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Labels That Changed Music: Sub Pop

by kraig Heymans. Published Wed 09 Jun 2010 10:30, last updated: 10/06/10

Formed in Seattle, 1986, Sub-Pop seems to have been around forever. Quickly becoming a home from home for a burgeoning scene of artists based around the Seattle area, which based their sound on the white noise drenched hate experiments of Can, Black Sabbath and Pixies, and sidled it with the apathetic disillusioned lyrics of being a pathetic suburbanite and working in Wal-Mart.

The label obviously expanded to accommodate more of a wider range of alternative rock sounds, signing bands like The Shins, Iron & Wine, No Age and Fleet Foxes, and now is rightly revered as a classic example of independence in the cut-throat-arse-eating music business.

Like many independent labels that hit big, the roster of artists Sub-Pop signed and released records of is astounding in retrospect, but that's the great thing about it. It was based in Seattle, and as such didn’t really take on artists from a wider range until it was as established as the genre of music it had helped to form - grunge.

Like Factory Records before it, and Apple before still, Pavitt and Poneman realised that developing scenes are more like communities than official workshops, and as such set up camp in their hometown, often treating their artists like close personal friends, as opposed to assets to be bought and sold.

This is the great thing about independent labels, the love and attention to detail, the actual genuine compassion for human life, and a bit of luck that every so often enables an independent label to break through and stick it to all the pointless, boring and totally idiotic major labels, headed by morons with no concept of fair trade.

Questions inevitably arise whether or not Sub-Pop created grunge, or whether grunge created the need for a label like Sub-Pop, regardless, it is obvious to see that each needed the other to survive at all in the harsh dream crushing world of A&R.


One: Bleach – Nirvana

What many hip bastards might wrongly describe as the first grunge album ever. But what certainly and accurately could be described as one of the angriest.

Two: Oh Inverted World – The Shins

Wistful and introspective, yet intelligent and utterly listenable throughout, The Shins’ James Mercer shows the lighter, bizarre and more often than not, troubling side of being a bored middle-American.

Three: Congregation – The Afghan Whigs

One of the best, but truly forgotten Sub-Pop acts, the Whigs combined soul with crunch. Their sound reached it’s apex on this classic.

Four: The Creek Drank The Cradle – Iron & Wine

Perennially bearded Sam Beam treats listeners to quiet, gentle and completely understated folk and country.

Five: Nouns – No Age

Angry self-destructive modernist junk from two angry self-destructive modernists, No Age have managed to take The Jesus & Mary Chain’s groundbreaking noise and change it into what many disgusting hipsters might call ‘cool’. Well, it is a bit, like.

Official Site: http://www.subpop.com/


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