Label Spotlight: Sub Pop Records

Sub Pop is a much-loved record label founded in 1988 by Bruce Pavitt who then later formed Sub Pop Records LLC with Jonathon Poneman in Seattle, Washington. The label was a key player in the Seattle grunge scene movement in the late ’80s and early 90’s and an early home for many iconic and pioneering bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney and The Smashing Pumpkins. Over the years Sub Pop has switched to a more indie rock sound but has continued to achieve both commercial and critical success by signing bands such as Foals, Fleet Foxes, Sleater-Kinney and The Shins. With so many amazing releases in their 29+ years active, I take a look at some of my personal favourites so far in chronological order.


1989: NirvanaBleach

From the moment the distorted fuzz of Kurt Cobain’s guitar opens the album with “Blew”, it writes the blueprint for the genre that changed the alternative music scene forever. Grunge. Although the band’s second album Nevermind was the one that gave them overnight mainstream success, Bleach set the dynamics and raw sound that would make Nirvana one of the most loved bands in history. An essential purchase and much-overlooked masterpiece.


1990: The Smashing PumpkinsTristessa / La Dolly Vita

Although this is just a 2 track single (unless you have the 3 track UK version), I added this release to my list because Tristessa was so well received that they went on to having every record label wanting to sign them. It has all the hallmarks of a classic Smashing Pumpkins song and is still one of my favourites to this day. Although it was later rerecorded and put on their amazing breakthrough album Gish, this single arguably paved the way for their future mainstream success.


1998: The Jesus and Mary ChainMunki

The last studio album from the highly respected Scottish alternative rock band before their long hiatus. Although opinions of this album are divided, many considerate it to be their best work. I’m on the fence on that one myself but it has so many standout tracks that draw you in straight away that I can’t understand why it’s so overlooked. I also think of Munki as a good place to begin if you’re looking to get into The Jesus and Mary Chain‘s music, although that statement might not be agreed upon by everyone.


2005: Sleater-KinneyThe Woods

The Woods was my first introduction to Sleater-Kinney from Olympia, Washington. Even though they have been around since the mid-’90s and been a major part of the riot grrrl scene, it was through Carrie Brownstein’s (guitar/vocals) television comedy project Portlandia that I discovered them. The album is critically acclaimed and many consider it to be their greatest work to date, pure grunge heaven.


2008: FoalsAntidotes

The first song I heard off this album was “Balloons”, I remember being blown away by how fresh and upbeat it sounded and I purchased the album straight away out of curiosity. There’s no filler on Antidotes and in my opinion, I would love for them would go back to the more experimental math rock dance sound that made them so unique in the first place. I still listen to this album a lot and think of it to be one of the greatest album debuts ever made.

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Richard Neil

I'm a freelance journalist who has interests in music, film, travel and politics. ▲

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