I’ve worked as a rideshare driver in Seattle since 2018. As we enter the summer tourist season, I get a familiar question: “Is grunge still popular here?” The answer can be simple or complicated, depending how much time we have.
Grunge was a term coined for commercial purposes to describe music evolving from a decade or more of Pacific Northwest punk rock. During the 1980s, Seattle bands like Bam Bam, Green River, The Accused and Skin Yard created sonic blueprints for the success of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. Most of the latter bands didn’t form within the city limits but found early audiences here, which helped mold their sound.
Today’s media landscape is vastly different from the one which anointed grunge’s megastars in the early 1990s, but Seattle remains an incubator of raw creativity, and it’s ripe for discovery.
Following the adoption of COVID-19 vaccines, our music scene slowly emerged from a yearlong shutdown on March 28, 2021, with The Black Tones and Payge Turner performing outdoors at Boeing Field. Punk rockers Beverly Crusher and singer-songwriter Shaina Shepherd followed with an outdoor concert at Jimi Hendrix Park. Marshall Law Band began a residency in Fremont after spending most of 2020 performing around the city on a mobile stage members built themselves. Around that time, I began making show listings for local bands and posting them to Instagram. My first one listed three shows for the entire week — they now list 16-20 every weekend.
Dozens of original bands here are developing in earnest, playing venues like The Sunset Tavern, Central Saloon, Cafe Racer, Factory Luxe, Blue Moon Tavern and a slew of others that host local and touring bands. Music festivals including Capitol Hill Block Party, Bumbershoot, Northwest Folklife, FreakOut, Belltown Bloom, FRY Fest and So Dreamy are spotlighting this talent. Since May of 2021, I’ve attended well over 100 local shows, in addition to the 23 I’ve performed as a drummer.
Bands here exist in a world of musical abundance. Around 60,000 new songs are uploaded to Spotify every day. Music is a crucial element of short-form content apps like TikTok, which now has more than 1 billion users worldwide. More than 523 million people around the world stream music.
Amid this tsunami of sound, Seattle musicians remain active and driven — not because they fantasize about “reaching the top” of this ecosystem, but because they’re inspired to make music they believe in. When I listen to new releases from bands like Wild Powwers, Spirit Award, Black Ends, Asterhouse, Oh My Eyes and Mr. Dinkles, they’re flush with the energy of Seattle’s music scene as it now exists. I get the same vibe listening to rappers like LIVt, Rell Be Free and Stas THEE Boss, electronic artists like US3R, Mt Fog and Chong The Nomad, or singer-songwriters like Zauso and Octavia McAloon.
Being around such genuine dedication to music is inspiring. It’s different from industry meccas like Los Angeles or Nashville, where people often relocate in pursuit of fame or fortune. When you watch Seattle artists perform, you truly feel like they’d be doing what they do for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish always.
And yes, grunge is still popular here, but so is all kinds of music. Depending on what you like, I have playlists filled with current local artists we can listen to. Enjoy the ride — there is much to discover!