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Music of Washington (state)

"Music of Washington" redirects here. For music from Washington, District of Columbia, see Music of Washington, D.C..

The US state of Washington includes several major hotbeds of musical innovation. The largest city in the state, Seattle, is best known for being the birthplace of grunge during the mid-1980s, while nearby Tacoma and Olympia have also proven influential.

Punk rock

Seattle's punk rock scene was always limited, but is important for its influence on the development of grunge. In the 1970s, Ze Whiz Kidz made a unique and bizarre variety of confrontational music and helped launch a hardcore punk scene that included ZEKE, The Mentors, RPA, The Rejectors, The Lewd, Pod Six, The Enemy and, most influentially, Solger and The Fartz, and new wave bands like The Heats, The Cowboys, The Meyce, The Telepaths, Visible Targets, Chinas Comidas, X-15 (band) and UC5. Hardcore skinhead bands like Extreme Hate, The Boot Boys and Firing Squad also gained a following. Green River, a punk rock band that splintered into Mudhoney and Mother Love Bone, were one of the first grunge bands. Also drawing on the punk rock scene were Melvins, Soundgarden, Nirvana, and Fitz of Depression of Olympia and Vitimin C of Centralia. Musician Duff McKagan also made his entry into the global rock scene starting in the punk rock scene in his hometown Seattle. On the other side of the state, Spokane had an insular but vibrant punk and new wave scene in the 1980s as chronicled in the documentary film SpokAnarchy! In the early 2000s Washington proved to be the breeding ground of a prominent experimental punk rock scene, with bands such as Botch, Pretty Girls Make Graves, These Arms Are Snakes, The Fall of Troy, Jaguar Love, and The Blood Brothers achieving dedicated cult followings.

Garage rock

In the mid-1950s, the Washington was kick started by a Seattle group, The Frantics, led by guitarist Ron Peterson. The Frantics were the first rock group from Seattle to have songs in the national top 40 charts. In the early 1960s, several garage bands achieved regional and some national fame. Perhaps the most famous of these are The Wailers, whose regional fame was paramount for several years in the early 1960s. They are often considered the fathers of Seattle's rock scene. Their version of Richard Berry's "Louie, Louie" became the region's anthem.

Another influential garage rock band, The Regents, of Tacoma, were local icons, but the original incarnation never signed to a record label. The Regents are known for a technological innovation, after they fed the rhythm guitar through a Leslie organ speaker during a concert at the University of Puget Sound; this gave them their original sound.

Another Tacoma band, The Sonics, proved to be influential, and are still a cult favorite. Their name was inspired by one of Seattle's most important employers, Boeing, an aircraft manufacturer, and The Sonics' brand of aggressive guitar rock made them icons in the later development of music in and around Seattle.

Record producer Jerry Dennon of Jerdon Records was responsible for bringing The Kingsmen (of Portland, Oregon), best known for their national hit "Louie Louie", to the ears of northwest audiences. The Kingsmen soon found themselves embroiled in a rivalry with local favorite Paul Revere & the Raiders, who also released a version of "Louie, Louie". Local music fans were split between the two groups, and the city's music scene polarized as a result. The Kingsmen's version caught on nationally after a Boston radio station picked up the song and Dennon negotiated distributing rights with Wand Records out of New York City. The song's supposedly suggestive lyrics led to it being banned in some localities, including Indiana.

Twee pop

In the late 1980s, a form of alternative rock called twee pop was popular in the United Kingdom. A small cult following around bands like The Orchids and Heavenly formed in the US, centered around Olympia's K Records and the band Beat Happening. Some notable guitar players have come from the Tacoma area blues scene. Jerry Miller of the band Moby Grape can be seen locally at many clubs[citation needed].

Riot grrrl

Riot grrrl is a form of punk rock which arose in Olympia, Washington in the 1990s and was led by bands like Bikini Kill, known for their militant feminism and raw, uncompromising sound. The genre never achieved mainstream success and soon died out, though stalwarts Sleater-Kinney did stick together and found themselves approaching mainstream audiences after the turn of the millennium.

A new wave of the Riot grrl movement began around 2010 beginning with female-led punk rock bands like NighTrain, The Gossip, the BlackTones and Thee Emergency which feature soulful vocals, as well as heavy drums, a driving, intense rhythm and blistering guitar. This revitalization of interest in the AfroPunk and girl group inspired soul music was received well outside American borders, leading to the departure of some of these groups to European countries.

Heavy metal

Some notable heavy metal bands that emerged in the Seattle area in the 1980s, were bands such as Metal Church, Queensrÿche, The Mentors, TKO, Prowler, Q5, Forced Entry, Sanctuary, Culprit, Bloodgood, Myth, Heir Apparent and Fifth Angel. Metal Church had initially got the name while Kurdt Vanderhoof started in the San Francisco scene, but moved back home to Seattle and changed the members of the band, and was one of the most well known metal bands from the 1980s especially because of their albums Metal Church (1984), The Dark (1986), Blessing in Disguise (1989) and The Human Factor (1991); they resurfaced in 2004 with The Weight of the World. Queensrÿche is better known for being between the heavy metal and glam metal scene, with strong influence of progressive rock, that can be seen in their albums Operation: Mindcrime (1987) and Empire (1991). Going to the mid-end of the '80s, Seattle had their thrash metal bands, such as The Accüsed (a crossover thrash band), Assault & Battery, Bitter End, Coven, Forced Entry,Terrorist a power trio featuring Andy Massey on guitar James Dean on bass formerly of Assault & Battery and Vence LaRose drums formerly of Mace... NME and R.I.P.. Also of particular note are Seattle's Slaughter Haus 5, Tacoma Bands Sword of Judgement, Hammer Head, Kil-D-Kor, Koz of Konfuzion, Diamond Lie featuring Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains, as well as Olympia bands Cyperus and Death Squad. Two of the best known Seattle metal bands from the 80s were Sanctuary and Rottweiler. Sanctuary who after two albums and some years revamping, two original members (bass and vocals) and a short term Sanctuary replacement guitarist (along with some new blood) reformed and became known as Nevermore. Rottweiler was an up-and-coming band who had a multi-album fall through prior to signing. The lead singer then joined Iron Cross who had a local following. More recent underground metal bands include Harder You Fall, Aemaeth, Blood & Thunder, Beyond Mortis, Sword of Judgement, Midnight Idols, Fallen Angels, DEATHBEAT, H.M.P, Big Business, Drown Mary, Evilsmith, Vigilance, Skelator, Ceremonial Castings, Inquisition, Torture Box, Infester, Dead Soul Funeral, Inquinok, Pure Hatred, Riot & Rhythm, Tasty Lixxx, Deathmocracy, Blood of Kings, Wolves in the Throne Room, Countless The Dead, Esoteria, Twisted Heroes, Ashes Of Existence, Transcribing The Necronomicon, Among The Mayans, Massacre At The Opera,Eternal Sedation, Hedon, The Vatican, Violent Hallucinations, Future Disorder, Edge of Oblivion, Last Bastion, and Phalgeron.


Grunge began as a mixture of heavy metal, punk rock and indie rock that arose in the 1980s but gained prominence especially in the early 1990s. The earliest bands included Green River and Soundgarden, among others, most signed to legendary indie rock label Sub Pop. By the late 1980s, several future stars had begun performing, including Nirvana, Alice in Chains, and Mudhoney, while the death of Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone led to that band's disintegration and subsequent reformation as Pearl Jam. In 1991 (see 1991 in music), Nirvana's Nevermind, along with Soundgarden's Badmotorfinger, Pearl Jam's Ten and Alice in Chains' Dirt brought grunge to the top of the national charts, where it stayed for some years.


The most famous hip-hop star to come out of the state of Washington has been Sir Mix-a-Lot, best known for his songs "Posse On Broadway", and "Baby Got Back", an early nineties novelty hit. He also had another, less well-known song, "Bremelo" (referring negatively to the women of Bremerton, Washington), that achieved some fame. Also prominent in the Seattle rap scene at this time was Kid Sensation (Steve Spence), who got his start on Sir Mix-a-lot's first album, Swass. Later regional acts include Source of Labor, Oldominion and Blue Scholars. Underground Hip Hop acts The Boom Bap Project, Thirstin Howl III, and Seaclipse also hail from Seattle. The Guinness Book record holder for Fastest Rap MC is the Seattle-based No Clue (Ricky Brown), breaking the record previously held by Chicago rapper Rebel XD who broke another Chicago native, mainstream rapper Twista's record back in 1993. Brown rapped 723 syllables in 51.27 seconds on his track "No Clue" at B&G Studios, Seattle, on January 15, 2005. More recently, local indie rapper/DJ due Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have achieved worldwide fame with The Heist.

Notable Artists

See also


  • Blush, Steven. American Hardcore: A Tribal History. Feral House. 2001. ISBN 0-922915-71-7
  • Bush, James. "Encyclopedia of Northwest Music: From Classical Recordings to Classic Rock Performances, Your Guide to the Best of the Region". Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 1999. 340p. ISBN 1-57061-141-6