Thursday, July 10, 2008

Celebrate Sub Pop's Anniversary on the small screen

Twenty years ago in Seattle, the flannel was plentiful and the music was loud, and at the center of it all was the record label Sub Pop. This weekend, the label celebrates its 20th anniversary and so the story of the Seattle music scene is being retold all over again in the media. Probably the best and surprisingly accurate description of what happened is the Doug Pray documentary Hype!, which was five years in the making.

Hype! is told from the perspective of the people swept up in the middle of the grunge scene, with Sub Pop at the epicenter of both the scene and the film's voice. Not only are there amazing live performances captured, but the film is pretty hilarious, poking many holes in the mythology of the so-called genre. Sub Pop employee Megan Jasper famously sold The New York Times on bogus grunge slang, making up phrases like 'swingin' on the flippity-flop' (hanging out) and harsh realm (a bummer) which the Times printed verbatim ("Grunge: A Success Story," November 15, 1992). Between that and seeing models on the runway wearing flannel at Fashion Week it was inevitable that the anti-market scene was being over-marketed and would phase out soon enough (and in its wake, a chorus of "good riddance"). The film also features footage of the first time Nirvana played "Smells Like Teen Spirit," which has a special place in my heart -- because I was there!

1991 The Year Punk BrokeAnother great film that indirectly documents Sub Pop's historical rise is the Sonic Youth concert film 1991: The Year Punk Broke. The NY band was one of the first to appear on a Sub Pop imprint (the compilation Sub Pop 100), and befriended several bands on the label, including Nirvana, who they took under their wing on tour in Europe just prior to their (and, in turn, Sub Pop's) breakthrough. Full of great concert footage and oddball humor (see Kurt Cobain mock Kevin Costner from Madonna's Truth or Dare concert film) it captures a moment in time before everything would change, for good and for bad.

Other DVD's that share a part of Sub Pop's history:
Acquired Taste - A collection of videos from more recent Sub Pop artists including The Shins, Iron & Wine, The Postal Service, Sleater-Kinney and Hot Hot Heat
The Murder City Devils: Rock & Roll Won't Wait - An all access, warts and all look at the once popular Seattle punk rock act. Full of drinking, punching, bleeding and of course rocking.
Mudhoney: Live at El Sol - Recent (2007) performance of the legendary Seattle rockers, which beautifully captures singer Mark Arm's lovably ornery humor.
David Cross: Let America Laugh - At the turn of the century, Sub Pop started branching out into comedy, starting with funnyman David Cross, who's albums on the label are a throwback to George Carlin's classics from the 1970's.
Garden State - The Zach Braff curated soundtrack promised to change your life, but it mostly changed Sub Pop's. It was nearly Nevermind: The Sequel as The Shins became huge, and allowed the label to expand it's stable of artists once again.
Flight of the Conchords: Season 1 - Considering they were doing both music and comedy, the label is the perfect fit for this comedic duo to release their music. The series is already a cult hit, and the music's not bad either.

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