Portland: Indie Rock Theme Park?

An article over at Slate yesterday functioned as a partial scene report to Portland, Oregon’s indie-rock residents, pointing to the goings on of castle-dwelling Steve Malkmus, the Shins’ James Mercer (who, we learn, likes public transportation), Isaac Brock’s “squawk-producing home,” Colin Meloy, Chris Walla, Sleater-Kinney (hey, Janet drinks coffee!), and newest resident Britt Daniel. Elliott Smith, of course, gets an entire section to himself (deservedly so).

After the setting’s in place, the author, Taylor Clark, poses the question:

Why, you might ask, haven’t you really noticed Portland’s incredible concentration of musical talent before? Because unlike, say, Seattle’s grunge boom in the ’90s or the Bay Area’s recent hyphy movement, Portland has neither a distinctive “sound” nor a “scene” to speak of. Sonically, there’s not a whole lot that the twisty pop of the Shins has in common with the “hyper-literate prog-rock” (to borrow a phrase from Stephen Colbert) of the Decemberists. And virtually none of these groups can be considered “Portland bands” since, with very few exceptions, they all moved to town after gaining some level of fame. (Generally speaking, it’s rare to meet a young, creative Portlander who’s from Portland.) You might see Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss parking her Volvo station wagon in front of Stumptown Coffee Roasters, for instance, but you seldom feel these luminaries exerting any influence on the local musical landscape. They all just kind of live here. Which is why it’s often quipped that Portland is the place where hipsters go to retire.

Um, well, other folks did live there before the indie yuppie coterie rolled in for early retirement…


Yep, one member of the Stereogum fold resided out in PDX a long-ass while ago, and though he concurs it’s inexpensive and rains a lot, something Clark overlooks when he asks “what’s luring them here?,” is that there was definitely much going on before Smith left Heatmiser and caught on with a non-Pacific Northwest audience: How’s about all that great noise? The stuff that sprouted alongside Union Pole and Road Cone? (Catsup Plate was there a while, too.) Strange not to even give a mention to Team Dresch or Donna Dresch’s Chainsaw. Or how about New Bad Things? Hazel? Bugskull? Or earlier … Poison Idea! The Wipers!

Not that we need to defend the history of Portland or go to town on short attention spans, but the article got us thinking about any number of half-digested/ADD scene reports. Like, hey, shocker: Not everyone in Williamsburg has a mustache! Okay, bad example. Curious: Has your own city ever been represented kinda slant?

Look, it’s Hazel!