By Abish Shakya
Photo courtesy of Mero Mazzako Karyalaya
When Kurt Cobain died on April 5, 1994, it seemed as if he took grunge to the grave. Twenty-four years later, Alice in Chains (AIC) are hitting the studio to record their sixth album and Stone Temple Pilots (STP) reformed and released their seventh album on March 18 this year. On a more exciting note, the Kaaboo Del Mar Festival 2018 in San Diego, California, USA, being held in September, is featuring bands of the 80’s and 90’s grunge era, including Foo Fighters, AIC, STP and Slash ft. Myles Kennedy—The Conspirators, Incubus, Soul Asylum, and Candlebox.
Grunge is a sound adopted from the isolated region around Seattle in the 90’s. It is a blend of heavy metal and punk rock with a loud-quiet-loud dynamic, a progressive music of pain, anger and anguish. While glam metal bands of the 80’s had catchy hooks and wicked solos, grunge was about taking simple three chords and making it noisy, absurd, and heavy. From the leather jackets to spiked collars of the 80’s scene, grunge became the minimalist kid next door who wore anything form grandfathers’ clothes to ripped underpants.
Green River’s EP ‘Come on Down’ from 1985 is credited as the first grunge album. The ‘Deep Six’ compilation released by C/Z Records in 1986 was another early and significant grunge record. Sub Pop record label were the pioneers of who exploited grunge music and brought it to the mainstream with artists such as Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney. Nirvana’s album Nevermind, released under DGC Records in 1992, transcended the grunge revolution by dethroning disco and pop from the top of the charts, sending frantic waves of grunge around the world. Other important grunge records include Pearl Jam’s Ten, Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger, Alice in Chains’ Dirt and Stone Temple Pilots’ Core. The genres eminence might have declined a quarter century ago but coincidentally, grunge is on an uprising around the world and in Nepal.
“MANY KINDS OF MUSIC HAVE COME AND GONE BUT NOTHING AS REVOLUTIONARY AS GRUNGE HAS MADE HEADWAY ALL THIS TIME.”
Grunge is lyrically driven, and its philosophy is deep-rooted to self-acceptance, bracing taboos such as homosexuality. One of the reasons grunge became popular was its honest portrayal of social suppression such as misogyny, rape, or corruption. “It’s about speaking what we feel. It’s a way of portraying anger, which like any other emotion is a good thing,” says Shaurav Bhattarai, frontman of Kaagaz. He adds, “Similar to metal music, grunge is prominent because people are frustrated. It could be due to political unsuitability, unemployment or youths having to seek one’s future in countries abroad. Besides, we also have had to rebel with our own parents. Grunge isn’t just a musical revolution but also a thought revolution.”
“We grew up with grunge and we have an affinity with it,” says Sarad Shrestha of Tumbleweed Inc. and Shree 3. Shrestha adds, “Grunge has an attachment to people because it is not about communism or collectivism but rather about individuality.” Due to these factors, grunge has a universal appeal, and through its influence might have drowned in North America, it remained prominent in South America and Australia. Sashank Khadka, guitarist of Kaagaz adds, “Listening to grunge is also giving some time to yourself. It is important to discover yourself.”
“Nothing can be said for sure, but the grunge titans are coming back. Many kinds of music have come and gone but nothing as revolutionary as grunge has made headway all this time,” says Suyash Rajbhandari of Live & Loud, organisers of the Grunge Tribute shows who hosted the third phase of the event this year. It took us to great surprise when the organisers of Pandoras Jukebox, a show dedicated for original performers, hosted a show entirely about covers.
Regarding this cognitive dissonance, Rajbhandari explains, “With these shows, we were only trying to bring grunge followers together. As for musicians, this is a way for them to learn from the idols and put it in your original music. The crowd has racked up over the years, and with such massive interest, we might have to an outdoor festival next term.”
This year, a tribute to Kurt Cobain organised by Kathmandu Blues N Roots and a Tribute to 90’s Grunge (Alice in Chains, Nirvana) organised by Live & Loud showed audiences and band members going on stage dives, crowd surfing and never seen before on-stage guitar wreckage at the Purple Haze Rock Bar, Thamel. These concerts were also staged outside of Kathmandu. There was every sign of Nepalis finding an outlet to vent their anger in a peaceful way.
“In the future, we’ll feature covers of bands such as Silver Chair, Mad Season, L7, Sonic Youth and Mudhoney to explore the roots of grunge,” express Rajbhandari. Over the years, even members of bands of Nepal such as Albatross, Cobweb, Newaz, Shadows and Shree 3 have taken part in the grunge tributes. A tribute to late grunge icon Chris Cornell also made headway this year.
“NOTHING CAN BE SAID FOR SURE, BUT THE GRUNGE TITANS ARE COMING BACK.”
As of now, Nepali live scene has grunge numbers playing which were previously not the case. AIC, STP, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden were not as popular before but songs from these bands can be heard being performed or simply played in pubs. “As a musician, we have to broaden our horizons. Grunge as an inspiration but we must evolve with time. We don’t want to stick with a genre and repeat the same stuff,” expresses Khadka.
With the platforms set it seems all set up for grunge to come back, perhaps divergent from the original vintage grunge sound but with pronounced influence. Grunge jeans have ripped apart the closing market and grunge music has halls fully capacitated with concert goers. For a free-willed audience unfazed by societies’ validation, grunge can be the voice of this generation.