"It makes you a lot stronger because you don't depend on public adoration," says Peter Prescott (Mission of Burma, Volcano Suns). "You sort of get used to the opposite, and you get used to the idea that nobody is paying attention, so you do whatever you want."

That's why so much of that music in the half-dozen years before Nirvana broke is so good. Buoyancy came from the foundation laid by early punk acts like Black Flag, X, Mission of Burma, Descendents, Dead Kennedys, Hüsker Dü, Meat Puppets, and The Minutemen. An even larger, more eclectic batch of bands picked up the baton, and now, decades later, have returned to crowds far exceeding those they enjoyed when they broke up.

The first breeze of these trade winds was the Pixies' very successful 2004 reunion. Since then, many of their contemporaries also have returned — Dinosaur Jr., Pavement, Superchunk, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Guided by Voices, fIREHOSE, Sebadoh, Afghan Whigs, and Archers of Loaf.

Undoubtedly, part of it simply is the business of nostalgia.

"I think a lot of the punk rock nostalgia is valid. There were a broad range of successful new ideas. Maybe people were more broad-minded and less needful of the pigeonhole for their security. Audiences and bands were more willing to take a risk," says Grant Hart (Hüsker Dü, Nova Mob). "But, yeah, some of it just may be our midlife crises."

However, a good part of the allure is the music — or its absence. That's Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster's take. He's currently backing Bob Mould (Hüsker Dü, Sugar) on a tour supporting his most thoroughly rocking solo album in years, Silver Age.

"It's kind of a novel thing now, especially an older guy doing it. I think that's why Bob stopped doing it for a while. It was such a known quantity in the late '90s," Wurster says. "It takes a while for that to come back around. [The last Superchunk album, 2010's Majesty Shredding] was our best-reviewed, maybe best-received record ever . . . the same thing with these Bob shows — they're incredibly well attended. It's amazing. I think it's just the right time for this stuff to be revisited and re-appreciated."

Like another generation's touchstones — The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, Big Star — time's turned commercial indifference into critical genuflection and abiding adoration. Part of the appeal is the indelible sincerity and authenticity implicit in music made without ulterior motives. Though it's certainly possible for some commercial artists to still make great art, a scene usually withers beneath the intense media spotlight.

So, it's no coincidence that within a few years of Nirvana's breakthrough, underground rock started to falter. Quality suffered as cheap knock-off acts proliferated, diluting originality. Suddenly, people were thinking about music as a means to something and not an end in itself. To quote a Minor Threat song from a decade earlier — the core had gotten soft.

"When Nirvana happened, and the major labels were won over to create this thing called 'alternative,' people got lazy and thought, 'Oh, all these people can do this for us.' Then, when they pulled out, there was no coherency," says Mike Watt (Minutemen, fIREHOSE, Stooges), noting underground rock's fallow period during the late '90s and early Aughts. "There has to be some kind of fabric of the scene to give identity and people something to talk about."

Nowadays, rock bands have little reason to think about how many albums they might sell. It's all about touring and the DIY spirit that first ignited the underground scene. It was no big secret when Stephen Malkmus of Pavement sang, "You have to pay your dues before you pay the rent." That's de rigueur again.

"We've always kind of worked the same. We've been doing this for 19 years, and after the show, it's time to put the stuff in the van and switch to the front seat, then try to find a place to sleep. That's the way it works. That's what we do each night," says Lightning Bolt bassist Brian Chippendale. "I opened for some Ratatat shows. So I've been in a club with a hot tub in back, but I didn't feel I was allowed to get in it. I just don't know any better."


Certainly, a DIY approach has never been easier than it is now. There's no need for expensive studios or label backing. Not only is home recording quick, easy, cheap, and often surprisingly good, but companies such as TuneCore will quickly distribute your music for you to all the online music services.

Some feel it's too easy, flooding the market with crappy, trend-biting neophytes that steal attention from more worthy bands and dilute the market. But mere dilettantes quickly are washed out by the fact that albums aren't really worth anything.

"It's easier than ever to make records with home studios, but going out and touring, and living with each other, playing to two people a night seven nights in a row? That's where the reality of what you're doing comes into play," Wurster says. "That's where you separate the men and women from the children."

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18 comments
pking5
pking5

To say that the underground music scene is in a "fertile" period seems pretty silly. Nothing in many years has come out that feels as authentic and exciting as what was happening 20 years ago. Sorry kids. When you get angry enough at Facebook, American Idol, Glee, and all the other crap, then maybe something can happen.

passthesalt91
passthesalt91

No. There will never be another "Nirvana." There will never be another "revolution" like the one they started in the early 90s. They said the same thing about The Mars Volta for crying out loud. Different times, different attitudes. It will never happen.

kayyyy
kayyyy

perry farrell isn't being honest or realistic i was at lolla this year and he booked haley reinhart, an american idol alum (she actually has a great voice and writes herself) but just fact checking here. and perry booked lady gaga TWICE for lolla. she's a singer songwriter at heart, though

 

 any comeback of that style of rock would be contrived

joeLeggy
joeLeggy

@TheGrungeScene But who's going too lead it?

joeLeggy
joeLeggy

@TheGrungeScene Most definetly it's coming SOON!

sorayab
sorayab

I loved the music of that era and I would hate for it to be re-hashed. It would be IMPOSSIBLE for a band coming out now with that same style not to be tampered with and exploited; turned into a contrived trend. I don't see this as a good thing. That said, I despair of the state of music GENERALLY these days. And Kurt thought it was bad back then...

SorayaBakhbakhi
SorayaBakhbakhi

@RoystonGhana As much as I LOVE the music and style of that era, I would hate for it to be re-hashed. It would destroy what made it special.

drone
drone

Chippendale is the DRUMMER not the bass player.

gage992112
gage992112

Here goes "remember the old days" b. s....  The computer made music disposible.  People can download 1,000's of songs with little emotional investment or physical involvement.  I don't get the same rush looking at music on Amazon as I did the first time I walked into Tower Records or looking for a bootleg at Roads to Moscow or cased a Diamond's department store for the quickest  way to the customer service where the Select-a-seat was located (and bitch about the $.45 service charge) because that's how we used to get tickets and music. 

 

And guess what---rock has alwas been DIY.  Blame Buddy Holly (sorry, doesn't fit your narrative).  

 

I think grunge was one of the last gasps of Old school R 'nR.  And ironically Nirvana played the opening night of their IN Utro tour at the Arizona State Fair (I mean because the article about the Arizona State Fair was a major sidebar)  But grunge was the last musical bubble before the current digital age.

 

And Perry Ferrall...  the first time I saw him was in a closed Clothe World at 33 ave & Bethany Home to Celebrity Theater, ASU activity Center, opening LOLLAPLOOZA on a f'n hot day in July  1991 and more recently at the Sea of Concrete (Desert Sky Pavillion I think) .   And I think there was 1992 post LOLLA gig @ the Ice House downtown.  I was just glad he didn't do the Steve Perry dissappearing thing (because he seems a bit like an introvert)  and I was worried about that when Porno for Pyros came out.

 

Rock is dead they say..........

Steve
Steve

"Nor will rock. It will forever be a place kids go to find identity, sow some rebellion, and just celebrate the fine art of living. Guitars and loud, boisterous music always will have a home in kids' hearts, even when the media and money men are indifferent."  

 

Forever? Always?  Seriously?  The music is only about 60 years old, and you've decided this style is eternal?  Get real.

humanclock
humanclock

"...(Coachella, Bumbershoot, Fun Fun Fun Fest) that have popped up across the country over the past decade."Uh, the year Bumbershoot started you might have been able to spot Kurt Cobain there screaming his lungs out...because he would have been four years old and dropped his ice cream cone.

LMFQP
LMFQP

@joeLeggy @thegrungescene You should check out @AnaKills from Detroit. A lot of talent and 90's raw feel.

RoystonGhana
RoystonGhana

@SorayaBakhbakhi ...couldn't agree more. Pop eats itself every few years and spews out pale simulacra that miss the point by miles

SorayaBakhbakhi
SorayaBakhbakhi

@RoystonGhana Exactly. I mean, if Kurt Cobain thought it was bad when he was alive, it's a million times worse now.

SorayaBakhbakhi
SorayaBakhbakhi

@RoystonGhana I know, though I think KC did want success in a way, but he resented the idea of compromising himself. I love Bill Hicks!

RoystonGhana
RoystonGhana

@SorayaBakhbakhi he must spin every time nickleback think about going near a studio. Bill hicks would be apoplectic too

 
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