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Sub Pop 1000 Paul Tucker , April 29th, 2013 07:01

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For Sub Pop’s 20th anniversary in 2008, label co-founder Jonathan Poneman chose to celebrate the label’s achievements over those previous two decades while highlighting the raft of talent on the label at the time. Classic album reissues and a festival featuring a host of Sub Pop acts were the centrepiece of festivities which demonstrated that, despite some significant ups and downs, Sub Pop had brought some truly significant music to the fore in its time and was somehow still going strong.

Poneman’s decision to opt for a decidedly more outward-looking approach this time around – a compilation featuring music largely from non-Sub-Pop-affiliated acts – shifts the focus, reaffirming why Sub Pop still matters, rather than simply celebrating the fact that it does. That curatorial instinct is, after all, what got things started, with Poneman’s former business partner Bruce Pavitt first employing the Subterranean Pop banner to release a series of fanzines and cassette tape compilations in the early 80s. The original in this particular series – the now legendary Sub Pop 100 vinyl – was itself released two years before the date in 1988 that Poneman and Pavitt mark as the official start of business. In short, a commitment to sharing worthy but obscure new music was prominent from the very beginning. In that sense, this latest compilation is a fitting testament to that founding ethos.

The album could hardly kick off with a better statement of intent than the stormy and chaotic stop-start post-punk of ‘Kidult’ from Italy’s His Electro Blue Voice, the song burning out triumphantly amid reverb-laden piano stabs and guitar feedback after seven thrilling minutes. Equally memorable is third track ‘French Poet’, from Michigan’s Protomartyr, a track more nuanced than Joe Casey’s barks and the wall of fuzzy, mid-paced noise might initially suggest. Elsewhere Iron Lung’s ‘A Victory For Polio’ supplies a brisk shot of brutal, off-kilter hardcore while the toms-and-bass punk of Ed Schrader’s Music Beat on ‘Radio Eyes’ prevails admirably without the help of six strings.

As with Sub Pop 100, which broke up the punk abrasiveness of Scratch Acid, Wipers and Sonic Youth with a more eclectic mix of tracks from artists like Skinny Puppy and Shonen Knife, this compilation casts its net wide. Dark, Latin-edged electro from Argentine producer Chancha Via Circuito follows the opening track, while rich textures from Earth and onetime Nirvana cellist Lori Goldston evoke Grails, if their focus had followed the American highways northwards, rather than taking the Silk Road east. Peaking Lights’ wistful synth-pop, and sparse ambience and skittering percussion from Australia’s My Disco follow an outrageous slice of solo-heavy psych-rock’n’roll from Soldiers Of Fortune, before Starred’s Liza Thorn rounds things out with a fragile – and utterly sublime – vocal on the duo’s sombre closing track, ‘Doomed’.

Sub Pop’s position as a clarion caller for consistently interesting underground music goes without saying, and from the very beginning mixtapes have been at the heart of that mission. This latest is a lovingly compiled and impeccably curated collection of music from the grandmasters of the form that seems to serve, as Poneman wrote in his release notes, “no further agenda than to provide a crucial, maximal listening experience for its own sake.” Cleverly however, showcasing such a strong selection of music from non-Sub Pop acts only serves to emphasise the intrinsic value a label like Sub Pop holds to music fans. “25 years going out of business,” is Poneman’s assessment of Sub Pop’s history, which may be fair financially speaking, but with an approach like this, how could Sub Pop ever really fail?

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