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Grunge Music in Seattle

Last updated on March 21, 2022

Music and music events are a huge part of the youth and culture around the world. Cities such as Seattle foster this culture of music. Many musicians are drawn to cities like Seattle. New Orleans fostered the creation of jazz and blues, while Seattle is the birthplace of punk and grunge.

Grunge was a musical movement, a sub-genre of alternative rock, that evolved from heavy metal and hardcore punk in the mid-1980s. Grunge is also commonly known as the “Seattle sound,” as the vast majority of grunge bands originated in Seattle. By the early 1990s, the genre began to grow in popularity, reaching California and even Australia. Subsequently, a greater number of bands emerged that imitated the original Seattle sound, thereby generating increased interest among major record labels.

Representatives of this movement initially did not have much popularity, achieving recognition only in a small underground circle. For a while the genre remained in the shadows for TV and media in general, existing in no more than a big basement hangout. By the end of the 80s in Seattle, a distinctive and unique grunge rock scene was emerging. The reason was the mass punk audience formed in the city.

Grunge music is a mix of heavy metal, hardcore punk, and some sludge. In grunge, you can find all the elements of the familiar characteristics of rock music, from traditional alternative rock to metal solos. The formation of the genre was greatly influenced by such bands as Pixies, Youth, Sonic, Melvins, Black Sabbath, and Led Zeppelin. Their works carried a significant influence on newer generations of musicians, who became the most popular representatives of grunge music. In the grunge style, electric guitars can easily borrow heavy metal riffs and elements of melodic solo parts, which seamlessly grow into a psychedelic drowning sound. Grunge is that very musical direction that combines many features of different styles – the “dirty” and overloaded sound of electric guitar, drive, and explosive energy with momentary changing parts of composition at slow and traction tempo. 

The vast majority of grunge musicians use minimal instruments, which included guitar, bass guitar, and a drum kit, to name a few. The main emphasis was on the heavily overdriven guitar sound with distortion effects, which changed from background sound to a rhythmically rich sound. Vocals were mostly hoarse and loud. As to the lyrics, people mostly focused on the theme of despair and total loss in the world around us and sometimes heard expressed aggression. Often we also found a somber message of weariness from the unsuccessful struggle with the moral principles of an indifferent society, as well as the expression of suicidal tendencies.

If any band is considered the king of the grunge genre, it is Nirvana. Nirvana and grunge have a strong unbreakable connection. The main merit of the group is the massive popularization of the music genre. The first great commercial success also belongs to this band, which became the most brilliant and popular representative of grunge.

The leader of the band was the legendary Kurt Cobain, who was not only a talented performer but also the voice of that time generation. Kurt Cobain struggled with deep depression and drug addiction, which inspired his lyrics and influenced the sound of the grunge genre. Nowadays such hits as “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “On A Plain”, “Aneurism”, “Heart-Shaped Box”, and many others continue to be just as popular and world-renowned nearly 30 years later. Nirvana is recognizable even among those listeners who are far from the grunge genre and rock music in general.

I asked NWS faculty and students about their opinions toward music and specifically grunge culture in Seattle. After collecting the surveys I received 109 responses. I found out a lot of interesting information from the results of this survey. To start off, the Northwest School community prefers rock/alternative music over other music genres, namely (58.7%). This is followed by huge popularity towards Pop (54.1%) and Indie (49.5%). In our questionnaire, we took a deeper step into looking at the direction of rock, and a majority associated with “alternative” than any other category at (59.4%) of the vote.

In my survey, I asked my participants if they view grunge as a type of genre in music. After collecting the data, it came out that 49.5% of the NWS community loves to listen to grunge. 40.4% answered about knowing this trend but were not particularly interested. While 10.1% have never heard of this style of rock. Of course, it didn’t come as a surprise that the most popular band associated with the grunge sound/ lifestyle is Nirvana (94.2%), along with Pearl Jam (87.5%) and Foo Fighters (80.8%). However, Nirvana was listed as the most listened to band at (71.1%). The main purpose of the entire article was to come to an understanding if: can we consider grunge to be a part of Seattle culture? Our school community says “yes”, with the majority, namely (74.5%) agreeing and (25.5%) disagree. 

It’s been over two decades since the premiere of the Grunge scene. Although it’s no longer a big part of the current Seattle culture, we can easily say this historic breakthrough has left its mark on the music industry and the city of Seattle. This also serves as a nice reminder to the NWS community that still remembers and loves a music style that was born in this city.

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