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The Rise of Grunge Music and Nirvana

The music business has changed a lot since the heyday of grunge, and in just over a decade it seems to have permanently altered how we listen to music.


In the old days, if you could make enough of your tunes catch on with enough people you might find yourself with a record deal. But with digital distribution, it's a lot easier to release music and instantly reach thousands - or even millions - of potential fans. And for this reason, the current era may well be witnessing its own musical revolution.


Grunge was the response to bloated rock that either took itself too seriously, like the '70s progressive and hard-rock styles, or wasn't serious enough, as in the by-the-numbers dance pop that ruled the radio during the '80s.


Like punk before it, grunge tapped into teen discontent with the nation's political climate. But it also offered back-to-basics bands that sounded raw and angry, with frontmen who jumped around on stage and musicians who thrashed wildly on their instruments.


In Seattle, a university town with a reputation for innovation in technology and design, it was easy to form a band. The city's rich cultural environment included a thriving art scene, an opera and a philharmonic orchestra. And Sub Pop, an independent label that nurtured young talent, gave Seattle musicians a place to showcase their sounds. Freed of the need to appeal to major-label tastes, musicians bonded with their audiences. It wasn't uncommon for a fan to bump into the members of Mother Love Bone or Mudhoney on his or her way to the grocery store.


It was in this fertile environment that Nirvana arose. Their 1991 album Nevermind topped charts across the country and brought them to the world's attention, despite the fact that the band had been making music together for only about a year at the time of its release. They were the first grunge band to crack the mainstream, but they weren't the only ones.


Green River, the U-Men and other local groups also made their mark in grunge. But Nirvana dominated the movement, despite a rocky trajectory that culminated in Kurt Cobain's suicide in April 1994. Subsequently, drummer Krist Novoselic and bassist Dave Grohl carved out careers outside the band as members of the Foo Fighters.


And the group's acolytes have continued to release music, both as solo artists and in collaboration with other Seattle acts. But despite its waning influence, grunge still lives on as a reminder of what can happen when bands and fans get along. And the internet has only made that relationship more intimate than ever before.


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