In 1994, three years after major-label debuts from Nirvana (Nevermind) and Pearl Jam (Ten) put Seattle on the international music map, a pair of grunge rockers named Josh Rosenfeld and Christopher Possanza founded their own label as a vehicle for their band, This Busy Monster. The first band they signed to Barsuk Records was a group from Bellingham fronted by a chemical-engineering major at Western Washington University named Ben Gibbard. Barsuk released Death Cab for Cutie's debut, Something About Airplanes, in 1998. Six albums later, Death Cab is among the biggest rock bands of the past decade, and plays KeyArena, the city's largest room, on the 22nd.
Read all the stories in this monthly's issue of Reverb Monthly.
Note: This piece has been edited to reflect that Nevermind was Nirvana's major-label debut. Their first LP, Bleach, was released by Sub Pop. For an in-depth feature on the anniversary of Bleach, see SW's cover story from 2009.
This Busy Monster did not make it to 2011. But Possanza, Rosenfeld, and the label they started during Seattle's grunge years are still going strong, issuing—almost every month—important records from local and national artists that sound almost nothing like the sound Seattle became known for 20 years ago. Like This Busy Monster, grunge didn't survive either (see Jack Endino's eulogy), but the infrastructure it inspired, and was a product of, keeps getting stronger.
Katie Kate (the pretty one on the cover) was 5 years old, living in upstate New York, when Nevermind was released. She's never particularly cared for grunge, but the Seattle-based rapper wouldn't be doing what she's doing where she's doing it were it not for what happened here in 1991. "Without the grunge explosion, I never would have considered Seattle a musical mecca," she says in her essay. "I probably never would have come here."
Kevin Barrans (the other pretty one on the cover) plays banjo with the Maldives and Sons of Warren Oates. He can't point to a way that grunge influences his music, which, it goes without saying, sounds nothing like Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, or Mudhoney. "However, it was the grunge era that first got me really excited about music as a teenager, which eventually led me to other genres, which then led me to where I am now," he says, alongside dozens of comments from the Seattle music class of 2011.
We didn't dedicate this month's Reverb Monthly to the 20th anniversary of 1991 strictly for the sake of nostalgia (although a little was bound to creep in). Instead, we aimed to take stock of the Seattle sound 20 years after the world started caring, and take a look back at how the largest musical movement of a generation played a role in getting us where we are today.
To help us, we asked every one of the more than 70 musicians playing Seattle Weekly's fifth annual Reverb Local Music Festival—the city's largest all-local musical event, going on this Saturday in Ballard—to chime in on what Seattle sounds like today, what they think of the class of 1991, and where they were when the big one(s) hit. Their answers, and more, are all here.
Chris Kornelis, editor