The Sub Pop Timeline

A highly abridged version of the label’s notable cultural contributions

By Gwendolyn Elliott


July 30, 2018

This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Seattle Magazine.

This article appears in print in the August 2018 issue. Read more from the Seattle magazine feature story here and from the Seattle Business magazine cover story hereClick here to subscribe.

1980: Bruce Pavitt begins publishing his alternative music zine, Subterranean Pop

1986: The first Sub Pop LP, Sub Pop 100, a compilation featuring Sonic Youth and other bands, is released

1987: Sub Pop releases Soundgarden’s first EP, Screaming Life.

Bruce Pavitt. Photo by Bob Whittaker

1988: Sub Pop Records LLC is officially formed by Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman.

1989: Nirvana’s debut album, Bleach, is released, a benchmark “grunge” album that helped popularize the genre. It’s still the label’s best-selling record, with nearly 2 million copies sold.

Mudhoney. Photo by Emily Rieman

1989: Lame Fest, a three-act Sub Pop showcase featuring Nirvana, Mudhoney and Tad, sells out at The Moore Theatre–the first time for local bands at the midsize venue. “The local media really started taking the music a lot more seriously,” Pavitt says.

1992: As a prank, Megan Jasper, then working for Sub Pop distributor Caroline Records, fabricates the totally fake “lexicon of grunge” for a reporter from The New York Times

1995: Forty-nine percent of the label is sold to Warner Music Group, an arrangement still in place today

Photo by Sarah Cass


A culture shock follows the Warner deal; Pavitt departs Sub Pop in an unamicable split and does not speak with Poneman for years. 

1996 – 2001: Post-grunge, the label struggles to find the next batch of “Sub Pop” bands. “We desperately needed to come together and regroup as a company,” Jasper says.

2001: Things start to look up after the label releases The Shins’ debut album, Oh, Inverted World (one of the label’s best-selling releases, selling more than 600,000 copies).

2003: Give Up, the only studio album by Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard’s electronic indie group, The Postal Service, is released and goes platinum. It’s the second best-selling record on Sub Pop.

Tacocat. Photo by Michael Lavine

2007: Sub Pop launches its most successful imprint, Hardly Art Records, dedicated to emerging and experimental acts, including Seattle’s Tacocat, La Luz and The Moondoggies.

Photo courtesy Space Needle LLC

2013: Mudhoney performs on top of the Space Needle to celebrate the label’s 25th anniversary.

Photo by Spencer Chappelle

2014: Sub Pop opens the Sub Pop Airport Store at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, a retail space with label merchandise, music and other Sub Pop–designed wares, broadcasting Seattle as a music-loving city to travelers from near and far.

Photo by Hayley Young

2016: Megan Jasper becomes Sub Pop’s CEO.

2018: Sub Pop celebrates 30 years of going out of business.


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