How grunge music emerged from Seattle's moribund 1980s economy | KNKX

How grunge music emerged from Seattle's moribund 1980s economy

Jul 27, 2019

This story originally aired on June 16, 2018.

If you have a band in Seattle, good luck finding an affordable practice space. There aren't many to begin with, and if a band can find a place that doesn't mind the noise, it is often small, old and outrageously expensive.

Seattle music journalist and author Charles R. Cross says things were noticably different in the early and mid-'80s. 

"There were many, many empty spaces, that were just empty forever. So the capacity for a band member to rent a room for a hundred dollars in Belltown and live, or rent a rehearsal space for 75 [dollars], was everywhere," says Cross. 

But though practice space was plentiful, venues for shows were rare, wIth Seattle's economy a far cry from the diversified and tech-driven scene it has now. Cross says what performance spaces that did exist were not a good selection.

"Things were so bad, that the idea that you were going to be a band in Seattle and find a following ... everybody gave up on that." 

But Cross says that had some surprising consequences. 

"If you are playing [shows] just for your friends, you are also more likely to play what you really want, as opposed to trying to play music that you think is going to make you really popular and get you on the radio," he says.

Cross says this may have made the music more true and pure than commercially-minded bands were making. But paradoxically, the albums that emerged from Seattle's backwater scene ended up appealing to a larger audience than anyone anticipated. 

"In 1994, five bands from Seattle released albums that debuted at number one on the Billboard charts. And it's such an unbelievable miracle that the timing of it all came together, where there's cheap rent, there's a lot of young musicians, and where there's also talent adding together," says Cross.

"That's a miracle that I don't know that we'll ever see again."