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Seattle Serenade

Skin Yard

'Hype!' documentary hypes the growth of grunge

By Todd S. Inoue

CRISP IN ITS History of Rock & Roll­like off-camera interview technique, the new documentary Hype! uncovers the history of the "grunge" music boom that occurred during the late '80s when a few Pacific Northwest bands--Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Screaming Trees--garnered underground status. Then, just when the city seemed to have recovered from the frenzy, an Aberdeen band called Nirvana released Nevermind. What followed was all too typical, as the media, like a child fiddling with matches, whipped up a fire-storm. While relocating bands, major-label A&R and People magazine did the Next Big Thing lambada, the locals struggled with their identity. The Melvins, Tad, Coffin Break and the Fastbacks basked in the relative humor and irony of it all, offering humorous anecdotes. It was a freak accident, and they lived to tell about it.

Hype!'s live footage captures the sweaty intimacy of good bands and good beer. Priceless footage of the late Mia Zapata and the Gits performing "Second Skin" is worth the $7, as is the chance to witness the possessed essence of Some Velvet Sidewalk and the effortless buzz pop of Flop. Nirvana fans will rejoice over a shaky 16mm version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." If Hype! can be faulted for something, it is that director Doug Pray is a little too cozy with his subjects. For all the pro-DIY messages, no mention is made of Sub Pop's relationship with Geffen Records, which purchased a good chunk of the seminal Seattle-based label. The film also relocates all Pacific Northwest bands to fit under the Seattle banner, a mistake the media machine regularly committed. Bands representing Olympia, Tacoma, Aberdeen and even from as far away as Portland are barely distinguishable from each other.

In Penelope Spheeris' documentary about the L.A. punk scene, Decline of Western Civilization, bands and fans decried cops, parents and society. In Hype!, bands, indie-label heads and fans decry the media and commercialization. Meanwhile, Hype! hypes itself: a Sub Pop soundtrack full of Pacific Northwest bands and a Web page. Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder comes up with the most eloquent statement: "Hype can destroy everything that's real to you ... and you're supposed to be happy because you're successful." Too bad he's from San Diego. Hype! is part of the same machine that it devotes most of its time to assailing. Come as you are, but don't get fooled again.

Hype! (Unrated; 83 min.), a documentary by Doug Pray.

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From the November 21-27, 1996 issue of Metro

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