Tonight in Seattle:  

The Seattle sound. Does it exist?

I spent last Friday appearing live on 94.9 KUOW discussing this very topic: the "Seattle Sound" -- does it exist today?

From the KUOW website:

In the early 90s, everyone knew the Seattle Sound. Guys with stringy hair made it, and it was really loud. Still, it wasn't the only music coming out of Seattle. Is there a Seattle Sound today? Are there several? We want to know what makes a sound emerge. Does it emerge organically from a musical community? Is it just a marketing tool? We'll talk to local music geeks, and we want to hear from you. Are you a musician? A fan? What do you think defines Seattle's music scene?

It was my honor to serve as one of the "local music geeks" alongside The Vera Project's Josh Powell and The Stranger/RAINDROPHUSTLA hip-hop columnist Larry Mizell Jr. We were each asked to bring in a few songs to help tell the story of what the Seattle sound is today. It proved difficult to settle on which tracks to bring, as the Seattle music scene means so many different things to me.

Since my pre-show interview talked a lot about Sub Pop -- both how they defined the infamous grunge sound back in the day, and how they're defining a new "bearded soft folk rock" today -- I opened my picks with a Carissa's Wierd track, as they were the forerunners to most of those Sub Pop bands (Band of Horses, Grand Archives, and Sera Cahoone are all Carissa's Wierd alums). From there I played a Grand Archives song; I then did a music 180 and played electro-dance-party tracks from Team Gina and Natalie Portman's Shaved Head.

The other guests also picked great songs -- Josh's picks favored lo-fi indie bands Little Party & the Bad Business and Nextdoor Neighbors (who I loved!) as well as 20 year old hip-hop artist Scribes, while Larry's picks were entirely hip-hop focused (Grinch, D. Black, and the Saturday Knights).

Once we got to talking, we agreed that while there is no single Seattle sound, that overall Seattle music has emerged from a self-effacing, almost passive-aggressive musical identity to one that shows burgeoning confidence and excitement -- whether it be hip-hop or spazz rock or lo-fi indie-pop or hard rock, Seattle bands are now comfortable bringing the attitude in a way they seem to lack in the past.

The conversation continued once we went off-air, and the conclusion from it all was that the sounds of Seattle aren't emerging from a marketing tool, but rather a hearty sense of DIY aesthetic. I would argue that it's the DIY movement, which has so lowered the barriers to entry for music creation, distribution, and even criticism, that has differentiated the Seattle sound of today by propagating a sense of independence and individuality. Thanks to DIY tools, it's so much easier to record music, to distribute music, or hell, even to launch a website dedicated to music. We no longer need a label defining the sounds of our town; we define and refine that sound everyday, whether by going to shows, or recording and sharing music online, or commenting on our favorite music blogs.

At the risk of sounding too heavy-handed, I'm gonna cut myself off and open this topic for comments: What do YOU think defines the modern day Seattle sound?

Incidently, you can listen to the entire broadcast for yourself, archived over at the KUOW website.

i did a paper on the "seattle sound" for my composition class fall quarter. i recieved a less than satisfactory grade on it...ha! read band of horses review from myspace secret vera show last fall...i likened sounds to local geographical landmarks...krmpph!

Less than satisfactory from you, Chona -- pah! That is plain silly. Do I need to call that teacher and have a talk with him/her?

Who did you say defined the Seattle sound for your paper?

I completely agree with your guys' conclusion, although I never would have been able to put it so eloquently. No it would be impossible to nail down a particular sound in a city with great indie pop, rock, hip-hop, electro, etc.

I'm sure other cities have the same phenomenon, in which bands can make music much easier thanks to new DIY technologies, but I think what makes Seattle so successful is that we make it so easy, for everyone, to access this music.

I remember going to Boston, I met up with Imaginary Ash and asked her where the local record stores were. She said there really weren't any, one or two, but it took some thinking. Here we have Sonic Boom AND Easy Street. Plus all ages venues, which were lacking in Boston too. And Boston is a college town!

I think as a people we are very open to new sounds and experiences, and while we may be a little more reserved than our east coast friends, we love getting together and sharing cool, fun experiences.

The affect of a musician/band's location on their music is definitely a topic I toss around in my head from time to time. I really believe the atmosphere has a direct influence in the type of sound they are going to create. Of course there will be exceptions, but many a-time you can check out a band and guess relatively close to where they are from.

I think you nailed the idea of Seattle's current sound right on the head, Dana. Reading local media and discussing the state of the NW with others, it seems there is somewhat of an unrest between what people who've lived here think the area should be and what new developers from other parts of the country are coming in and building/turning the city into. I want to hear more of what you had to say, don't think you are being too heavy handed!

when i think about our sound, i tend to think of it more of the whole region rather than the seattle city limits . the "Puget" sound might be more appropriate right haha. there are so many bands coming the Eastside or the surrounding cities around Seattle, and Kitsap County port towns have a scene/sound of their own that have made it into the collective Seattle Sound.

historically, seattle's contemporary sound definitely does not fit the mold of other "sounds" that bare more cohesive structure; the motown sound of detroit or the beach sounds of south cali. but where traditional regional "sounds" have sputtered into music history and contemp. bands trying to recreate those magic years, seattle's sound continues to carry on and grow into diverse directions. we survived the 90's seattle sound and i think our longevity will be long standing, especially because of our DIY culture. oh and i guess our corporate mega rich funders, ie Paul Allen.

on a side note, i work as a production intern at a seattle public television station; i had pitched this very show idea (the seattle sound, what is it, is it still significant, who are the main players), but it got rejected. so KUOW got to it first, damn you Steve Scher!

I don't know why I didn't mention this or blog about it a long time ago, but the July issue of Blender Magazine has an oral history of Sub Pop Records. It starts from the very beginning in 1988, goes through the Nirvana era, and ends with the Shins/Iron and Wine/Postal Service.

Hey thanks for mentioning us on the show! It was a thrill for us to hear and it was a great discussion. Thanx 4 mixing it up!

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