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Sub Pop a bright spot in record industry

Sub Pop, the Seattle label responsible for the likes of Nirvana, The Shins and Fleet Foxes, have lifted the lid on they’ve been successful despite operating on a shoestring budget.

Some highlights of a Friday-morning walking tour of Sub Pop’s spacious third-floor office in downtown Seattle: A “wood record” award for the Shins, commemorating sales of 100,000 copies of “Chutes too Narrow.” A soda machine in the lunch room stocked with Rainier beer. A framed chunk of plaster from Sub Pop’s first office where Kurt Cobain wrote his name and address on the wall so the record label would always know where to send his checks.

Sub Pop was founded 23 years ago by Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman, with the goal of documenting the blossoming Seattle rock scene. “It was either make the label succeed or work at Kinko’s,” Poneman remembers. With bands such as Mudhoney, Soundgarden and Nirvana, the label’s fortunes mirrored the early-’90s grunge boom — and decline.

But today, the label is home to some of the most critically acclaimed 21st-century artists around, including the folk-rock Fleet Foxes (its “Helplessness Blues” hit No. 4 on the Billboard album charts last year), indie-pop’s the Shins and the electronic duo the Postal Service.

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