25 Years of Pioneer Spirit: Sub Pop Does Seattle Proud

Nordstrom Men’s Shop was proud to be part of our hometown’s history on Saturday, when we had the chance to co-sponsor Sub Pop’s Silver Jubilee, a 25th-anniversary celebration of the legendary Seattle record label. With the motto “Going out of business since 1988,” Sub Pop has found success and made history by following their collective gut instinct. It’s a way of doing things that we greatly admire—and think our founder John W. Nordstrom would have appreciated, too, when he set up shop in Seattle back in 1901.

Below, check out some crowd-sourced proof that it all really happened, via Instagram—and read an account of the day’s events by Seattle-based music writer Andrew Matson.

[Instagram photos: L by @babydeerie, R by @veronicanett.
Intro image by @_mayyyc.]

For Sub Pop Records’ massive 25th-anniversary Silver Jubilee—co-sponsored by Nordstrom Men’s Shop—the legendary Seattle independent music label shut down the Georgetown neighborhood of their home city, and about 20,000 people (my guess) came to give praises to Ra, the Sun God. It was hot as hell and we need that around here. (It rains a lot, not sure if you’ve heard.) We also raised an IPA to the label that brought us Nirvana.

From the looks on faces, Seattle loved it. Pounding music from three stages, ricocheting around a closed-off Airport Way, Georgetown’s main drag. It hurt in a good way.

[Instagram photos: L by @ylanag, R by @laurakstyle.]

Old-schoolers (and their kids) flocked to Mudhoney, who yelled lyrics about supporting independently owned businesses. Built to Spill soloed majestically, and a single dream was woven together between the Jubilee-goers, who experienced what only Doug Martsch can do with an electric guitar. Soundgarden did not perform—despite rampant rumors on Twitter that the Seattle icons, one of Sub Pop’s very first acts circa 1987, would play a secret late-night set.

Sub Pop president Jonathan Poneman and vice president Megan Jasper strolled the concrete like royalty. Founder Bruce Pavitt was everywhere, probably struggling to connect the day’s packed streets and epic performances to his humble Subterranean Pop fanzine from Olympia, Washington, back in the ‘80s.

[Instagram photos: L by @timbasaraba, R by @nclrmrz.]

It’s amazing what Sub Pop has done: Put its black-and-white stamp on grunge, on indie rock, and on alternative comedy (there was a Jubilee comedy showcase Friday at Seattle’s Moore Theatre, headlined by Eugene Mirman). None of that existed in a codified way before Sub Pop. But then again, some of the major businesses in Seattle (Starbucks, Microsoft, REI) started in people’s garages as a co-op, or in home offices as a start-up, addressing specific needs—and grew to be cultural icons. Maybe serving micro-communities is just the model here in the Pacific Northwest…and sometimes lightning strikes.

[Instagram photos: L by @scotteverett, R by @sarandipity2.]

So, what’s the next move for Sub Pop? What’s the next wave of music? There’s been no clear era-definition since the tail end of indie rock, with The Shins and Band of Horses. A handful of relatively newly-signed acts showed the way forward at the Jubilee. By my estimation, the future of Sub Pop sounds like:

[Instagram photos: L by @zlog, R by @sub_pop.
Click left image for a short video clip.]

Shabazz Palaces (L), the mbira-featuring Seattle hip-hop duo. They shared peeks at their upcoming album, and the new music was uptempo and dance-y. Their old music was ghostly and dirge-like. The balance was spiritual, microphone short-outs and all.

King Tuff (R), the real-deal Holyfield on electric lead guitar, possible savior of American rock. Tuff zoomed from one gem to the next, giving his set a mixtape-like feel. There was some Jeff Spicoli in there, a little Big Star, a sprinkling of Ramones. Perfect.

[Instagram photos: L by @sub_pop, R by @ponyboat.
Click right image for a short video clip.]

clipping. (L), a Los Angeles trio who makes ‘hip-hop’ in the most Throbbing Gristle sense of the word. Their emcee yelled about poverty and family drama. I realized in the moment that I feel a similar way about clipping. as I do about the TV show Homeland. I’m into it, but man, it’s tense.

Father John Misty (R), whose stage sound was mixed better than everyone else’s. His jam “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” might just be eternal. It sounded amazing in the environment, singer Josh Tillman’s low tenor voice ringing through the industrial alleys of G-Town.

Hausu, four screaming, smartypants Reed College students, signed to Sub Pop’s tiny affiliate Hardly Art. They took a break to shout-out the Sub Pop band Screaming Trees, an influence. Singer Ben Funkhouser said he learned about the northwest band through the non-Sub Pop compilation album, Wild and Wooly: The Northwest Rock Collection.

[Instagram photos: L by @bloodyamateur, R by @henritmodefesta.
Click right image for a short video clip.]

On that note—young Pacific Northwest rockers digging the gnarly art of their forebears—I left Georgetown. It felt like the circle of life was complete, the next phase of Sub Pop coalescing between my ringing ears.


Stay tuned for much more Sub Pop Silver Jubilee content—
from band interviews to street style—in the days to come.


[Main text by Andrew Matson. Andrew writes about music and culture for publications including The Seattle Times, NPR, and The Stranger. Follow Andrew on Twitter here.]

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