How a Bunch of LOSERS Won Big
A Temporary Storefront Illustrates Sub Pop's Legacy
In honor of Sub Pop's 25th birthday, let's take a quick trip down remembering lane! Or, y'know, allow me to throw some history at you, in case you hate music or think "record label" refers to the sticker on the front of those black Frisbees your dad used to play on the spin-y thing.
In 1979, an Evergreen student with excellent music taste named Bruce Pavitt created a rock zine called Subterranean Pop, eventually morphing the concept into a column called Sub Pop U.S.A. in Seattle music biweekly the Rocket. Pavitt teamed with Jonathan Poneman—a DJ on local-music-focused radio show Audioasis at the time—for the release of Soundgarden's Screaming Life EP in 1987. The two made it official in 1988, opening a real-deal office and embarking on a quest for loud bands and world domination under the name Sub Pop Records.
In 1993, with groups like Mudhoney, L7, TAD, and, yes, Nirvana on its roster, the still-struggling-despite-all-the-hype label opened a tiny storefront on First Avenue downtown and called it the Mega Mart, offering its fine catalog for in-person perusing. In 2000, after an awesome-sounding seven-year run (I swear, every fourth music-enjoying adult in this city worked a shift at the original location), the Mega Mart closed its physical doors and moved online, where it's been ever since. UNTIL NOW!
For Sub Pop's big two-five, a new and temporary Mega Mart has popped up in the Georgetown neighborhood at 6003 12th Avenue South, right in between Via Tribunali and some dumpsters. And it's super in there—a wonderland of records and merchandise put together with an eye for detail, down to the LOSER-branded-gumballs vending machine.
The front of the shop is set up like a hip living room—couches, a record player, knickknacks, old photos, and posters fill the space. The mart area is decorated with bold album covers, an island of record bins sits in the middle of the room, and rows of limited-edition goods like shirts, patches, mugs, shoes, and pencils are branded with the label's iconic logos. Mega Mart is run by Tim Hayes (owner of the dearly missed Fallout Records from 1999 to 2003), who admitted, "I told myself I'd never work in another record store, but when they asked me, I mean, I just love these people so much—I had to do it." He told me business has been busy since the shop's hard opening June 28. What records seem most popular? "All the Mudhoney stuff, and Fleet Foxes, probably," he estimates. Hayes says there will also be extra-special items available only on July 13, the day of the Sub Pop Silver Jubilee, though his idea for "a double-sided beach towel, one side Mark Arm, one side Tad Doyle—just their backsides, in LOSER Speedos" did not pan out (Sub Pop's 30th?).
But the best part—my favorite part—is the installation put together by Jeff Kleinsmith (senior art director) and Sasha Barr (art director) that takes up the shop's entire southern wall: a giant collage of Sub Pop memory scraps largely from the pre- computer-ish era. Treasures like the original tiny transparencies used to make the Nirvana Bleach cassette, or the layout board for Babes in Toyland's House 7-inch sit under acrylic. Press kits, logo comps, art-direction notes from bands like Dead Moon, Earth, and Sebadoh, a 1992 fanzine ad listing TAD and the Dwarves, art from the 10th and 20th anniversaries, A FAX FROM CHEAP TRICK. I had a hard time taking my eyes off it. People were trying to shop; I was secretly wishing I could break in after-hours with a stepladder and read every single snippet.
The Mega Mart is a temporary glimpse of a legacy that continues. The installation, the unchanged logos, the newer records from bands like METZ, Shabazz Palaces, and Father John Misty, mixed in with comedy albums by Eugene Mirman and Flight of the Conchords, with old softies like the Shins and the Postal Service—all proud pieces of the little label that could, and did. Sub Pop's history is rooted in the "g" word, for sure—and that mythos will keep the nerds and fans fascinated probably forever—but the label's ability to deal with the radical changes in the post-'90s music industry is definitely something to celebrate. Happy birthday, LOSERS!