Hello, and welcome to the first bi-monthly weekend update of all things Seattle music! In this column you will find the most recent info about local venues, labels, artists, concerts, museums, you name it – as long as it is tied into the local scene we love so much.
Because this is the first entry and giving you an update on everything music thing that has ever happened ever in King County would certainly not fit on the blog, this week we’re going to start with the basics.
Without further ado, I give you: A Beginner’s Guide to the Seattle Music Scene.
Have you ever heard of Nirvana? Maybe some Death Cab for Cutie? Perhaps a bit of (*shudder*) Macklemore?? CONGRATULATIONS!!! You know some artists that have emerged from Seattle into the mainstream!
Although these artists may seem like relatively common knowledge, it is important to acknowledging who is representing Seattle on a Top-40 platform – this allows us to either represent with pride the good bands (Nirvana & Death Cab) and have a prepared defense at the ready when anyone tries to pin the other on us (like Canada with Justin Bieber, sadly we claim origin to this pale, blonde, hip hop menace but we must insist he really does not represent us as people).
Next, it seems important to address the short-lived grunge renaissance that took place in Seattle way back when, emerging around 1985 but gaining national commercial success around 1991 with the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind. This “Grunge Era” was highly associated with the Seattle area, and for good reason; many of the most popular bands such as Nirvana (duh), Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Mother Love Bones, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Melvins, and Temple of the Dog all emerged from the Puget Sound area. Although grunge quickly rose and fell from popularity, almost totally absent from mainstream pop culture by 1998/1999, its influence certainly has not left. As Brandi Melville tank tops can display, because of the ability to romanticize Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994, it will never not be cool for preteens to sport their long post humorous merch.
Moving past the nifty nineties, the next layer of Seattle scene knowledge would come from record labels:
The indie label Sub Pop founded in 1986. Bruce Pavitt was practically the axis of the Grunge Era; it was Sub Pop producer Jack Edino who gave birth to the “Seattle sound” and with the vast majority of major grunge artists signed to them, no one can compete when it comes to their legacy.
Today, Sub Pop claims a huge presence in the Seattle scene. After recovering from a low in sales, production, and quality of music (if we’re being honest) in the late 90’s, Sub Pop regained a new kind of confidence in 2001 with its release of The Shins’ Oh, Inverted World. The popularity of the album and of The Shins as a whole allowed Sub Pop to move forward and sign many groups that would give birth to a new kind of dreamy indie music in Seattle: bands such as Iron and Wine, The Postal Service, Fleet Foxes, and Band of Horses. Today, the Sub Pop lineup features all sorts of different artists, from old favorites like Sleater-Kinney, Mudhoney, and Soundgarden to the Seattle hip hop getups clipping Shabazz Palaces to every type of indie rock / alt. under the sun, making it impossible to give a summary of Sub Pop’s sound. You’re just going to have to check them out; it’s worth it.
When looking for local music, Hardly Art is the perfect place to begin; their classy Facebook description says it all:
“Often referred to as Sub Pop’s “sister label,” Hardly Art is an offshoot of Sub Pop designed to spotlight emerging talent. While the label’s initial focus was local when it started up in 2007, it has since expanded its roster to welcome artists from all over the United States and abroad, including La Sera, Protomartyr, The Dutchess & the Duke, The Moondoggies, Shannon and the Clams, Hunx & His Punx, La Luz, and many more.”
Hardly Art artists are on their way up; whether they be local Seattle natives or from beyond the walls of WA, these are artists you are bound to find playing shows around Seattle in the near future- and a vast collection of artists at that. Including self-described genres such as “chamber, bedroom, dream, folk and punk-prefixed pop; garage, punk, pop, and art-prefixed rock,” there is a band for everyone on Hardly Art, and more often then not, they’ll be coming through Seattle mighty soon (ex. S at The Vera Project 10.29.15, Shannon and the Clams at Neumos 10.31.15, Chastity Belt at Crocodile 12.10.15, Colleen Green at El Corazon 12.12.15, Tacocat at Neumos 12.13.15, La Luz at Neumos 12.31.15)
Originally created by The Busy Monster band members Christopher Possanza and Josh Rosenfeld in a hurry to get their material released, Barsuk Records has been pumping out indie records since 1994. With much less of a local focus than Hardly Art and even Sub Pop, this label has less of a presence within the local music scene, but merely by including Death Cab for Cutie in their roster it is impossible to count them out. Death Cab has a huge presence within Seattle, working with many Hardly Art artists in the studio and taking them along as opening acts on international tours. A few stand out Barsuk acts beyond Death Cab for Cutie and solo projects stemming from it’s core members include Phantogram, Laura Gibson, Australian duo Big Scary, and Babes.
Now that you know some local labels and artists, wouldn’t it make sense to go see some shows? The next layer of integration into the Seattle scene is getting to know the venues. Although I would love to break it all down for you guys, fellow KXSU employees Marcus Shriver and Joe Manuel have already done it! Check out their article here for all the venue knowledge you need!
I will, however, expand upon a few ideas that confused me when first trying to sort the venues thing out.
Although the larger venues in Seattle attract a wide range of artists, a few locations do tend to host specific types of shows or a specific genre. If you know you are only into post-grunge-reggae-noise-experimental-atmospheric-chamber-pop, I recommend trying to find a venue that tends to host shows to your taste instead of watching the general scene for a headliner of your taste (ex. punk/metal/hardcore at El Corazon).
Seattle Theatre Group is a nonprofit organization that owns The Paramount, Moore, and Neptune Theatres and provides a range of different acts. All shows at these theatres will be hosted by STG, but there will be shows at other venues besides these three such as The Showbox or The Crocodile that are also hosted by STG.
The Vera Project is not lame! Conveniently located just a bus or two away in the Seattle Center, The Vera Project hosts very cool, often intimate shows. “Always all ages” does NOT implicate Barney and The Wiggles are coming to town!! This is a highly recommended venue for reasons as follows: a) reasonable ticket prices for college students, b) the wide side selection of artists that play here c) the small size and intimacy of many shows (super cool experience!) and d) ALL Seattle U students and faculty can attend, all the time.
After learning all about Seattle’s awesome local venues, you might find yourself wondering, “With all these venues, how will I ever keep the shows straight?”
This is where radio comes in handy. *cough us cough*
KXSU has a new column hot off the presses called “Shows Around Seattle” that gives a preview to the best shows coming to Seattle for the upcoming week. You can check out this week’s here to get a feel for the vibe and anxiously await the next release next Sunday.
KEXP, another local favorite, is a station started way back in 1972 by UW students. Now over 40 years since their first day on air, KEXP is a well established station, most air time given to alternative and indie rock but not short of other, eclectic tastes.
The main opportunity with KEXP are the live in studio performances they so regularly host. You can find hundreds of their past performances on their YouTube channel and hear them broadcasted live almost everyday. Bands that are playing in the studio with KEXP are usually in town to play a show, so tuning in is a great way to find out artists that are in town, and possibly expand your musical knowledge.
There you have it! You have official completed the beginner’s guide to the Seattle music scene, congratulations!! (you essentially just earned your white belt, don’t get too excited).
I encourage you to take your newfound knowledge, do some research of your own, and go get involved!! Go see some shows, discover some new bands, check out this spectacular city we live in and it’s thriving music culture!
A first year with Google, an ORCA card, and too much time on her hands
MARIA KING | Kazoo Extraordinaire | KXSU Reporter