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Highlights Archives

Recalling Madison's Grunge-Era Music Scene


Members of the band, Killdozer, left to right, Michael Gerald, Dan Hobson and Bill Hobson, in performance at Madison's O'Cayz Corral in 1985 (photo by Murray Kapell)

A new exhibit at the Wisconsin Historical Museum documents how music recorded, produced and played in Madison during the 1980s and '90s influenced the national music scene. The exhibit, Smart Sounds, Alt Music, Mad Scenes, examines how that happened, what the music scene looked like, and who the key players were. The primary emphasis is on Smart Studios, where bands like Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and Madison's own Garbage recorded and how the studio attracted local and national talent, and disseminated their work. Experience Madison's legendary music venues through posters and objects, and take a look inside WORT, Madison's community radio station, which broadcast this music and helped launch it to the nation. The exhibit runs through September 15.

Smart Studios

Members of the band, Nirvana, left to right, Krist Novoselic, Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl (photo by Joe Giron)
Members of the band, Nirvana:
Krist Novoselic, Kurt Cobain and
Dave Grohl (photo by Joe Giron)

The main section of the exhibit focuses on the history of the studio and an overview of the bands created by the studio's owners. The presentation depicts the essence of the two major rooms at Smart Studios: the technical room and the band room. A wall features the CD and record collection from Smart Studios, along with other mementos from bands associated with the studio.

The technical room features artifacts such as an analog multi-track tape recorder and panoramic images of the console area. The band room depicts a set-up of a band playing. Artifacts include posters, band T-shirts and photographs.

Madison Live Music Venues

This section of the exhibit looks at the three major live music venues in Madison that featured musicians who recorded at Smart Studios: O'Cayz Corral, Club de Wash and Merlyn's. Bands that played these venues include local and nationally famous groups: Smashing Pumpkins, Soul Asylum, Nirvana (pictured at right), Flip Kings, Gomers, Sparklehorse, Poopshovel, Tar Babies, Garbage and Appliances-SFB.

Radio: WORT

This section covers the Madison radio station that played music by local bands and played a significant role in popularizing this music for a larger audience. For more information on museum hours, admission, location and directions, visit our visitor information pages.

:: Posted June 14, 2012

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