photo & text by nacrowe
as a paean to all things sonically BLOWN-OUT and DISTORTED to high hell, MUDHONEY's iconic debut EP SUPERFUZZ BIGMUFF (SUB POP, 1988) fittingly takes its name from the much celebrated and sought after UNIVOX SUPER FUZZ and ELECTRO-HARMONIX MIG MUFF guitar pedals. prominent users of both range from PETE TOWNSEND (THE WHO), ALEX LIFESON (RUSH), ROBERT FRIPP (KING CRIMSON), ACE FREHLEY (KISS), CARLOS SANTANA, DAN AUERBACH (THE BLACK KEYS) STEVE HOWE (YES) and DAVID GILMOUR (PINK FLORD) to J MASCIS (DINOSAUR JR), KEVIN SHIELDS (MY BLOODY VALENTINE), RIVERS CUOMO (WEEZER), JACK WHITE (THE WHITE STRIPES), BILLY CORGAN (THE SMASHING PUMPKINS), DIMEBAG DARREL (PANTERA) and KURT COBAIN (NIRVANA) among countless others over the years. with its CHAOTIC, barely controlled sonic DISSONANCE, it makes sense that this EP and its lead single "TOUCH ME I'M SICK" basically kicked off in the popular consciousness the SEATTLE ALTERNATIVE ROCK explosion, otherwise known as GRUNGE, that was followed in quick succession by INFLUENTIAL releases the next year by peers in SOUNDGARDEN, TAD and NIRVANA and later ALICE IN CHAINS, MOTHER LOVE BONE and THE MELVINS among others. its not that MUDHONEY was the originator of this regional PACIFIC NORTHWEST sound (as such had percolating in various forms for years in acts like SKIN YARD, MALFUNKSHUN, GREEN RIVER, U-MEN among others), more they were among the first out of the gate to make a cultural impact outside of SEATTLE, it could be argued with SUPERFUZZ BIGMUFF.
listening to SUPERFUZZ BIGMUFF now it is hard to not be taken aback by how CONCISE the songwriting and ENERGETIC the performances are on tracks like "TWENTY FOUR," "CHAIN THAT DOOR" and "NEED." singer and main songwriter MARK ARM may seem a bit wavering and lackadaisical in his vocal delivery, but he is definitely on point when he provides forward momentum and SPARK to the songs with his interesting turns of phrase. it all feels intentional like a NOISY, FEEDBACK-LADEN hybrid of PUNK ROCK and POWER POP. same could probably be said for much of the scene that followed. SUPERFUZZ BIGMUFF is definitely worth check out irrespective of your interest or passion for ALTERNATIVE ROCK or its history. just a great ROCK N ROLL record.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
filmed in SEATTLE after the initial wave of GRUNGE had crested and crashed, HYPE! (HELVEY-PRAY PRODUCTIONS, 1996) is very much a contemporaneous attempt to make sense of what turned out the be the last organic pre-internet mass cultural phenomenon in AMERICAN history.
utilizing interviews from participants from bands the likes of SKINYARD, THE MONOMEN, BEAT HAPPENING, THE MELVINS, SCREAMING TREES, SOUNDGARDEN, THE FASTBACKS, MUDHONEY, TAD, GAS HUFFER, COFFIN BREAK, THE SUPERSUCKERS, LOVE BATTERY, 7 YEAR BITCH, THE GITS, DEAD MOON, PEARL JAM and THE WALKABOUTS among others and scene producers like JACK ENDINO, STEVE FISK, FRANK HARLAN and photographer CHARLES PETERSON as well as local indie record label founders CALVIN JOHNSON (K RECORDS) and BRUCE PAVITT and JOHNATHAN PONEMAN (SUB POP RECORDS)
it has been repeatedly said that due to this scene's relative isolation from all but major touring acts in the 80s that a void was filled by local bands that had a fierce DIY ethic informed by HARDCORE and INDIE ROCK of the period. when this insular scene burst open nationally in the wake of the success of ALICE IN CHAINS, SOUNDGARDEN, PEARL JAM and, of course, NIRVANA, things became more unbalanced in the scene once a financial motive got involved. suddenly catwalks where filled with flannel and opportunistic bands moved to SEATTLE to be "discovered" and outright careerism polluted the once vibrant scene that house and nurtured misfits.
i found the crux of this film to be that intersection between art and commerce. that point at which expression is informed by winds of passing fad. once your scene is a fad, where do you go? what do you do?
the film never really answers that question but offers an amazing look at how such commercial interests affected that small intimate scene at a time it was wholly unprepared for it. and yet it seems inevitable that once you become en vogue, your season will ultimately fade and another thing will replace you. i think fortunately for SEATTLE, to this day that city name is synonymous with highly influential strains of ALTERNATIVE ROCK, INDIE ROCK and even SLUDGE METAL. it is still relevant to anyone who loves ROCK AND ROLL. there is still a purity to listeners to this day. of course, this idea of commerce affecting a scene's perceived purity makes no sense in today's climate. through technology there is no more isolated local scenes, the playing field is relatively horizontal in terms of means of exposure and music distribution. when nobody is making money anymore from music, those lines that existed during the filming of this documentary seem rather quaint by comparison.
interestingly, director DOUG PRAY 20 years later revisIted the scene and talked to some of the same participants again (video embedded below) about the impact of that initial wave. for most of them they just kept on their same path and nurtured upcoming artists. for band that came about long after GRUNGE came and went, the true legacy is that commercial viable artistry that is vibrant can come from anywhere, even SEATTLE.