In today’s context, when you hear the term “grunge” it may evoke images of flannel shirts, sandwich shops, and tossing a penny into a fountain for good luck. However, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, grunge was merely a relatively unknown subgenre of hard rock and alternative music.
Origins Of The Subgenre
Grunge’s roots can be traced back to punk rock and other genres. Musicians drew inspiration from heavy metal, progressive/psychedelic rock, and indie rock (particularly bands like the Pixies). Glam metal also influenced grunge.
However, there were no strict rules defining what could be labeled as “grunge”. It was a broad term that encompassed various music styles created in or around Seattle at the time.
Grunge is characterized by distorted guitars, also referred to as overdriven or crunchy guitars, and simplistic arrangements. Guitars are occasionally tuned lower than standard tuning, and the use of power chords typically complements this guitar style.
Drums in grunge typically follow a simpler beat than what rock or metal musicians might play, frequently centering around the snare drum with minimal complexity in cymbal rhythms. The punk influence is also evident in basslines and vocals, which feature guttural screams without vibrato or melodic contour.
The Popularity of a Subgenre
Grunge showed young people that they were not alone in their rebellion against mainstream pop culture. It appealed to those who rejected makeup and hairspray, didn’t care about dressing up or appearing “cool,” and felt resentment towards their parents for imposing their values. If you experienced these feelings as a teenager, you might be able to relate to grunge’s enduring popularity.
This list is not exhaustive, as many other grunge bands may be lesser-known. The following bands were among the most popular during grunge’s rise in the early 90s:
- Pearl Jam
- Stone Temple Pilots
- Alice in Chains
- Temple of the Dog (a supergroup primarily consisting of members from Soundgarden and Pearl Jam)
Other influential grunge artists include Tad, Screaming Trees, Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone, and Green River.
Grunge, like the rock movement that preceded it, established its own unique culture, complete with iconic fashion statements, a fascination with music gear, and a sound rooted in rock ‘n’ roll’s rougher edges. From its inception, grunge was a niche genre and continues to hold a distinct place in rock history.