I’m an (Audio)slave to the 90s, but Nevermind
It was a surreal moment for me, the day I found out Chris Cornell had died. After years of fighting his demons, the man who had sound-tracked so much of my life finally succumbed to them, leaving the world that little bit emptier. Soundgarden and Audioslave are up there as some of my most-played artists of the last fifteen years, but I hadn’t actually listened to his music for some time until, oddly, literal days before his death. I’d been several sheets too far to the wind and singing 'Like A Stone' with a total stranger I’d met on a night out – one of the few people I’ve ever met who shared my serious 90s nostalgia. It was one of those super-weird, super-intense moments that has now taken on a bittersweet patina at the knowledge that, just three days later, Cornell was dead. I haven’t stopped listening to his stuff since, and it has made me fall completely back in love with grunge, alt-rock and the 90s all over again.
My unshakeable pash for 90s artists (most of whom are now, sadly, no longer with us) means that, usually, nobody my age likes my music. I dread being asked what I listen to because it’s inevitable that, if I answer honestly, I’ll pretty much always be met with blank stares. If I tell people my favourite artist is Elliott Smith, I can practically see the tumbleweed rolling across the floor. When I say my preferred genres are funk-rock and grunge, well, that’s a conversation closer right there. So, for the most part, I fudge the answer and do the classic line “Oh, you know, I listen to a lot of stuff.” Which is true. But it’s not exactly the best representation of me.
Born in 1991, I missed out on the defining Seattle-sparked era of grunge itself, but I found my way there later, in my teens. Like most people, Nirvana were my gateway drug into the 90s grunge landscape and the slip-dress-wearing, greasy-haired zeitgeist that followed. From the more accessible Nevermind and In Utero, I soon graduated backwards to the naively raw Bleach and then onto the screeching B-sides. I spiralled into Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, The Pixies; and there I have stubbornly stayed, ever since. While the noughties charged on ahead of me, I stayed firmly rooted in the decade I’d been born into, downloading and replaying entire discographies of 90s stalwarts over and over (shout out to Limewire and BitTorrent).
Inside the swelling, soaring and tumultuous distortion of guitars and wailing vocals, I have always felt safest and most like myself. Of course, my tastes have shifted over the years, but, still, there’s nothing better than cloaking myself in music from that era – turned up just-that-little-bit too loud so I can retreat into it and feel utterly immersed. Cornell’s rasping rock vocals; Cobain’s raw-falsetto screams; Corgan’s whining snarls.
While the femme fatales of the 90s are often overshadowed by their male counterparts (Courtney Love is forever pigeon-holed as the girl clinging to Cobain’s coat tails, when in fact Hole were enjoying way more success than he was before Nevermind made it big) I’m not going to skim over them here. Love, Fiona Apple, Shirley Manson, Kim Gordon, PJ Harvey – the list goes on – were all so vital to me growing up. 'Violet', with Love’s gut-curdling vocals and it’s crescendo of rising chords was kryptonite to fifteen-year-old me; 'Jennifer’s Body' an anthem to reclaim my own in the teenage years I was figuring out what it was for.
These women were such crucial figures to me as I tried to find my way in the world. They embodied an unashamed femininity and a sexuality made for women – not for men – and possessed a strength made even more relevant by the vulnerability that came with it. Courtney made me want to wear silk nighties in the day, while Kim Gordon made me chop in my full fringe and muss-up my hair. 'Tunic', with its pounding staccato riff and heart-rending account of Karen Carpenter’s anorexia, still gives me goosebumps whenever I hear it – even now.
I was only three when Kurt Cobain took his own life and barely a twinkle in my mother’s eye when my favourite-ever album – Blood Sugar Sex Magik – was released, but 90s music has formed the tapestry of my existence, and the backdrop to so many memories, that I will never let it go.
So yes, I might well be listening to 'Despacito' this Summer (come on, it’s a banger) but I’ll always, always come back to the music that made me who I am – even if it sets me apart from everybody else.
Read more of Emma's writing on her blog.