Whether it’s Nirvana, Bikini Kill or the Decemberists, the Pacific Northwest generates music that captures the world’s attention.Mark Baumgarten is one of the scene’s longtime documentarians, first as the music editor at Portland’s Willamette Week, then as executive editor for Seattle’s Sound and City Arts magazines. His 2012 book, “Love Rock Revolution: K Records and the Rise of Independent Music,” has been called a definitive history of the Olympia music scene.
Now the editor-in-chief of Seattle Weekly, Baumgarten is signing books Saturday, March 29 at BookPeople in Moscow with Sub Pop records founder Bruce Pavitt. Before the event, Baumgarten talked to Inland 360 about his book and how technology has done away with the underground, forever changing how we find music.
360: Why did you decide to write a book about K Records?
Baumgarten: I was always fascinated by the Northwest, largely due to the isolated music community that existed up here and how it flourished. Minnesota (where he is originally from) felt like an isolated scene. It was also in the middle of nowhere, but there wasn’t this great community and even industry part of it. I got to Portland and started to just read as much as I could. I was self-conscious about not being from there. I felt I really needed to have a sense of the history. There was a lot of material out there, a lot of stuff about grunge, but there was really a lack of information about K Records — even though Calvin Johnson, one of the founders, was mythic there was this shroud of mystery over that story. … I tried to write the book I wished was around when I first moved to the Northwest.”
360: In your opinion how has technology changed the way local music scenes develop?
Baumgarten: One thing it’s doing is it really is making scenes much more democratized. We no longer have the problem I had when I first started writing, that there isn’t enough written about this scene or that scene. The Internet has created so many niches where you can find what you want. It’s positive exposure for artists. Although, I think there is something lost. I really feel by reporting the story of K Records, everybody who got involved with that label, they were looking for something. They were looking for a community to be a part of, to be a visceral part of the music. When you don’t have many options and there’s only one group of people who love music as much as you do, you are drawn to that and it doesn’t really matter what kind of music it is. There’s a hybridization and diversification of the music tastes of the kids in those scenes. Now a kid can decide ‘I’m into straight edge punk rock’ and you can make it so that the only thing you experience is straight edge punk rock. There is less of a chance of being exposed to other genres of music because you can just get what you want. … Technology has, in a way, eliminated that sense of an underground.
360: Do you ever get nostalgic for the days before social media, smartphones and the Web?
Baumgarten: Yeah, I totally do. I miss going to all-ages clubs and nobody having a smartphone and just being there, having to be there and be present — no matter how shitty the band was. There was no active avoidance. You could go outside or go for a walk with a friend, but usually you just sat there and took the pummeling of the shitty band, and then you might start to like the shitty band, and by the end of the show you loved the shitty band.