From punk into pop (via hardcore): re-reading the Sub Pop manifesto

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Abstract

Bruce Pavitt’s music fanzine Sub Pop, the first issue of which appeared in 1980, is often presented as a simple case of independent culture versus the reviled mainstream, with little reference to the actual written and graphic content of its pages. This article challenges and complicates that view with an account of Pavitt’s usage of language and specific genre terms – in particular, his tendency to rebrand punk as (indie) ‘pop’. This he reinforces with all manner of written and visual references to 1950s pre-corporate means of production and consumption. In so doing, I argue, he projects what numerous theorists have defined as a ‘genre culture’ based around pop. Pavitt also tries, however, to absorb the immediate indie legacy of hardcore within his genre culture. As the second part of the article demonstrates, this generates stark tensions within his fanzine reviews and other copy – not least when his opening Sub Pop manifesto rejects the toxic masculinity of corporate rock but simultaneously celebrates hardcore’s own carefully policed American, anti-British, anti-theatrical masculinity. Such tensions, I suggest in closing, found their way into Pavitt’s most famous creation, where they were partly, if still messily, resolved: this was the Seattle indie record label, also called Sub Pop, and its signal genre of grunge.

Details

Original languageEnglish
JournalPunk & Post-Punk
Volume10
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 19 Feb 2021