Rarely has a local scene had such a far-reaching effect on the music world as the emergence of grunge in the Pacific North-West of the USA in the mid-to-late 1980s. Based in and around Seattle and initially centred on the independent Sub Pop label, a ripple of bands created a tidal wave of loud, intense, often angry albums that changed rock. Alice In Chains and Nirvana both formed in 1987, Soundgarden were even earlier. Nirvana released their first album (on Sub Pop) in 1989, fusing melody and noise to spearhead the assault. Pearl Jam’s first album was #2 in 1991, the year of Nirvana’s Nevermind.
As the influence expanded and fragmented the roster of bands exploded, but the sound was always driven by thick, distorted guitars and themes of alienation and doubt. Influential antecedents were punk and metal, though many heard Neil Young’s dirty electric sound and the irrepressible energy of Iggy Pop in grunge.
Interestingly, the Australian pub scene of the period is considered to have been an important influence, with Cosmic Psychos and The Scientists receiving acclaim from Kurt Cobain and others. Silverchair continued the legacy down under.
Grunge as a term has sometimes been criticised for being too broad to be useful, but if seen as a zone rather than a template it is certainly useful, at least to journalists and manufacturers of flannel shirts.