The year in Seattle music from an outsider’s perspective

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Another year is coming to a close, which means it is time to reflect on what’s happened during the past 12 months. And while I’m no longer deep in the trenches, reporting on the local music scene like I once was, that doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention.

A whole lot happened in 2017 and this is by no means a definitive listing of all the big stories of the year. I’m sure I missed quite a bit of noteworthy news (like I said, I’m no longer in the trenches), but here, in no particular order, are some of the bigger stories that caught my attention.

Pearl Jam enters the Rock Hall

2013.12.06: Pearl Jam @ Key Arena, Seattle, WA

One of Seattle’s biggest musical exports, Pearl Jam, had a relatively quiet 2017 but still managed to make headlines. In April the band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, joining fellow locals, and perceived rivals, Nirvana, as a first-ballot inductees. They were inducted by David Letterman after Neil Young had to cancel due to illness and the set of songs they performed for their induction included “Better Man,” “Alive” and “Given to Fly.”

Aside from the induction, the band released a full-length documentary about its 2014 concerts at Wrigley Field which was screened in movie theaters worldwide and shown on national television. They also released a soundtrack  to accompany the film. The band will tour South America next spring and Europe in the summer of 2018. A fall North American tour is expected to be announced and if a Seattle show is on the tour itinerary it will end a five-year drought of local shows, marking the longest stint between Seattle concerts in the band’s career.

The Upstream Music Festival & Summit debuts

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Billionaire Paul Allen invested heavily in the local music scene again this year with the inaugural Upstream Music Festival & Summit. The event took over Pioneer Square for a weekend in May with sets hundreds of local musicians and an impressive industry summit that included keynotes from Quincy Jones, Macklemore and many others.

I was only able to attend one day of Upstream, but I saw enough to consider it a success. It checked off all my music festival must-haves. I was able to take in plenty of new talent like Cosmos, Girl Teeth and Dead Rich (pictured above, they do an excellent Lana Del Rey cover btw). I enjoyed some on-the-rise artists like Porter Ray and Thunderpussy. I saw a few acts I likely wouldn’t have checked out if I wasn’t at a festival in Industrial Revaluation and Maszer. I managed to squeeze in some sets by some of my local favorites with Tea Cozies’ farewell set, Grynch’s basement performance and Jeremy Enigk’s Frog Queen set backed by the Passenger Quartet. And I capped the night by rocking out to Mike McCready & Friends playing in a tiny club.

In its first year Upstream made a name for itself as the premiere destination to experience local music scene has to offer. Simply put, if you want to get a gauge for what’s cooking in Seattle music you must attend Upstream.

The rise validation of Odesza

You’d be forgiven for wondering aloud “Who’s Odesza?” I had that same thought a few years ago after finding out that a local band I had never paid much attention to was selling out the Paramount Theater on consecutive nights. Back in the day I would get press released about the duo, but those pitches and announcements would go mostly unread since Odesza are a dance music group and that’s not really in my wheelhouse.

Well, it turns out they’re kind of a big deal. Not only have they risen to become one of the bigger names in dance music, they also headlined this year’s Bumbershoot and were nominated for two Grammys this year (Best Dance/Electronic Album for their album “A Moment Apart” and Best Dance Recording for “Line of Sight”). I still get press releases about Odesza, and I read all of them now.

For more info on Odesza and their rise to fame, check out this excellent Seattle Weekly article.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis split (for now)

The resident golden boys of Seattle hip-hop, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, decided to part ways earlier this year. Macklemore announced the news in an Instragram post back in June. He wrote:

“After the last tour, Ryan and I agreed that some creative space would be good for the both of us. Ryan Lewis is my brother forever. We have been working together damn near every day for 9 years and it felt like the right time.  This decision came from a place of love for one another … There will be more M&RL music to come when the time is right.”

While they are not making music together currently, both artists managed to stay busy. Macklmore released a solo album, “Gemini,” which features collaborations with Skylar Grey, Lil Yachty, Kesha and others. And Ryan Lewis produced the track “Praying” off Kesha’s excellent album “Rainbows.”

Chris Cornell dies

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The world of music suffered a tremendous loss when Soundgarden frontman and Seattle rock icon Chris Cornell committed suicide. KEXP held a local memorial at their community gathering space to honor Cornell and his work. You can view the memorial over here and I also wrote a few words about my encounter with Cornell and his death.

Later in the year Cornell was nominated for a posthumous Grammy for Best Rock Performance for his song “The Promise,” which was written for the ending credits of the film of the same name.

Thunderpussy gets the spotlight

There were lots of rock bands making music in Seattle in 2017 but the one that seemed to get the most attention, and have the biggest year, was Thunderpussy.

The foursome played one of the marquee sets at Upstream, turning a packed Comedy Underground (which makes for a pretty decent rock club btw) into a loud, sweaty, cavern of rock with their hard, heavy and dirty brand of fiery garage rock. At the show the band celebrated the launch of its first physical release (a 7″ single on Mike McCready’s HockeyTalkter Records label) and later during the fall it was announced the band signed to Stardog Records. The label, which is operated by Pearl Jam manager Kelly Curtis, is an imprint of major label Republic Records, which was home to legendary locals Mother Love Bone. Their talent, loose links to Pearl Jam and major-label deal could make Thunderpussy the next breakout Seattle rock band.

The promise and threat of Seattle’s tech boom

All of these stories had an impact in 2017 but perhaps the one that carries the most weight for this year and beyond is the rising cost of living in Seattle and what that means to musicians and the local music scene. Seattle now has the fifth highest median rent in the country and is one of the most expensive cities on the west coast.

Of course a lot of variables factor into the high cost of living and rising rents, but one scapegoat that many like to blame is the increasing presence of Amazon and the rest of the tech sector in Seattle. The tech industry brings plenty of job opportunities and innovative ways for artists to distribute their music, but it also has potential pitfalls. Two excellent articles, one in City Arts and the other in the Seattle Times, take a look at what this could mean for the the music scene. Artists moving away, venues shuttering, a diminished music community and less robust music scene are some of the potential scenarios for future Seattle. Only time will tell how it actually plays out.

Travis Hay

About Travis Hay

Travis Hay is a professional music journalist who has spent the past 14 years documenting and enjoying Seattle's diverse music scene. In 2009 he established Guerrilla Candy and is currently the site's editor and publisher. He has written for various media outlets including MSN Music, the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, Seattle Weekly, Crosscut.com and others and was the founder and editor of defunct music site Ear Candy.