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Bruce Pavitt's Subterranean Stories

Sub Pop founder releases fanzine compendium documenting the American underground

Bruce Pavitt calls his book, The Subterranean Pop Music Anthology 1980-1988, “the best index available of American indie music from ‘80s”. In its pages there are more than one thousand bands, some of them household names, some of them among the most influential bands in the 20th century, but the great majority of them almost completely unknown even when they were together. And it’s these obscure bands that make this anthology a wonderful thing.

The Subterranean Pop Music Anthology is a collection of lovingly reprinted columns written for Seattle’s The Rocket newspaper and the ‘80s zines published by Pavitt – the founder of Sub Pop records who would go on to sign Nirvana. Together, they provide a gloriously immediate entry to the American indie underground of the ‘80s through articles that, though occasionally dated, are nonetheless utterly reminiscent of the time. Focussing on music in the Midwest and Northwest of the States, Pavitt would cover anything from Metallica to the Beastie Boys but the collection is at its best when collecting his writings on the far more obscure and independent acts who passed his way. Meanwhile, the birth of Sub Pop records and the emergence of Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney are detailed fascinatingly.

Pavitt grew up in suburban Chicago and spent his early years bored. “It was pre-internet and I was starving for new information,” he says. “I was motivated by meeting interesting people. I grew up in a fairly boring, suburban environment and by the time I was a teenager I was really driven to meet creative people.”

In the late ‘70s, he’d take the train into the city and hang out at Wax Trax!, the legendary Chicago punk record shop which went onto to become a highly influential new wave and industrial label. There he discovered the burgeoning punk scene and it lit a fire. “The shop was a little like Rough Trade in London, it was a hub, a network and a library,” he says. I’d spend hours in there pouring through zines and records. I realised that a revolution was happening – that people were creating their own culture and weren’t just allowing themselves to be spoon-fed by corporations. Groups like Devo were putting out their own singles while zines were writing about bands from obscure locales. I found that very inspiring and it planted a seed of cultural empowerment.”

The Subterranean Pop Music Anthology 1980-1988 is available now

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