you’ll hear it, circular patterns diving on down. You could drive to this song – head down and eyes fixed on the road, pedal flat. Plus, hell, ain’t it fun…? 

My Name pop up again with “Why I Fight” – for all the roughneck song titles I find the vocal turn actually quite hard rock, y’know what I mean? That call to arms, that emphasis on certain lines “I’m the man for you – and you know it!” It’s a love song moment couched in a manifesto style and a promise that it won’t be easy and that he won’t be perfect and you know it. At 2.45 the song breaks and flies in a solo section that seems to be from a different song but works so well I really don’t mind – y’know how Pantera “Walk” (the best grit-teeth running song ever) pulls that same trick of skill meaning you don’t mind cohesiveness being sacrificed? 

Soylent Green are from Tacoma – again, another Nirvana link having accompanied the early iteration of Nirvana on two of the band’s first six gigs. Bruce Purkey, courtesy of his brother, was one of the first recipients of Cobain’s dubbed tapes of January 23, 1998 – Nirvana’s first studio session. It Smiles really had a purpose in my mind – the whole immortality of the North West scene sat not a million miles from DIY, home-recorded, friends playing with friends for the sheer hell of it – there had to be something on here that came directly from that ethos and environment. So here it is, a song recorded in a meat-packing factory in Tacoma by a band who would briefly inhabit the Community World Theater where the couple of dozen local punk kids would go to meet those who shared their tastes amid a sea of indifference. It’s a straight forward clattering punk song and a neat break in another direction. That’s all we really wanted to do on this compilation – bin the carefully packaged, carefully presented Sub Pop universe that substitutes for the true complexity of the local music scene, send ears out in numerous directions for better or worse.

Kill Sybil were one of the bands – alongside Hell Smells (in which Maria Mabra of Shug played) and Tad (in which Kurt Danielson of Bundle of Hiss played) to perform at the benefit for Mia Zapata in 1993. A horrendous incident which, in the tightly knit and very heavily intertwined world of the North West music scene saddened an awfully large percentage of musicians in the region – it’s warming in a way realising this was a musical world small enough that most people knew most other people and had or would play with them at some point. Again, it’s a component of this compilation – the desire to show the same names popping up in different places, to show how many bands from across a region would end up crossing paths. The band itself reminds me of My Blood Valentine, vocally, I can’t hear the words, it’s more about tones, held notes, drifting male and female voices breaking in and falling away – the accompaniment is more a mantra played at volume, a steady repetition like musical wallpaper eliminating background noise and distraction so you can more readily appreciate the shifting elements and the motion of the voice. It probably says something about my twisted eardrums that I think of this as an ambient song… 

Calamity Jane…I’ve know this band’s name since I was about 14. They’re famous essentially for being shredded by the Argentine crowd in Buenos Aires on October 30, 1992 when supporting Nirvana. One album, a clutch of singles – all done. A crying shame because there’s something of the Bikini Kill in these guys – the alternate purrs and yelps of the voice, the pummeling instrumentation – the demands for female ownership over female bodies, the endless issue of women only receiving a voice if they conform, conform, conform. They made their point best by being victimised so horrendously on that one and only trip abroad. 

Saucer! Hello Bellingham! Chicky Chicky Frown – simple, swift, chanting lyrics, female backing vocals call-and-response to the male vocalist. I love the way the woman’s “yeah,” is mimicked by the guitars pulling a string bend/neck bend to push the note lower to the exact same extent as her voice. It’s a clever touch on a pleasantly throwaway song. 

Ending! Attica. I REALLY wanted to get these guys on here – I’m not kidding, I was trying for months. The breakthrough involved actually getting Aaron Burckhard (ex-Nirvana, now-Under Sin) on the phone – poor guy was so kind and patient with me harassing him – and giving me the details for a gentleman called Robb who has been carefully maintaining the band’s only studio recordings. Attica entered Reciprocal Recording just a few weeks after Nirvana concluded Bleach and hammered out an album with Jack Endino only to never release it. It’s my belief that this is the first time an Attica song has appeared on an official release. Makes me think of Motorhead (apologies for skipping the umlaut), makes me think of early Kill ‘Em All era Metallica – I would have hated the metal end of the North West to be blotted out of existence on a release trying to bring all it’s colours back to life… They’re raw, they’re wild, they don’t mind cutting a few finger pads shredding. Fast, death comes ripping… Tear it up. 

So…Summary of Disc 2 / LP Volume 2:

  • Bundle of Hiss ‘Wench’
  • Starfish ‘Run Around’
  • Thrillhammer ‘Bleed’
  • Chemistry Set ‘Fields’
  • My Name ‘Voice of a Generation Gap’
  • Small Stars ‘It’s Getting Late’
  • Shug ‘AM FM’
  • Treehouse ‘Debbie Had a Dream’
  • My Name ‘Why I Fight’
  • Soylent Green ‘It Smiles’
  • Kill Sybil ‘Best’ 
  • Calamity Jane ‘Magdalena’
  • Saucer ‘Chicky Chicky Frown’
  • Attica ‘The System’

A simple hope that you’ll find something to enjoy and that it’ll help you appreciate the sounds swirling around Kurt Cobain and the Nirvana boys during their most productive years. Go see the Nirvana Live Guide and look at who was accompanying them in State of Washington over the years.