Sometime in 1991, Seattle became more than a quintessentially livable city where the coffee was strong, the people were friendly and the plastic was recycled. The unleashing of bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam beyond the Pacific Northwest transformed Seattle into an adjective inextricably linked to the word sound, a marketable life-style packaged in flannel and devoid of shampoo. What turns a city into a seminal music scene? Minneapolis, Minnesota, the home of proto-alternative rockers like the Replacements and Husker Du, had its moment a few years ago. So did Austin, Texas, ground zero for the Butthole Surfers; and Athens, Georgia,...

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