The sheer volume of music recalls the early days of punk in another way. Not because there were a lot of bands. Back then, limited distribution and difficulty discovering bands meant you really had to dig and become something of an obsessive. The same is true these days, though, for different reasons.

"With no barrier to entry, what it really means is not more great bands than there were in the late '80s; it means around the same number, but you have to wade through 20 times more bands to find them," says Jack Rabid of the '80s band Springhouse, now editor of long-lived iconic magazine The Big Takeover. "When it becomes a lifestyle — when your parents buy your gear and everything is done by Facebook and Bandcamp for free — it becomes harder and harder to stand out even if your music would."

At least you don't have to trust a critic, buy a CD, or listen to the radio to discover a crappy band. Everyone's empowered to make up their own mind. And that seems to be working just fine for most people.

"Music is just as popular as it has ever been. It's just that people aren't paying for it anymore, so bands are forced to do things on their own now," says Supersuckers frontman Eddie Spaghetti. "And if you're going to make a living at it, you're going to have to get creative, for sure."

That may mean strange lineups — like former Squirrel Nut Zipper Stu Cole's garage-soul band Fantastico, which features two drummers, a singer/guitarist, and two female vocalists. Or shambling rockers He's My Brother, She's My Sister, who boast (besides the harmonizing siblings) a tap-dancer playing a snare drum. Wye Oak's Andy Stack plays keyboards while he drums, and keyboard/violinist Andrew Bird is so proficient layering loops that he improvises whole symphonies in real time, even while playing solo.

In the end, it comes down to getting in front of people and giving them a reason to come. It's even truer today when touring is a band's lifeblood, but it's been that way before. Nothing can ever compare with a live show. "The only way to really feel the rollercoaster is to get on," Spaghetti says.

When Watt was in the Minutemen, they split the world in two halves — gigs and fliers. Anything that wasn't a gig was a flier — interviews, publicity photos, records, show fliers.

"They were all to get people to the gig, because that's where we felt we had the most control. The least middle men, less filter," Watt says. "Back in the old days, before the recording medium, you literally had to play it for people. Selling the medium as a piece of merchandise is only about 100 years old. All the other times, it was performance-based, so it's kind like of returning the minstrels to the people."

Though some bemoan the overabundance of musical product, Watt laughs: "You want it the other way around? 'Oh, no, I have too much to listen to, too much to decide if I like it or not.'"

Who's against competition? It may be responsible for the short shelf-life of recent revival trends — post-rock, garage, psych, and shoegaze — leading them to succumb under the weight of all the quick-to-the-trough trend-hoppers. Those failures hastened fair-weather rockers on their way, as most seemed to have bought banjos or programmable drum machines and moved along in the last few years. More and more of late, artists are staking out their own idiosyncratic territory.

"It's almost a chance for rebirth, like we've got a clean slate in a sense you have to reinvent yourselves," says Rachel Kolar of He's My Brother, She's My Sister. "It forces you to be creative, because if there isn't a radio station playing a lot of good rock 'n' roll, it forces you, like, 'How can I still be heard? How can I still be noticed as being innovative, doing something that really speaks to the people but also advances our sense of what rock 'n' rock music is?'"


There seems little doubt that Nirvana wouldn't have happened had the majors not been actively seeking to capitalize on underground rock for years. The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, Swans, the Pixies, and Sonic Youth all had their major-label shots, but something about the band, the album, and the timing clicked, making Nevermind a perfect storm.

"Nirvana really went for it. They had the machinery in place. They made a great record — but it's a really great commercial record," Wurster says. "It was really produced, really pro-sounding. And the bands you mentioned, none of them made an album that sounded like that."

The times have changed dramatically enough that big-money labels no longer may be necessary to catalyze a revolution. (Though once it happens, you can be sure they'll be there, checkbooks out.)

It was Merge Records, the Chapel Hill, North Carolina, label co-founded by Superchunk's Mac McCaughan, whose band Arcade Fire won the Grammy last year for best album. This year, Bon Iver (on Indiana indie Jagjaguwar) won the Best New Artist and Best Alternative Album Grammies for his chart-topping disc, Bon Iver.

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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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