Who Started the Grunge Music Era?

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


A look at the grunge music scene of the early 1990s and the bands that started it all.

The Grunge Music Era

The Grunge Music Era was started by a group of Seattle-based bands in the late 1980s and early 1990s. These bands were inspired by punk rock and heavy metal, and they created a new sound that was darker and more aggressive. The grunge music era came to an end in the mid-1990s, but the Seattle sound continues to influence music today.

The Beginnings of Grunge

In the early 1980s, the American punk rock scene was kind of a mess. Hardcore punk had taken over, and while bands like Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys were putting out some great music, a lot of it wasn’t very accessible to people outside of the hardcore punk scene. Indie rock was also starting to get big around this time, but again, a lot of it was pretty insular.

But then something happened that would change everything: a group of young musicians in Seattle started playing a new kind of music that would come to be known as grunge. Grunge combined the raw energy of hardcore punk with the hooks and melodies of indie rock, creating a sound that was both accessible and exciting.

The first grunge band to really make a splash was Nirvana, who released their debut album Bleach in 1989. Bleach wasn’t a huge commercial success, but it did attract attention from some major labels. In 1991, Nirvana released their second album Nevermind, which became a massive hit. Suddenly, grunge was everywhere, and bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains were all selling millions of records.

The grunge era came to an end in 1994 with the death of Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana. Cobain’s suicide effectively ended Nirvana (the band would release one more album posthumously), and without Nirvana’s leading light, grunge quickly lost its place in the spotlight. By 1995, most people had moved on to other musical trends like Britpop and electronica.

But while grunge may be gone, its influence can still be felt today. Grunge helped make alternative music more mainstream, and its DIY aesthetic continues to inspire musicians all over the world.

The Mainstream Grunge Bands

Grunge music became mainstream in the early 1990s due to the success of Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. Grunge music was born in Seattle and was influenced by punk rock, heavy metal and indie rock. The genre was defined by its distorted guitars, dark lyrics and overall melancholy sound. Grunge bands were often signed to independent record labels due to the lack of interest from major record labels.

The mainstream grunge bands of the early 1990s were Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Mudhoney. These bands brought grunge music to the mainstream with their albums “Nevermind,” “Badmotorfinger,” “Ten,” “Dirt” and “Superfuzz Bigmuff.” These albums featured the signature sound of grunge music with distorted guitars and dark lyrics. The success of these albums helped bring alternative rock into the mainstream.

Who Started the Grunge Music Era?

Grunge music emerged in the 1980s as a countercultural movement in the United States and Canada. While the precise origins of grunge are debatable, most experts agree that the genre reached its height of popularity in the early 1990s with bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden.

Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain is often credited as the man who started the grunge music era. He was the lead singer, guitarist, and primary songwriter of the rock band Nirvana. Nirvana’s debut album Bleach was released on the independent label Sub Pop in 1989. Cobain found mainstream success with Nirvana’s second album Nevermind, released on DGC Records in 1991. Nevermind was recorded in a studio and featured more polished production values than Bleach.

Cobain was a prolific songwriter and had a mastery of different musical styles. His songwriting often incorporated elements of pop, punk, and folk music. Cobain’s melodies were often catchy and his lyrics were introspective and personal. Cobain’s songs tackled topics such as depression, angst, love, and alienation. Nirvana’s music shared many similarities with other grunge bands of the early 1990s such as Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden.

Nirvana achieved massive success with Nevermind and became one of the most popular bands of the early 1990s. However, Cobain struggled with his newfound success and felt alienated by the popularity of Nirvana’s music. He also struggled with drug addiction and depression. Cobain died by suicide in 1994 at the age of 27.

Layne Staley

Layne Staley was an American musician who served as the lead singer and co-songwriter of the rock band Alice in Chains, which he founded with guitarist Jerry Cantrell in Seattle, Washington in 1987. Staley died in 2002 as a result of a drug overdose.

Chris Cornell

Chris Cornell is an American musician, singer and songwriter best known as the lead vocalist for the rock bands Soundgarden and Audioslave. He was also a member of Temple of the Dog, a one-off tribute band dedicated to his late friend Andrew Wood. Cornell is considered one of the architects of the 1990s grunge movement, and his powerful,Wide range voice has earned him comparisons to Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant.

Born and raised in Seattle, Washington, Cornell began playing guitar at the age of thirteen and formed his first band shortly thereafter. He went on to achieve commercial success with Soundgarden, which he co-founded with Hiro Yamamoto and Kim Thayil in 1984. The band released their debut album, Ultramega OK, in 1988 and experienced mainstream success with their fourth album, Badmotorfinger (1991), which debuted at number seven on the Billboard 200 chart. After spending several years performing with Soundgarden, Cornell left the group in 1997 to pursue a solo career.

He released his first solo album, Euphoria Morning, in 1999 and received critical acclaim for his work on the James Bond theme song “You Know My Name” (2006). He reunited with Soundgarden in 2010 and released their sixth studio album King Animal two years later. In 2017 he released an acoustic solo album called Euphoria Morning that debuted at number five on Billboard’s Top Rock Albums chart. Chris Cornell died on May 18th, 2017 at age 52.

The End of the Grunge Music Era

It was said that grunge music started in the Pacific Northwest American state of Washington in the 1980s. The genre later spread to other parts of the United States and Canada. However, the grunge music era came to an end in the mid-1990s.

The Death of Kurt Cobain

The grunge music era officially ended on April 5th, 1994 with the suicide of Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana. Nirvana was one of the most popular grunge bands of the early 90s and their 1991 album, Nevermind, brought grunge into the mainstream. Cobain’s suicide marked the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. The 1990s would see the rise of pop music and the decline of grunge.

The Death of Layne Staley

On April 5, 2002 the world mourned the death of one of the most influential singers of the grunge music era, Layne Staley. The frontman of Alice in Chains was found dead in his home at the age of 34 after a long battle with addiction. His death marked the end of an era in music and brought the grunge movement to a close.

Layne Staley was born in Kirkland, Washington on August 22, 1967. He grew up in a broken home and found solace in music at an early age. He began playing drums when he was just 13 years old and soon after joined his first band, Sleze. In 1987 he formed Alice in Chains with guitarist Jerry Cantrell and the two quickly became Grunge icons with their unique sound and dark lyrics.

Alice in Chains released their debut album Facelift in 1990 and it was an instant success, going platinum and making them one of the most popular bands of the Grunge era. They followed up with the release of Dirt in 1992, an album that is now considered one of the greatest albums of all time. The band continued to tour and release music throughout the 90s but by 1996 Layne Staley’s addiction problems were starting to take their toll. He entered rehab but relapsed soon after and his health began to decline.

In 1997 Alice in Chains released their third album, self-titled Alice in Chains but due to Layne’s declining health, they were only able to tour for a short time before cancelling all future shows. The band went on hiatus shortly after and Layne retreated into isolation. He made sporadic appearances over the next few years but was clearly struggling with his addiction. On April 5th, 2002 Layne Staley was found dead in his Seattle apartment, he had died from a combination of heroin and cocaine (also known as a speedball).

Layne’s death sent shockwaves through the music industry and brought an end to the Grunge era. Bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden had already disbanded by that point but Alice in Chains was still active and considered one of the premier grunge bands. With Layne’s passing, there was no longer any doubt that grunge was dead.

The 90s were truly a special time for music and Layne Staley was one of the biggest reasons why. His unique voice and dark lyrics helped define the sound of an entire generation. He will be remembered as one of the greatest singers of all time and his influence will be felt for generations to come.

The End of Soundgarden

Soundgarden was one of the seminal bands of the grunge era, and their 1994 album Superunknown was a commercial and critical high point. But by 1997, the band was effectively finished, due to creative differences and frontman Chris Cornell’s struggles with addiction. Their final album, Down on the Upside, was met with mixed reviews, and after a disappointing tour, the band broke up. Cornell went on to have a successful solo career, while the rest of the band members pursued various other projects.

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