Many scholars have asked, when did Grunge die? Or is it even dead? Or hell, is Grunge even a thing? How do I play in Drop D? For your viewing pleasure, our expert staff brings you all (or none of) of the answers with this new roundtable discussion. We invite readers to post their thoughts in the comments section.
Brett Buchanan: First off, I’d like to point out the irony that we were watching Rugrats and Power Rangers when Grunge was actually a thing. But anyways, so when did Grunge die?
Mike Mazzarone: Die? It’s still alive.
Doug McCausland: When Bill Clinton ate that chick out.
Mike Mazzarone: We have STP, AIC, Pearl Jam, Jane’s, SP and multiple acts touring on the regular
Brett Buchanan: But they’re old enough to be our fathers.
Riley Rowe: But none of em make “grunge-sounding” albums anymore.
Doug McCausland: It never died because it was never really a thing to begin with, honestly. Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam sound nothing alike. But when it comes to the change in the music industry, after Kurt Cobain died guitar rock in general for some reason just had a negative stigma attached to it if it wasn’t garage rock style stuff.
Brett Buchanan: I think Grunge, or whatever word you want to use to describe it, was 100% dead by 1997.
Riley Rowe: Why that year?
Brett Buchanan: By that point, rock was moving towards nu metal and fully entrenched in post Grunge.
Doug McCausland: Soundgarden bit the dust around that time.
Brett Buchanan: I mean you can’t pinpoint it, it’s subjective. But I’d say by the time Soundgarden broke up, it was toast.
Riley Rowe: To me, “grunge” is the dirty, muddy fusion of punk and rock. Sure it was a movement and fashion, but true “grunge” is bands like Mudhoney and Melvins.
Doug McCausland: Look, the way I see it, real “grunge” died with Mother Love Bone.
Brett Buchanan: Hipster.
Doug McCausland: No. What I’m saying is that grunge in the truest sense of the word reached its evolution point with Mother Love Bone, and bands started moving into the mainstream with classic rock-punk fusions.
Doug McCausland: But Grunge, if you’re just objectively talking about the core group of bands that we cover on the site, died in 1994. You had the death of Kurt Cobain and Vitalogy, which was Pearl Jam’s last real mainstream album before No Code. No Code pretty much trimmed the bandwagoner fans. Soundgarden broke up soon after, Alice in Chains hardly did anything. STP moved on from that grunge sound after Purple.
Mike Mazzarone: The same principle though can be applied with punk. Punk is everchanging. The genre is different now. Does that make 70s punk less relevant? No. But rock music evolves.
Brett Buchanan: I think 1994 is a valid point, I think its evolution stopped. But Mellon Collie came out in 1995 and its hype continued into 1996.
Doug McCausland: Mellon Collie I think kind of represented the burst of the grunge era into diverse sounds.
Brett Buchanan: Not really, it was the Pumpkins’ epic last big rock statement. Corgan poured all the big rock he had into that album, so he could then scale it down on Adore.
Doug McCausland: But its still not really a “grunge” album, just something that came out in that era.
Brett Buchanan: It is a Grunge era album. Probably the last massive hit from the era.
Mike Mazzarone: Well. You can’t really put all the blame on 1994. This just happens. Or used to. Eruptions of primitive rock (garage band, punk/new wave. grunge, etc) used to occur at seven year intervals, would grow to dominate music and die overnight. The new centralized radio ownership model prevents primitive rock, or any new rock for that matter, from seeing the light of day. Again from the everchanging landscape of the music industry – in the case the rock industry.
Brett Buchanan: You copied and pasted that from somewhere I’ll bet.
Doug McCausland: “Seven year intervals?”
Brett Buchanan: To me it died somewhere around 1995-1997, 1994 dealt it the blow that would kill it (Kurt’s death) but those bands still made some great music a bit after that. The reunions don’t count, as they’re after that era.
Mike Mazzarone: The reunions are good though. They preserve relevancy.
Brett Buchanan: I enjoy getting to see the bands live, but their prime work is from 20 years ago. They are now legacy acts.
Mike Mazzarone: You’re asking when Grunge died. It didn’t “die,” the music world just moved on.
Doug McCausland: So, if I were to give a specific year, it’s 1994. 1994 was pretty much the final year of doing whatever you always wanted to do before you die and having your kids take over.
Brett Buchanan: To me the prime work of those bands is around 1991-1996. Still some great stuff came after, but that was the creative prime, and also when it was most popular.
Mike Mazzarone: But it’s not as if those bands just disappeared off the face of the earth. There is a reason why Soundgarden still sells out venues.
Brett Buchanan: Right, but Soundgarden did not exist from 1997-2010. Now is a reunion period, their main run ended in 1997.
Doug McCausland: I’m just saying, if we’re talking the traditional definition of “grunge” by most people I would just say that Mellon Collie, Tiny Music, No Code, were all kind of in a post-grunge era.
Riley Rowe: Similar to the “Rock is Dead” debate, I don’t think a genre can die. Sure it may fall out of mainstream, but the sound is still present in either underground acts or on the albums of some of the main artists. For example, Melvins most recent album is hella grunge sounding. Alice in Chains last album had quite a few of sludgy, grunge songs. Mudhoney’s albums still sound like the same punk-driven grunge songs. Foo Fighters and Soundgarden had a couple grunge-y songs on Wasting Light and King Animal. I’d say “grunge” definitely had a falling out during the mid 90’s but it never died. It just was dormant.
Mike Mazzarone: Well said.
Brett Buchanan: Sure but its prime ended back then, we talked about those guys reuniting and some continuing. Trust me there’s been great material since then, like Pearl Jam’s Yield and Riot Act. STP’s Shangri LA DEE DA, or even something as recent as Alice In Chains’ Black Gives Way to Blue. But overall all of these guys were in their prime regularly putting out music back then, now they’re at a later stage of their career. That’s why Grunge died in the 90’s, that rebellious spirit and desperation was there back then and those bands were all writing some of the greatest songs of all time. Now they’re legacy acts, but their prime runs that everybody will remember is back then, along with some of the original lineups. I mean, will there be a 20th anniversary tour of the 20th anniversary of Superunknown tour? Superunknown is their Dark Side of the Moon, or The Wall, and it came out in 1994. That was Grunge’s run, and it ended somewhere in the mid 90’s. A lot of these guys have remained fortunately, but that was the hey day.
Brett Buchanan: But in all seriousness, we all know that Grunge really died when Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament sold out and quit Green River to chase rock stardom. (/sarcasm)
Riley Rowe: So if the big 4 continued releasing successful albums with no hiatuses, yet their albums strayed from their original sound, would it be still alive to you?
Brett Buchanan: No, it still would have died because nothing lasts forever. I think if Kurt had stayed alive and Layne could have gotten clean and lived, Grunge could have had a slightly longer run. Like Led Zeppelin had a 10 year run in the spotlight with lots of albums, or Pink Floyd. I think a band like Alice In Chains could have had a run closer to that in length. Pearl Jam are the only ones that stuck it out the entire time with the full non drummer lineup, Nine Inch Nails are another from that era that stayed relevant for a long time.
Brett Buchanan: If the originals had stuck it out a bit longer there would have been slightly less post Grunge acts at the time, labels created them since the real ones were falling apart. But it still would have died out by like 2000 or something, everything ends. We’ll never really know, what we do know is most of the bands original lineups were done by 1997. But it was a great run as short as it was, and hopefully someday we’ll see somebody come out with fresh sounds like they did and shake everything up. Either that, or we can all rock out at the Purple 50th Anniversary tour where Eric Kretz is the only original STP member, with Chester Bennington and Doug Grean’s grandchildren rounding out the lineup.