Sub Pop Records celebrates its Silver Jubilee with a 25th anniversary festival featuring performances, panels, showcases and more on Saturday. It’s a free, community event in Seattle, and if you’re attending, Sub Pop co-founder Jonathan Poneman expects some anniversary presents.
“I’m accepting of all gifts,” Poneman says drily. “I prefer them bigger than small. Cash is preferred most of all. Large denominations.”
Sub Pop Executive Vice President Megan Jasper, it would seem, just wants a big group hug.
“We basically see this as not even just a thank you,” Jasper says, “but we just wanted to throw a big-ass fuckin’ party that’ll be really, really fun.”
The venerable label is even closing down a major Seattle road for the all-day festival, featuring performances from Built to Spill, long-time Sub Pop act Mudhoney, J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. and Greg Dulli of Afghan Whigs, among others. Poneman promised the festival will be a “quintessentially Seattle experience” for locals and visitors who are coming from around the world. He noted he measures the Sub Pop anniversary milestone from 1988, when he and co-founder Bruce Pavitt started to run the label full-time.
“We’re just gonna play songs,” says Mark Arm, vocalist-guitarist of Mudhoney. “Nothing too insane. We’re not gonna be pulling frogs out of our asses or anything.”
Unless you count playing 604 feet up in the air as insane. Mudhoney, perhaps the quintessential Sub Pop band, will perform atop Seattle’s Space Needle today to celebrate the Silver Jubilee. The performance is part of a special remote broadcast atop the Space Needle’s observation deck by acclaimed Seattle-area radio station KEXP marking the anniversary, featuring sets from Sera Cahoone at 1 p.m. PT, J. Mascis at 3 p.m. PT and Mudhoney at 5 p.m. The performances will be streamed live on KEXP.org.
“When [the label] first mentioned it, I thought it seemed kinda crazy,” Arm jokes. “It’s a little unnerving. I just hope no one falls off.”
It’s a first, according to Sub Pop, that begs for immortalization in Seattle music lore. According to Poneman, there’s no more appropriate band than Mudhoney to do it.
“Apart from being Sub Pop’s prodigal sons,” he says, “they are and forever will be Sub Pop’s flagship band spiritually.”
Jasper reflected on the label’s legacy and what it has meant to the city of Seattle, like the Motown legacy to Detroit before it or the Saddle Creek legacy to Omaha since.
“I think that Sub Pop is every bit Seattle as the Space Needle,” Jasper says. “Sub Pop wouldn’t be Sub Pop without growing up in Seattle. It wouldn’t have had the success or the failures that it has had. I believe it has helped to create and strengthen a music community in the city.”
Perhaps the Silver Jubilee – which includes a memorabilia exhibit and panel discussion on the early days of Sub Pop featuring Poneman and Pavitt, a Sub Pop comedy showcase and more – is more of Sub Pop’s anniversary gift to the city that birthed it instead of the other way around.
“For us, it’s the breaking of several piggy banks that makes this thing go,” says Poneman, who did the same for a 20th anniversary celebration of Sub Pop in 2008. “It’s like a big family reunion and an opportunity to market the shit out of our bands and the label.”
Poneman says the “most important” part of the event is its charity and fundraising efforts for Seattle nonprofits like area food bank Northwest Harvest and KEXP. Without being specific, Poneman says “fundraising enticements” for these organizations will be on-hand at the festival.
He did mention one organization he’s particularly enticed to fundraise for: Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation. Poneman announced his Parkinson’s diagnosis in May.
“My health is pretty good, generally,” he says. “It kind of waxes and wanes . . . I don’t think any of us escape mortal peril or bodily degeneration of some kind. It’s almost a hackneyed observation at this point, but the thing about these conditions is that it brings your quality of life into tight focus and it makes you consider what’s important.”
Poneman says he’s in a place of grateful reflection approaching Sub Pop’s Silver Jubilee: “We have enough confidence in our own tastes and a prevailing belief that we have common-enough tastes in music, that if we’re excited about something, there’s a pretty good chance other people will be excited about it as well.”
A lot of those people are showing up in Seattle this weekend. And if they don’t come bearing gifts, they’ll be getting a few of them, mostly in the form of an unforgettable festival weekend.