From humble beginnings as a small publication from Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA putting out cassettes of underground rock bands, the founder, Bruce Pavitt, slowly began what would ultimately evolve into the iconic independent music label. In its early years, it fostered what would soon be deemed the “grunge culture” that would shatter the world’s perspective on rock music and the sounds generally affiliated with it. Names like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney became the closest thing to “household names” that the culture would allow.
Sub Pop created a space within music, as well as a space within the Seattle area, that nurtured and cared about independent music and artists, triggering the rise of numerous other imprints such as K Records and Kill Rock Stars. As the label evolved, so too did it’s musical taste and the music they cultivated. Artists such as The Postal Service, The Shins, Washed Out, Beach House and Fleet Foxes began to represent the face of Sub Pop, serving as a driving force in popular music, raising the standards and expectations of independent musicians.
The label, as well as the artists they represent, built a notorious reputation for taking the social norms and common constructs of current music and completely ignoring them. Rather, Sub Pop built their prestige upon the ideal of releasing music they know to be of a distinct quality and unique creativity, regardless if it falls in line with what ‘Billboard’ or other pop music overlords might have to say. Luckily enough for Sub Pop, there are tens of thousands of us out here that love what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.
Now, here in 2013, Sub Pop maintains those ideals with electro-pop and underground hip-hop taking the main stage. Groups like Beach House, Washed Out, The Helio Sequence, Niki & The Dove and many others are utilizing more and more technology as did their innovative label mates The Postal Service, whose infamous album ‘Give Up’ went platinum last year after being out for a decade.
On the other hand, you have newer signees like THEESatisfaction and Shabazz Palaces completely reshaping the sounds and concepts of underground hip-hop. What Ishmael Butler does within Shabazz Palaces is so unique that there is arguably nothing else out there that exists on the same plane of thought.
Bands and artists with this kind of impact are a testament to Sub Pop’s conviction to quality and creativity – something that has kept them relevant and important in independent music for 25 years.
Also happening this year, Decibel Festival is celebrating its tenth year of existence. Sean Horton, Decibel’s founder, could not be more excited to be able to celebrate alongside Sub Pop. Sean owes a lot of his aspirations and approaches to music to the Seattle imprint:
“Sub Pop Records entered my life in 1989 at the impressionable age of 14. Nirvana’s ‘Bleach’ made me an instant fan and I quickly went on to learn and perform every song on guitar while playing in Detroit-area bands. By the time I finally got to see them perform at St. Andrew’s Hall in 1991, to a crowd of around 600 people, I was the poster child for Grunge. From the early Soundgarden EPs, to Mudhoney, to Seaweed, to Steven Jesse Bernstein, to Sunny Day Real Estate, I followed every move Sub Pop and the Seattle music scene made during the early to mid-90s.
Through sheer dumb luck -and a busted transmission- I ended up at The Evergreen State College in 1997, where I studied music technology, audio engineering and music composition. The history of the school and its alumni all inexplicably pointed back to Sub Pop, which by now had become a recurring theme in my life.
Over the past 15 years, I’ve watched in admiration as Sup Pop continued to bring fresh talent to the forefront of independent music. Artist like The Postal Service, Beach House, Washed Out, The Fleet Foxes, The Shins, Father John Misty, Niki & The Dove, The Helio Sequence, Iron & Wine, Shabazz Palaces and THEESatisfaction all owe so much to the label’s trusted curatorial voice and history. Sub Pop was the first independent label to capture my imagination as a teen and it has remained the most relevant as I approach 40. Their combination of D.I.Y. spirit, art and artistry has stood the testament of time, while fostering an independent music industry that has become synonymous with the Pacific Northwest. This year marks the 10 year anniversary of the Decibel Festival. I couldn’t think of a better partner and label to showcase than Sub Pop as they celebrate 25 years. Thank you for the inspiration.”
– Sean Horton, Decibel Founder and Curator
At Evergreen State College, Horton began throwing underground dance music events, funded by the institution that would later inspire the creation of Decibel Festival. The festival focuses on live, electronic, musical performances in which the heart of it all has been the use of technology within those performances. Since its creation, the festival has incorporated visual art and education as a part of the festival with optical, seated shows. In just 10 years, Decibel Festival has booked over 850+ artists from over 35 countries, further strengthening its mark and influence within Seattle.
Standing back and looking at the Sub Pop Showcase this year at Decibel Festival, there is an abundant amount of historical and cultural importance represented in this show. The showcase is being held at the Showbox Market, one of the largest staples of Seattle’s music culture. Serving as a homecoming of sorts.
Local artists from a local label playing at a local venue for a festival founded and curated in Seattle, this showcase is a pertinent example of how this city fosters music and its influence on a worldwide culture.
– Olin Viydo (Life Crushed // Decibel)