Grunge emerged from the Pacific Northwest as a loud, distorted marriage of punk rock and heavy metal. It reflected the socio-economic realities of life in that corner of the country - joblessness, broken homes, gray weather - offering noisy catharsis for a generation of post-baby-boomers who felt trapped in their lives. Grunge dominated rock during much of the Nineties, thanks to the overwhelming success of such Seattle-bred bands as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden.
The origins of the Seattle scene date back to the appearance of Subterranean Pop and the Seattle Rocket - music papers that covered the underground scene in Seattle and beyond. Seattle cultivated a vibrant local music scene in the mid-1980s that was nurtured in the block-party atmosphere of Pioneer Square. Such clubs as the Central Tavern, the Vogue and the Rainbow served to develop a new breed of band that borrowed from hardcore, heavy metal, glam-rock and, most importantly, art-noise bands such as Big Black, Scratch Acid and Sonic Youth. Early bands on the scene included Malfunkshen, Young Fresh Fellows and Green River. Sub Pop, a Seattle-based independent label, began recording the city's best bands using a decidedly anti-corporate strategy. The label initially marketed its artists through singles and EPs, using blurry black-and-white photographs to suggest grunge's subterranean demimonde.
The term grunge evolved through word of mouth. As Nils Bernstein, of Sub Pop, recalls, "People here used the word tongue in cheek: 'It's kind of like dirty, scuzzy, grungy music.' 'What do you call it?' 'Oh, I don't know...grunge!'" Soundgarden and Mother Love Bone were the first of Seattle's alternative bands to sign with major record companies. In September 1991, the cornerstone albums of the Seattle scene - Pearl Jam's Ten and Nirvana's Nevermind - were released. Seattle thereupon became a full-blown rock and roll capital. Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain's shocking suicide in 1994 sent a sobering note to the rest of the world, and by the end of the decade Seattle's prominence in the music world had begun to dim.