Once Upon a Time in Seattle Grunge

Lens used to look at 90s grunge bands

The lens through which I will write about 90s grunge bands, Seattle rock, and the grunge era will be powered by my own experiences:

  • Growing up and studying industrial engineering in Peru,
  • Moving to Seattle,
  • Having lived in 5 US states and 4 countries,
  • Meeting, working, and learning from people from all over the world.

“Seattle... is currently to the Rock ‘n’ Roll world what Bethlehem was to Christianity…” - SPIN, December 1992

Undoubtedly, that was a global turning point in the music. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains put Seattle and its music scene on the map. They were called grunge bands.

Whether the term was loved or hated, these local bands were onto something. Ultimately, they became part of pop culture.

Unpacking 90s Grunge Rock

Let’s unpack this a little bit. There was something fresh about powerfully blending punk rock and heavy metal with distorted guitars and angst-filled lyrics.

For young people like me, the very moment music history changed was when I saw MTV’s Sunday night staple 120 Minutes premiered the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video in September 1991. 


As a 16-year high school senior, I was blown away. So blown away that I went to Phantom Records and bought the Nevermind CD after hearing just one song. Smells Like Teen Spirit for the second time. 

Not only did these bands receive critical acclaim, but they also became successful in the art of knocking pop and R&B artists off the charts. 

Unfortunately, shortly after grunge became a money-making opportunity for many people…. Even the NY Times jumped on the bandwagon. That became the object of an inspired prank, aka "the grunge-speak hoax" by Megan Jasper. She was a former receptionist of Sub Pop Records and later became the label's CEO.

Fast forward to 2024. Where is grunge rock now?

For decades, I have argued that music artists have it easier now with less competition, especially since the late 90s. I might not be entirely correct there.

In any case, while technology has helped transform the industry, I believe it has minimized the human factor in the final product. So, I will develop that topic in a future post.

In the meantime, here are 4 curated grunge 'fundamentals'

Whether you want to dig deeper or enjoy a trip down memory lane, I would love to share this curated material:

  1. Listen to the compilation album Deep Six (1986) — Hidden gem featuring the early recordings of the bands that paved the way: Green River, Melvins, Malfunkshun, Skin Yard, Soundgarden, and U-Men. Update: Skin Yard commented on our Instagram post below!

  2. Read the history of Sub Pop Records (Going Out of Business since 1988) — An Independent record label that signed Green River, Nirvana, and Soundgarden in their early days.

  3. Watch the film Singles (1992) and listen to its influential soundtrack — This is one of my all-time favorite movies. It was released when I was a college freshman, was coming of age, and featured my favorite Seattle bands right before they started making their impact.

  4. Watch the documentary Hype (1996) — A solid 92% according to Rotten Tomatoes. That will help you learn about other influential bands the Pacific Northwest spawned earlier such as TAD and Green River, which split into Mudhoney and Mother Love Bone, which in turn was the basis for Pearl Jam. A hidden gem for a music nerd like me was Leighton Beezer tuning in Drop D and presenting an interactive family tree of Seattle music. Note to self: Gotta finish that Python coding course to build one myself.

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