With Nevermind’s huge commercial success, Nirvana had shattered the glass ceiling: it was finally possible for alternative bands to be successful and make a living out of their music. Without it, most of us would have never heard of bands like The White Stripes or The Foo Fighters.
But after Kurt Cobain’s death, grunge fans could only sit and watch in horror at what “alternative” american music was becoming. Greedy and impatient record labels were pushing unimaginative bands to replicate Nirvana’s success. Even metal hair bands – grunge’s nemesis – were dropping glitter for flanel shirts in order to join the bandwagon. Nickelback, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park… Were they all Nirvana’s fault?
As the drugged up Seattle grunge scene was growing bigger, it started to gather interest on a national level. Gigs were now attracting clean and normal kids who were turning their backs on heavy metal, the press was becoming hysterical and record labels were fighting to find out who was going to be the next big thing: Soundgarden? Mudhoney? Alice in Chains?
The answer became obvious at the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind and their Generation X anthem Smells Like Teen Spirit. They became the first ever alternative american band to become massively successful, quickly becoming triple platinium and even beating Mickael Jackson in the charts.
This is the second part of The Road to Nirvana, a BBC 6 documentary series about the roots of Nirvana and the grunge scene. Listen to the previous part here: Part 1: The Birth of College Rock.
America, mid-80s. College rock bands are budding all around the country. But something different seems to emerge from the northern city of Seattle. Plagued by hard drugs, high suicide rates, dirty hair and plaid shirts, its a dismal place to form a band. But it’ll soon become the home of one of the biggest rock’n roll movement ever.
Local bands Green River and Screaming Trees are among the first to define that mix of punk and heavy metal that will form the characteristic sound of grunge. They’re soon followed by others, like Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Mudhoney. The newly created Sub Pop record label promotes the city’s very active scene. But it’s a bunch of guys from the small town of Aberdeen who’ll be the first to really make it and achieve world domination: Nirvana, and their charismatic singer Kurt Cobain.
As you might have guessed, this new documentary is about Nirvana. Well, not so much about them than about what lead to them. The Road to Nirvana explores the succession of events that reinvented alternative american rock throughout the 80s, paving the way for a group of charismatic Seattle junkies to become the biggest band in the world and change the face of music, for better and for worse.
In the first part of The Road to Nirvana, Mark Sutherland tells the story of how, in the early 80s, British Punk’s freshness and desire to strip down music to its most basic and minimal form inspired many local bands in America. Though punk never made it to the US mainstream as it did in the UK, local scenes tousands of miles away from each other became more and more vibrant: Minneapolis had Hüsker Dü, Boston had the Pixies and Dinosaur Jr., NYC had Sonic Youth… Though being played on conventional media was unthinkable, these bands were in heavy rotation on college radios, creating the College Rock movement. But one band managed to break into the mainstream: REM.