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Nirvana’s sophomore album, Nevermind, widely considered one of the greatest albums of all time, and the body of work greatly responsible for bringing grunge music to a mainstream audience, turns 25 on Saturday, September 24. With each passing year, approximately 1,000 think pieces, track rankings, things-you-didn’t-know lists, and remembrance pieces are published in honor of Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl, and Krist Novoselic’s masterpiece, and somehow there’s always more valuable information to be consumed. But instead of writing any of the aforementioned, we decided to look at how grunge spread across the world after Nevermind‘s release, examining six countries, and Nirvana’s unmistakable fingerprint that can be found on these global acts.
When Nirvana toured Brazil in January of 1993, Cobain made sure to share his affection for the Brazilian tropicália revolutionaries, Os Mutantes. Speaking with MTV in Rio, Cobain explains how he was recently introduced to the band by Bill Bartell/Pat Fear of White Flag, calling them “a very influential and cool band for the time”, and praising them for crafting their own effects boxes and their controversial material. Cobain even went as far as to send fan letters to keyboardist/bassist Arnaldo Baptista and vocalist Rita Lee’s former husband, requesting that they reunite with Sérgio Dias and tour.
Just as Cobain loved one of Brazil’s greatest acts and played a key role in spreading the country’s music outside of its borders, Brazil took in Nirvana’s influence during the rise of its independent rock scene in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Fast forward a decade to the inception of DIY label Transfusão Noise Records in 2004. The label described as a “grunge lover’s dream” by NPR in 2011, outfits like Carpete Florido, as well as non-Transfusão groups like Niil’, serve as a prime example of Nevermind’s lasting impact.
Grunge made its way to China in the ‘90s thanks to the importation of overstock albums. One of the first to apply the style was Xie Tian Xiao, “the new godfather of Chinese rock” as he has been dubbed by local media, and his band Cold Blooded Animal. While the band started in the mid-90s, it wasn’t until the release of their self-titled album in 2000 that they were recognized, selling over 200,000 albums throughout China. The album, and its 2003 follow-up, are filled with nods to Nevermind’s quiet-loud transitions, bass-heavy riffs, and occasional screams, paired with occasional native sounds from the guzheng, a Chinese stringed instrument.
While Xie Tian Xiao’s music has evolved to incorporate more elements of reggae, folk, and straightforward alt-rock — the band performed with a symphony orchestra during a tour in 2015 — more recent and rising acts within Beijing’s growing underground scene capture the grunge essence in an attempt to fight back against the reign of commercialized Mandopop. Labeled a full counterculture movement by Wall Street Journal, groups like Carsick Cars are at the front of the pack, and on tracks like “Invisible Love” from their sophomore release, You Can Listen, You Can Talk, Nirvana’s forces are evident. And like Cobain, frontman Zhang Shouwang is more lyrically concerned with everyday life, like cigarettes and friends, not revolution.
There are arguments out there that Australian bands were making grunge music before and better than Nirvana. That’s an argument for another day.
The Vines, Magic Dirt, Regurgitator, Ammonia, Violent SoHo, Bright Yellow: there are plenty of bands out there that pushed out grunge-influenced records post-Nevermind, but none gained more comparisons than Silverchair for 1995’s Frogstomp. “Nirvana imitators”, “Nirvana rip-offs,” and “Nirvana in Pyjamas” are among the accusations that were once thrown at the group, and, naturally, the band didn’t take kindly to the derisions. “I think the main thing, although I can understand it, that really knocks me over the wrong side of the fence is the Nirvana comparisons,” frontman Daniel Johns told Metal Hammer in 1999. While the group quickly refined its sound to more laid-back pop-leaning alt-rock, tracks like “Tomorrow” remain their legacy.
Since the start of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975, rock music gained significant popularity in the country, bands like Black Sabbath, Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin among common favorites. In time, Lebanon gave birth to its own rock acts, including Lydia Canaan, aka Angel, who is widely considered the first rock star of the Middle East. But it was once the civil war ended in 1990 that the underground rock scene really took hold, and as pointed out by The National, Abu Dhabi Media’s first English-language publication, Beirut hosts the Middle East’s most exciting underground scene.
This esteemed title is greatly due to early outfits like the Levantine Scrambled Eggs, who emerged in the late ‘90s. Beirut offers an interesting complex for its musicians unlike any of the region’s hubs: as the band’s vocalist and lead guitarist, Charbel Haber, told The National, the cosmopolitan city offers “more liberty” and greater “room for soul searching.” The Lebanese youth also grew up in the midst and/or wake of war, which Haber says causes those affected to “use different colors in your music. It changes your palette.” This combination serves as perfect host for the angst and raucous nature of grunge, a lot of Lebanese musicians identifying with Nirvana’s records.
Haber’s distaste for media, religion, and politics echoes sentiments similar to Cobain. In a 2007 interview with Time, he reflected, “We do everything as if the world is going to end tomorrow. The Syrians might come back, Israel might attack, Hizballah might start another war. In a situation like this, you do a lot of self-destructive things,” adding, “At the end of the day, sex, drugs and rock’n’roll means freedom.” The success of Scrambled Eggs helped propel other grunge-tinted acts like Blend and the more recent Mother Mantra to take root in the city.
A little under a year-and-a-half after the release of Nevermind, French rockers Noir Désir released their fourth studio album, Tostaky. While their previous efforts contained bizarre alt-rock sounds, as well as the occasional sea-shanty-like harmonica-driven ballad, Tostaky welcomed the grunge wave with open arms. In the album’s title track, frontman Bertrand Cantat repeats the line “soyons desinvoltes, n’ayons l’air de rien” (“appear relaxed, pretend nothing’s happening”) throughout, more than mirroring (unintentionally, perhaps) “here we are now, entertain us.”
By August 2003, the album had sold more than 230,000 copies, and in 2010, the album was awarded the second spot in the French edition of Rolling Stone’s greatest French rock albums. A grunge scene quickly developed in France, and outfits like White Car Nation are still popping up today.
The founder of Poland’s OFF Festival, Artur Rojek, told Pitchfork in 2013 that when he first visited Seattle’s Sub Pop Silver Jubilee in 1997, it was essentially “impossible” to find records by foreign artists in Poland. While he admitted that he wasn’t into grunge during the genre’s prime years, that didn’t stop Hey, the self-described first Polish grunge band, from producing grunge records in the first half of the ‘90s.
Also, if you were wondering, this is what Polish grunge nostalgia looks like.