Some of the scene's leading lights—including Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock, Mudhoney's Steve Turner and Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla—have ?ed Seattle's increasingly expensive real estate and impossibly dense traf?c for the artist-friendly con?nes of Portland, Ore.
“The music community itself is still really strong in Seattle,” says Death Cab guitarist Walla, a Portland resident since 2006. “But there's a goldrush mentality about the way the city is managed. The difference between Seattle and Portland has everything to do with economics: Seattle City Hall seems to have completely lost any interest in music or the arts. It's crazy to hear Mayor Nickels going on about building a tunnel under the waterfront: All he seems to care about is ‘denser, bigger, more.' My decision to move to Portland was strictly about quality of life vs. a musical choice. I started looking at houses here two years ago, and thought ‘I can afford to buy a nice house within walking distance of a bunch of mom-and-pop shops run by adult kids just like me.'”
We're not saying we don't understand why so many gifted former Seattleites have departed for Portland's cheaper rents and more communal songwriter scene. We loved Portland the two years we lived there, back in the day. But we're in Seattle now, we're not the only ones, and we're pretty stoked about the music that's getting made here. In fact, we'd go so far as to say that something's in the air in the Seattle music scene, and that our time on the national stage didn't end ten years ago.
"There may be some growing pains affecting nightlife as Seattle continues to grow and density increases, but Seattle music has moved from 'scene' to industry," says James Keblas, Director of Film & Music for the mayor's office.
For the most part, this article is dead on about what is going on in the Seattle music scene right now, but Corey DuBrowa really does a disservice to the complexity of the situation by insinuating that there is some sort of "demise" of Seattle's influence in the national music scene. What is happening here isn't a death, but a shift that the above quote from James Keblas spells out in no uncertain terms. From everyone I've spoken to about it (and let me tell you, everyone wants to talk about how our two burgs stack up), this is what I have gathered:
After Alice in Chains, Nirvana and Pearl Jam hit national charts, Seattle was saddled with a reputation as a musical center that attracted thousands of musicians and music fans (which, you folks might know, Portland is experiencing right now), and cash from a music industry eager to capitalize on the hype (which Portland has yet to really experience, and likely never will). That, plus the incredible amount of money from Big Tech and Big Coffee that flooded the economy, has helped drive property values up and many struggling musicians out. What is left over is the aura of a musical ground zero, populated by the established musicians and music fans from that early-'90s boom who have turned their love of music into successful businesses. The sound of grunge may have faded, but the people responsible for making and following that sound hold the cash and pull the levers here...and they have created a robust and unique music industry.
Now Seattle boasts one of the largest distributors of digital music (Amazon), one of the best internet radio stations in the world (KEXP), and a number of influential record labels, including the industry giant Sub Pop. The list goes on: tons of music websites, Microsoft's digital music division (responsible for the Zune), the Experience Music Project (host of the only large-scale annual meeting of music critics); Sasquatch! Music Festival (the Seattle-produced music festival boasting one of the best lineups of any outdoor festival—eat it Coachella) and the magazine I edit (which finds plenty to cover on a monthly basis just within the Puget Sound area). Plus there is a fully-staffed Office of Film and Music that is constantly wooing more industry players to the city (Keblas recently told me that he wants Seattle to be the capital of music licensing in America... owever you feel about that, it's good for the independence of local musicians).
It's a different world up here, but Seattle is certainly not in decline. If anything, this city is more influential than it ever was in the early '90s. It's just that the influence is now held by radio station DJs and programmers, label heads and the music fans that work in the tech industry...not necessarily by big-time artists. All of those industry folks might not be going out to shows every night (if they did, chances are the clubs would be doing better), but they are giving artists in the Pacific Northwest the national exposure and distribution necessary to maintain their own independence and the Northwest's standing as the capital of independent music.
Of course, along with the wealth and prosperity for business-owners comes a more uptight, difficult culture for artists to exist and create in. Clubs close down, but other ones open. This is the ebb and flow of a city where life is more difficult, but the spirit of creation is never quashed. Pedro the Lion's David Bazan, most of Death Cab, Eddie Vedder, Blue Scholars, Rocky Votolato, Damien Jurado, Jesse Sykes and other established artists still call Seattle home and draw inspiration from it. And there are a lot of new faces making great music. For LocalCut readers, I have compiled a short list of what I'm digging right now [see links section below].
Mark B's Seattle Music Picks:
Image: Clip art!