Sub Pop: 25 years of underground rock


From The Guardian:

There’s a silver jubilee party in Seattle next week, and an unlikely one at that. Sub Pop – the grunge label! The Nirvana label! The label with all the lumberjack guys! – celebrates its 25th anniversary with a free festival in its hometown on 13 July. Of course, in true Sub Pop fashion – this being a label that has long revelled in false mythologies and downright lies – it’s not actually the 25th anniversary: Sub Pop was actually founded by Bruce Pavitt in 1986, and had existed as a radio show, a fanzine, magazine column and a cassette label before then. Instead the festival marks the 25th anniversary of Pavitt and his co-conspirator Jonathan Poneman getting their first office in 1988. Except even then the dates are all wrong: they moved into that first office on 1 April, not 13 July. But what the hell.

It’s a minor miracle that Sub Pop is here at all. When the label turned 10 (or 12) in 1998, few – including its founders – would have bet on it reaching the new century, let alone still being one of the cornerstones of American alternative music in 2013. It was haemorrhaging money on new offices away from its base and on ill-advised deals for new bands; its A&R strategy – signing soft pop acts such as the Pernice Brothers – seemed baffling to those who viewed it as a rock’n’roll label; the company appeared to have compromised its independence by allowing Warner Music Group to take a 49% stake in it; Pavitt had stopped taking an active role and wanted the label to close.

It looked, from the outside, like a case of indie Icarus syndrome: having once been the most feted label in the world after unearthing Nirvana , Soundgarden and the grunge supporting cast, it had overreached itself and was sure to fall. And from the inside it looked even worse: in 1997, a group of Sub Pop employees launched an unsuccessful coup against Poneman, so discontented were they were with his helming of the label.

Continue reading the rest of the story on The Guardian