Sub Pop's Silver Jubilee: Celebrating Seattle's Favorite Label
Photo: Rose Windows via Jordan Stead/Seattle PI
Seattle, Washington -- A band's hometown holds a lot of weight in today's musical world. When you hear a song you enjoy, the first question is "Who is this?” generally followed by "Where are they from?" Whether it be a country, state, city, or town, we seem to put an emphasis on where a musician is "from," and for better or worse, there is a stigma attached with every location.
Maybe you like a lot of bands from Austin, then one would assume that you are more inclined to like other bands from Austin or a similar region. Thus the making of a scene; a certain type of music, ideals, or beliefs attached to a place. There's nothing wrong with that, in fact, with so many different sounds and artists popping up left and right, it's actually helpful to sift through and find what you enjoy, based on a particular scene. The Seattle scene has been synonymous with grunge music for a long time, 25 years in fact - that's longer than I've been alive. But the lesser-known, most important entity in the Seattle-Grunge trifecta is Sub Pop Records; the label that signed Nirvana, added the essential fuel to the early 90s flame, and continues to be a major pillar of the Seattle scene.
My personal love affair with Sub Pop began when I was 14. It was the 10th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death, and MTV, my newfound obsession, was airing Nirvana-related specials throughout spring break. Of course I had heard of Nirvana before, I grew up a 30-minute ferry ride from the city, but their music had never seemed relevant to me, until then.
The peak of angst-ridden adolescence had delivered them to me at the perfect time, and I jumped in without a second thought. Within months I was wearing Bikini Kill t-shirts with ripped jeans and cutting my own hair, confusing the hell out of my friends and parents, but I had my Sub Pop family, and that was all that mattered. I would beg my parents to let me use their credit card to buy CD's rather than give me an allowance, and had an insatiable appetite for anything Seattle, anything Sub Pop. I had found my niche and it was all so close to me, yet so seemingly unattainable. I spent my days listening to Babes in Toyland, L7, and Green River, just wishing I had been born a decade earlier, so I could see them live and really be a part of the scene.
Then Sleater-Kinney came onto my radar. The contemporary version of the Riot Grrrl bands I so admired, and, low and behold, they were playing at Evergreen State College in just a few months. One of my many Sub Pop loves, and I finally had the chance to see them perform in the flesh. My friend's older sister accompanied me on the trip to Olympia (aka, I was too young to drive and my parents wouldn't let me take the bus), which proved to be a pivotal moment in my life. I realized that night, as Corin, Carrie, and Janet poured their souls into every song, that the grunge aesthetic was still very much alive, and that you didn't need to be a classically trained singer, or the most accomplished guitar player. As long as you had something to say, you belonged, which is an idea that drastically influenced my life, along with those of countless others who have been touched by Sub Pop and the bands they represent.
Sub Pop, despite its 90s association, has managed to adapt and stay as relevant as ever, through a musical landscape that's constantly in flux. The maturity of the label has only added to the strength of its roster and carved out its place as one of the only successful independent labels. Much like a fine wine, or your favorite plaid flannel, they just get better with age. Hence the excitement around the much deserved Silver Jubilee celebration. If I wasn't already hyped for the one-day fest in Georgetown, Mudhoney's performance on top (yes, ON TOP) of the Space Needle on Thursday definitely bumped my excitement up a few notches. My friend and I were all smiles as we headed on to Airport Way and into the beauty of Sub Pop's 25th Anniversary party.
Our first stop was the Sub Pop Mega Mart. While not necessarily mega in size, it was pretty mega in terms of quantity. Shirts, posters, hats, beach towels, not to mention almost every LP put out on the label, which was a bit overwhelming pre-beers, so we headed for the Elysian stage. There we happily gulped down some freshly poured Elysian Loser Ales, a micro brew made specifically for the jubilee, taking its name from Sub Pop's favorite word. Next up was the Nevermind Pale Ale, another specially made micro brew touted as an "easy-drinking, not at all grungy pale ale," which I'm glad to say fully lived up to the description.
As we made our way back to the Sub stage for King Tuff, I noticed the abundance of Chucks, flannels, and thermals despite the 80-degree day. The old-school Seattle tradition was alive and well at the jubilee, adding to the sense of place and community, giving me one more reason to love my city. No matter how inappropriate, our fashion habits die hard. Really hard.
The rest of the afternoon consisted of lunch with strangers, impromptu dance parties to Pissed Jeans, more beers, then a rousing set by METZ, followed by the legendary J Mascis. As the air began to cool, we made our way back to the Elysian stage for one last Loser Ale and Rose Window's performance. As always, they did not disappoint. Rabia Qazi's voice, mixed with the ethereal sounds of Veronica Dye's flute playing made up the perfect soundtrack to the impending sunset. We danced our way back down Airport Way just in time to catch Father John Misty in the middle of his set. As always, the grungy lothario entertained with his banter and suggestive dance moves, wearing the same button up shirt and blue slacks he has worn all four times I have seen him live.
As the sun went down on Georgetown, signifying the end of the festival, I couldn't hide my sense of joy. The perfectly executed festival could not have been a more appropriate way to honor such an influential part of the city, and the music industry. Every face I saw was plastered with a smile of satisfaction from a perfect day, which gave off an infectious energy that radiated long after the gates closed.
My only criticism, dear Sub Pop, was the fact that a Kurt Cobain hologram didn't make the bill. But I'm sure you're just saving that for 2018.
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