'World Domination: The Sub Pop Records Story'
By: Gillian G. Gaar - BMG Books - $21.99
Description: Founded in the late 1980s by Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman, Seattle-based Sub Pop Records released early recordings by then-upstart regional bands such as Green River, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Tad, Nirvana, Flaming Lips, Afghan Whigs, and Screaming Trees.
When the world went grunge crazy in the 1990s, Sub Pop was suddenly the epicenter of Seattle cool. 'World Domination' takes you deep inside the chaotic early days of the label’s founding, all the way to the present.
Verdict: Dedicated to Tom Kipp, "record collector extraordinaire," it opens with a Prologue (The Twentieth Anniversary) and based around the recollections of July 10th, 2008, Gaar begins her journey with a flashback to when the Sub Pop Records logo was to be found on a flag ... rippling in the breeze atop Seattle's Space Needle (in celebration of the aforementioned company-achieved twentieth anniversary).
As we quickly learn, founded in 1986 by Bruce Pavitt it was actually in 1977, on a lovely summer's day, when Pavitt had an experience that would alter the trajectory of his life.
He was attending a BBQ in Park Forest, Chicago when the DJ started playing the brand new single from the Sex Pistols, 'God Save the Queen.' Pavitt looked around and saw how everyone listening had been instantly hooked and realized, instantly, that it was a life-changing event for him.
Cut to 1988, when Sub Pop Records was actually formed by Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman in Seattle, Washington and the music world was about to experience an audio wave quite like they have never experienced before: Grunge.
In early 1988 Pavitt and Poneman quit their jobs to devote their full attention to Sub Pop. Raising $43,000, they incorporated that April. "Of course, that was spent in, like, thirty days", Pavitt recalls. "We almost went bankrupt after a month"!
But they didn't and as you read through this thoroughly entertaining new book from Gaar, you will learn things about the label that, perhaps, you had taken for granted down the years.
It turns out that both Pavitt and Poneman studied earlier independent labels ranging from Motown to SST Records and decided that virtually every successful movement in rock music had a regional basis.
Ergo, the pair sought to create a cohesive brand identity for Sub Pop with the label's ads promoting the label itself more than any particular band.
The label also sought to market a "Seattle sound", which was accomplished with the help of producer Jack Endino, who produced 75 singles, albums, and EPs for Sub Pop between 1987 and 1989.
Endino recorded cheaply and quickly; in order to operate this way, he utilized some consistent studio techniques, which gave the records a similar sound.
Achieving fame in the late '80s for signing Seattle bands such as Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney, all central players in the grunge movement, they are often credited with helping popularize grunge music.
Around those formative years the label's roster also included Fleet Foxes, Foals, Beach House, The Postal Service, Flight of the Conchords, Sleater-Kinney, Blitzen Trapper, Father John Misty, Shabazz Palaces, METZ, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, and The Shins.
The evolution of the record label is detailed by Gaar, but moreover, she allows the story to breathe and to organically be told through soundbites from most all the people involved at the time.
Trust me, by the time you reach the end (Going Silver) you will be headed out to your local record store, or searching online to buy Sub Pop Records vinyl albums (the only way to listen to good music).
As a foot note, in 1995, the owners of Sub Pop sold a 49% stake of the label to the Warner Music Group. Poneman and Pavitt had a disagreement about the direction the label should take, with Poneman wanting the label to become larger and make more money.
In 1996, unable to take the new corporate culture following the Warner partnership, Bruce Pavitt left the label and was able to spend more time with his family.
Oh, and in 2006, Sub Pop Records became the first Green-e certified record label. Through work with the Green-e program and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Sub Pop "greened" their label by purchasing enough renewable energy certificates to offset 100 percent of the electricity they use in their office; showing their commitment to putting renewable energy in the mainstream as a way consumers can take action to do something about global warming.
About the Author: Gillian G. Gaar is the author of over fifteen books, including 'She’s a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll', 'Return of the King: Elvis Presley’s Great Comeback', and 'Entertain Us: The Rise of Nirvana'.
She was a senior editor at the Seattle music paper The Rocket and has also written for Mojo, Rolling Stone, Goldmine, and Seattle’s Museum of Popular Culture, among many other publications and organizations.
Gaar, who lives in Seattle, also served as a project consultant on Nirvana’s With the Lights Out box set.
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