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.