Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain, singer and guitarist with Nirvana.

Grunge is a rock form featuring distorted guitars, whining vocals, and flannel-shirt-wearing band members. Popularized by and associated primarily with Seattle bands such as Nirvana and Alice in Chains.


Grunge represented the mainstreaming of the North American indie rock ethic and style of the 1980s. As much a marketing device as an identifiable "sound"; (cf alternative music, which it is often conflated into), grunge initially developed in the Seattle area in the late 1980s, associated with the indie label Sub Pop. Pearl Jam and Nirvana were the two most influential bands credited with leading the commercial breakthrough of grunge/alternative rock into a relatively moribund music scene in the early 1990s.


Grunge became part of an international phenomenon, which briefly dominated the global music market in the mid-1990s. The enormous worldwide response to the 1994 suicide of Kurt Cobain, Nirvana's lead singer, indicated the impact of the genre.


Grunge is characterized by vocals that are often spoken rather than sung and with deep, dramatic vocal timbre. Performers such as the Sisters of Mercy used drum machines, low drones (long held notes), and made an almost minimalist use of short repeated melodic fragments. Elements of an austere psychedelia were part of the music of Joy Division and the Jesus and Mary Chain. Into the 1980s and since, goth covers a broader spectrum of music, e.g. Robert Smith and the Cure. Goth was also a cultural style, with goths characterized by their black clothes and the heavy use of dark eye/face make-up. The genre and its fans were associated with several moral panics around youth suicides in the late 1980s. Such episodes were examples of the use of an effects argument to attack popular music.