Archive for the ‘No Seattle: Forgotten Sounds of the North West Grunge Era’ Category

http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/the-unlikely-birth-of-no-seattle-forgotten-sounds-of-the-north-west-grunge-era-1986andndash97/Content?oid=21140720

A fun piece from Seattle’s The Stranger – I think I was in a funny mood that morning given some of the stuff I come out with. Essentially just me rambling about the Soul Jazz No Seattle release a bit more in a chirpy way.

Only issue I can raise is that, as far as I’m aware, Soul Jazz weren’t particularly ‘hooked’ by the Nirvana link – it wasn’t something I raised early in the process, they were more into the idea of uncovering the ‘underside’ of a scene. They’re more about scenes and sounds than personalities, soap opera and single super stars. That’s part of their appeal really.

Also a wicked interview with Daniel Riddle – quality fella, quality musician – talking about his various creative endeavours, definitely check him out!

http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2014/12/03/a-brief-interview-with-daniel-riddle-of-hitting-birth-the-best-band-on-no-seattle-comp

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http://www.thevinylfactory.com/vinyl-factory-releases/beyond-nirvana-10-essential-under-the-radar-grunge-records-from-the-seattle-era/

This is a piece I was invited to contribute recently by Anton and the kind people of the Vinyl Factory. As I say at the start, it would have been so easy just to list a batch of well known hits but…I think there’s so much music was pouring out of the region and so much that has been glossed over and erased from all but the deepest musicological explorations. These are ten I picked out – there are plenty of others worth a look – with a desire to provide ten contrasting sides of the State of Washington music scene. hope you enjoy and hope my verbal histrionics don’t distract too much from the quality of the releases I’m discussing.

Thanks to the crew at Soul Jazz for passing this request onto me – damn it was fun. Whittling anything down to ten is quite the exercise…

Just a little round-up today of pieces from around Europe…I admit I can’t read half of them!

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This first one is from Sweden – a fair and moderate review but points deducted because in his view the release isn’t ‘grunge enough’, he’s dubious about it not containing, essentially, “the greatest hits of Sub Pop”. It’s a bit of a defining challenge really – what made me interested in doing the release in the first place was to try and show that there was more to the State of Washington / State of Oregon than this single stereotype…But seeing the word grunge in the title makes some people confused why that’s not the be-all-and-end-all of what they get across the two discs. The reduction of entire musical cultures to single shorthand ways of speaking about them – it’s exactly why I thought a release was needed.

In a relatively centralised nation like the U.K., it’s very hard for subcultures to escape notice of the media or to be ignored by the British music industry – even if most of those bands never penetrate the U.S. market. The same is true of other Europe states – massively smaller than the U.S. geographically, massively centralised media and massively centralised music industry infrastructure. The result is that the music media are unused to scenarios in which music escapes their attention. Faced with a release on which they’ve never encountered any of the bands, where they ‘might’ (if they’ve delved deeper) have come across Bundle of Hiss as a footnote to Tad or Mudhoney, it seems to give them uncertainty. They equate the attention given to the grunge bands as an indication that those bands were the best the North West had to offer rather than of an industry machinery momentarily fixating on a particular sound and milking one version of a regional identity while neglecting the greater sum of the diverse music present there. Sheesh, I feel awful second-guessing someone’s review – they’re entitled to say whatever they wish – but…I think the hole in awareness is a fair point. On the other hand, it does say that the songs themselves are likeable, so that’s good.

LOOPreviewNoSeattleSep14

This is a nice one ‘auf Deutsch’ from a Swiss publication called Loop – the guy has definitely delved in and his piece brings out the various debates that are fair to have around the release; to what extent was the ‘Seattle sound’ just ‘the Sub Pop sound’? To what extent is the industry different between U.S. and elsewhere? Were Nirvana unique in many respects and deserving of their meteoric success? Then he focuses on the songs themselves and just comments on what he’s hearing.

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Again, a very mellow cool review from a German publication – same approach, picking out labels, the variety of sounds, the connections between individuals and bands – citing the release as being a bit of a documentary / sampler of the scene.

From France, here’s two pieces, one from Les Inrocks – a pretty major magazine there – and Rock n Folk. I’ve met a guy who worked for both publications actually…Nice to see familiar names.

No Seattle – Les Inrocks – Oct 14

No Seattle – Rock n Folk – oct 14

I rather like what “Les Inrocks” says, it comes out with a comment about how one of the beautiful things is the booklet and seeing the musicians themselves speak of their “misspent youth”! Neat. It quotes Abe Brennan of My Name and his comment that “when I was a boy we had to walk five miles in the snow just to see a shitty punk band. Those were the days!” Stephane responds “et c’est beau.” Bien…Tres bien…

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This final piece is a little hard to read without zooming (sorry!) and comes from Tageszeitung Junge Welt – a German left wing newspaper who gave it a full half page and picture, how nice of them! The title basically translates as “Raw Pearls” and the sub-title is something like “Listen to the Forgotten”. It goes on to say stuff about the mash-up of genres that took place in the North West, the diversity of music on the discs, the reconciling of this small number of global superstars versus the many who just kept on playing to this day…A nice read.

Oh – that earlier piece from Les Inrocks isn’t the only place where someone is quoted. German site Laut chooses to go with the words of Jaime Robert Johnson –

http://www.laut.de/Various-Artists/Alben/No-Seattle:-Forgotten-Sounds-Of-The-North-West-Grunge-Era-94553

What I quoted from him was an honest statement about how the traditional path to fame wasn’t something that most kids in the North West would ever be accepted within. That it was up to people to do it themselves “the kids themselves built that scene…Music made by the kids – for the kids is so important you can’t leave it to professionals.”

http://www.hhv-mag.com/de/review/6926/various-artists-no-seattle

HHV also found time for this and dwells on the unpredictability of the results – the variety of approaches found. They highlight Shug for just being awesome, Hitting Birth for playing ‘tribal industrial’, Small Stars for being tentatively Sonic Youth-esque (intriguing…hadn’t thought of that…)

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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.

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

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/music/various-no-seattle-1.1925716

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:
http://www.nirvanaitalia.it/forum/forums/thread-view.asp?tid=2487&posts=3
There’s also this at the Alternative Grunge Crew site: http://www.alternative-grunge-crew.com/no-seattle.html

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.
http://www.thisisunderground.com/noticias/actualidad/soul-jazz-records-explora-grunge-ignorado-en-no-seattle

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.

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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.

Baby

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.

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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?”

http://music.thedigitalfix.com/content/id/20676/beyond-grunge-the-history-of-the-north-west-underground.html

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 http://www.spokanarchy.com/ 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…

http://blogs.seattletimes.com/soundposts/2014/09/02/no-seattle-highlights-lesser-known-nw-rock-acts-record-preview/