Grunge effectively whimpered out with the passing of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain but with Pearl Jam, The Stone Pilots and maybe Soundgarden around this summer, is grunge set for a festival revival? Jamie Skey finds out.
During the early nineties, an enclave of American slackers clothed in, well, anything found in a skip, rode a massive wave of fame and fortune. From across the Atlantic, grunge music stamped a colossally vitriolic path across the globe.
The music’s dark, nihilistic mood resonated with disaffected teens everywhere and caught the imagination of MTV execs and record industry big wigs in the process. While urbane postures in Britain – Blur, Suede, Pulp – forged a new musical identity after rave petered out, stateside heavy-weights like Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden were wallowing in worldwide, multi-platinum success. The bloody grunge star was in its ascendancy.
Festival organisers cashed in on the phenomenon, loading up on said bands to crown line-ups. During that heady time, triumphant, history-making performances were being conceived. Nirvana’s headline slot at Reading 1992 was one such watershed. At the beginning of the show, journalist Everett True wheeled a feeble-looking Kurt Cobain (wearing a blonde wig) onstage in a wheelchair before the band launched into an explosive performance, electrifying 50,000 people. The monumental event has now been made immortal as a live album and accompanying DVD.
A footnote must be added here – at Reading the same year, guitarist of all girl grunge band L7, Donita Sparks, instigated one of the most shocking concert moments ever: she threw her bloody tampon into an abusive, unappreciative crowd.
Between 1991 and 1994, festival bills everywhere were injected with angst-rockers. Even Glastonbury, with its hippie haven reputation, booked bands like the Smashing Pumpkins and Tool during their prime.
But on 8 April 1994, a cataclysmic event shook the world and altogether diverged the course of rock music. Kurt Cobain, who led Nirvana’s meteoric rise to fame, was found dead in his house in Seattle with a shotgun and a suicide note nearby. Thereupon, critics drew a chalk circle around grunge and pronounced it dead at the scene.
After the dissolution of grunge’s greatest mainstay, the genre, which had become a gigantic marketing vehicle, lost all its steam. Bands from this golden era either gave up the ghost, or became tiredly predictable. Festival organisers only very occasionally book the bands that continue to trudge onward. Until now that is.
Fast-forward at least two decades and it appears a grunge revival is nigh. 2010 will be the year when old and wrinkled stalwarts roll back their tombstones to raise hell again. This is overwhelming news for the generation of now thirty and forty-somethings who at night still gaze at yellowed Kurt Cobain posters their mum told them to pull down years ago.
Grunge behemoths Soundgarden, who split due to internal strife in 1997, have reunited and are likely to appear at few festivals this summer. Chris Cornell and Co. are strong rumours for Reading Festival, and have been rumoured for Sonisphere and Download. Having weathered some extremely unfortunate festival luck in the past (eight fans died at Roskilde in 2000), Pearl Jam will be commemorating 20 strong years with a headlining show at Europe’s Best Major Festival Open’er in Poland as well as Hard Rock Calling in London’s Hyde Park. Fans can expect all the hits including ‘Alive,’ ‘Jeremy,’ and ‘Daughter,’ as they promote their new LP ‘Backspacer.’
The Stone Temple Pilots, who in the beginning were slated by critics for supposedly ripping off Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, are playing a host of festivals this year. In England they are playing Donington’s Download. Elsewhere, they will appear at Hurricane and Southside festivals in Germany and Texan interactive film and music extravaganza, South by Southwest.
Although they haven’t been officially announced to play anywhere yet, you can bet Alice in Chains, who in 2009 released their first album in 13 years, will rear their heads some-place. Same can be said for one-man-band The Smashing Pumpkins, who have a new album in the pipeline. They have been rumoured for Reading.
So dust off those moth eaten lumber-jack shirts and shoe horn your feet into those old Converse pumps, because grunge is back – bigger, uglier and dirtier than ever.