Grunge Music: The Old Sound of the 90s

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Grunge music was the old sound of the 90s. It was a time when music was raw and real, and it spoke to a generation. Today, we look back at the grunge music scene and the bands that made it so special.

Grunge Music Basics

Grunge is a rock music genre that emerged in the early 1990s. It was characterized by its distorted guitars, grungy vocals, and dark, depressed lyrics. Grunge music was a reaction to the polished, hair metal music of the 80s. It became very popular in the early 90s with the help of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden.

Defining grunge

Grunge is a rock music genre and subculture that emerged during the mid-1980s in the Pacific Northwest U.S. state of Washington, particularly in Seattle and nearby towns. The style became widely popular in the early 1990s, due in part to the success of Nirvana’s 1991 album Nevermind, with its singles “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Come as You Are”.

Grunge was also influenced by punk rock and heavy metal music. It often features a distorted electric guitar sound, heavy bass lines, and lyrics dealing with social alienation, apathy, confusion, and angst. Grunge bands tend to have a political standpoint as well, expressed through alternative rock lyrics. In general, grunge bands rejected mainstream pop culture values of the 1980s brought on by hair metal bands such as Mötley Crüe and Poison.

There are different interpretations of what constitutes a “grunge” band. Seattle music journalist Charles R. Cross defines grunge as a “calm rage” that existed from 1986 to 1994″, citing the punk-inspired DIY ethic of many grunge bands as evidence that they were able to produce heartfelt music without major label interference. AllMusic’s Steve Huey says that grunge is about “angst-fueled backwoods sludge”.

The history of grunge

Grunge is a subgenre of alternative rock that emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was originally used to describe the music ofbands from Seattle, Washington, such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden.

Grunge is characterized by its heavy, distorted guitars and angst-filled lyrics. Grunge bands were often critical of the mainstream music industry and rejected the polished sounds of popular 1980s hair metal bands. The genre became commercially successful in the early 1990s with the release of Nirvana’s album Nevermind, which topped charts around the world.

The popularity of grunge prompted a backlash from some fans of thrash metal and punk rock, who accused grunge bands of selling out. Nevertheless, grunge continued to be popular throughout the decade and spawned a number of successful bands, including Alice in Chains, Foo Fighters, and Stone Temple Pilots. By the end of the 1990s, however, grunge had largely lost its commercial momentum and many of its leading bands had disbanded or faded from view.

The Sounds of Grunge

Grunge is a subgenre of alternative rock that emerged during the mid-1980s in the American state of Washington, particularly in Seattle. The style is generally characterized by massively distorted electric guitars, distressed jeans, and flannel shirts. Grunge music reached mainstream popularity in the early 1990s with bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden.

The instruments used

Instrumentally, grunge bands used mostly the same instruments as rock bands did; however, they used them in different ways. For example, many grunge bands used distorted and overdriven guitars played through amplifiers set to produce a “crunchy” or “muffled” sound. This sound was made popular by such as Kyuss, Alice in Chains, Nirvana, and The Melvins. Many grunge bassists used down-tuned guitars to produce a heavier sound.

Grunge drummers mostly kept a steady beat with an occasionally varied drumming style. They often used punk rock or hardcore punk drumming techniques such as the double bass drum patterns made famous by Chuck Biscuits of Black Flag and Greg Ginn of SST Records.

The vocal style

Grunge vocalists tended to have rough, raspy voices, which were often compared to those of smokers. This was partly due to the fact that many grunge musicians were smokers, but also because the style of grunge music was often quite aggressive, which required a more aggressive vocal style. The vocals in grunge songs were often shouted or screamed, rather than sung, and the lyrics were often delivered in a slurred or mumbled way, rather than being clearly enunciated.

The Lyrics of Grunge

The lyrics of grunge music reflected the dark and angsty undertones of the genre. The lyrics were often about personal struggles, mental health, and the pain of growing up. Grunge lyrics were often angry and cathartic, providing an outlet for the frustrations of an entire generation.

Themes and topics

Grunge music was often about suburban life and the struggles that came with it. The lyrics were mostly personal and account for much of the “I don’t care” attitude associated with grunge.

The tone

The tone of grunge music is often dark, angsty, and introspective, with lyrics that deal with topics such as social alienation, depression, and substance abuse. Grunge music emerged from the Seattle music scene in the late 1980s and was popularized by bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden. Grunge music is sometimes considered to be a subgenre of alternative rock.

The Legacy of Grunge

If you were a teenager in the early 90s, you probably remember the first time you heard Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. It was a defining moment in music and culture. Grunge was a raw, unpolished sound that was the antithesis of the happy, upbeat pop music that was popular at the time. Grunge was a new sound for a new generation.

The influence on other genres

Grunge’s influence reached beyond just music; the style and attitude of the grunge movement had a significant impact on fashion and culture. Grunge fashion was characterized by plaid shirts, ripped jeans, and Doc Martens boots, among other things. This style was in stark contrast to the flashy, expensive styles of the 1980s. Grunge fashion became popular among young people who were rejecting the consume-and-display culture of their parents.

Grunge also had an impact on mainstream culture beyond just fashion. The dark and often depressing lyrics of grunge songs spoke to a generation of young people who were feeling lost and disconnected. The grunge movement helped to create an alternative to mainstream culture, which many young people found more relatable.

Even though grunge is no longer as popular as it once was, its influence can still be seen in many other genres of music. Many modern rock bands have been influenced by grunge, and the genre has left a lasting legacy on popular culture.

The enduring popularity

Despite the commercial and critical success of grunge in the early 1990s, the genre was largely dismissed by the music press at the time. In the years following, grunge was supplanted by other alternative rock genres such as Britpop and nu metal. Nevertheless, with the help of television shows such as David Letterman’s Late Show and MTV’s Unplugged, which showcased stripped-down performances by grunge bands, the music maintained a devoted cult following.

In the 2010s, there was a renewed interest in grunge, fueled in part by nostalgia for the genre’s fashion and aesthetic. This nostalgia led to several reunions of grunge bands that were active in the 1990s, such as Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains. Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic described this resurgence as “a younger generation that doesn’t quite understand what happened back then”. Nevertheless, Kurt Cobain antipathy towards reunion tours led to a highly criticalopen letter released by frontwoman Courtney Love in 2015 telling him to “stop bitching” and play with them.

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