Ode to Sub Pop

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Do you remember the time when you were a teen when your musical landscape changed?  For me and most teens in the early 90’s – Nirvana was the catalyst for that change.  I was 18.  It was 1991.  The scene at the time for me was reminiscent of hanging out with teen boys who were into skateboarding whilst trying my best to keep up with the Benjamin’s with my girlfriends.  A weird time riddled with all things confusing and upsetting but music was also my grounding force.

In the midst of studying Nirvana lyrics, liner notes and photography (as you do as a teen) – an ominous label by the name of Sub Pop would say hello to me every day at the back of my CD case.

Sub Pop.  From Seattle?  Where was that?  For a girl from North Toronto – it was a world away.

Well if this Sub Pop label were putting out Nirvana; the other bands on that label must be just as cool (so I thought).  So started the love affair.  Many Friday nights were spent downtown Toronto at either A&A Records, Sam the Record Man or HMV (depending who was selling it cheaper) to see the latest releases from Sub Pop and spend hard earned part time job dollars with my friend Jakub.

We would scoop Sub Pop albums up after watching Much Music on Cable TV as research.   Once making our purchases we would convene at the local Taco Bell across the street from Record Store row on Yonge Street in Toronto.  We would rip the wrappers off those cd’s and immediately pop them into our cd Walkman for the long trip back to the suburbs all the while studying liner notes.  Those CD’s had the makings of Willy Wonka chocolate bars.  If they included stickers – even better!  Those were the brand labels of the day.

Bands like the Screaming Trees, The Melvins, Tad, Mudhoney and Nirvana gave us permission to do so much.  From busting out from our Catholic school uniforms, making informed decisions about our lives, being creative in our journey and defining our youth.

The EMP Museum exhibit ‘Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses’ does a tremendous job capturing the essence of that time and is worth checking out especially if you were and are still a fan of those bands at that time in music history.

I had the pleasure to take a tour of Sub Pop’s offices in Seattle whilst I was in town.  Small, quiet and full of memorabilia of the labels early days.  There were gold records, posters, art work and the whisperings of a true homage to a time that built the label that could.

The demure cubicled office is indeed just like any old office space.  But I took a moment to think about how a teenager like me was affected by the sound that out of the efforts of that early staff that put out those early CD’s from far away Seattle.

There is a sticker and poster wall at the Sub Pop offices.  Stickers that have been layered upon layered over time.  That in itself was worth taking some time with.  They could have made those skater boys I would hang out with in high school swoon.  Skate board worthy art on a sticker.

The poster wall had the likes of Chris Cornell in the midst of a ‘Loud Love’ throw down.  Constantine’s, Wolf Parade and Fleet Foxes all have their face time.

There is a Polaroid Wall lacquered in photos from bands that have come and gone during the years along with staff photos.  There is indeed a very familial vibe in those Polaroid’s.  Sub Pop takes care of their own.

As we continued the walk through the space, we made our way through the warehouse where there was a furor of activity.  There was vinyl and cd’s all nicely stacked up and being packaged to who knows which small town in the U.S. or abroad.

Even though the Church of Grunge has now ended their services, a new ministry is up and running.  The Shins and Fleet Foxes have secured their place in Sub Pop’s next generation congregation.   Cool, fresh, lazy beats yet full of promise.  Sub Pop is indeed here to stay.  As I continue to age and see generations come paying reverence to those early bands – Sub Pop will take on the vintage majesty of the likes of Motown and Apple Records with each passing year.


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