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As regional underground music scenes across America were thriving in the '80s, a massive sea change hit—the early '90s brought Nirvana's commercial breakthrough, inadvertently shining a light on DIY music everywhere. The “grunge movement” exploded while I was attending Chapel Hill High School, and our town was declared the "Next Seattle" in a long line of Next Seattles. (Among them: Austin, Tex., and the scene surrounding University of Texas, as well as Athens, Ga. and the University of Georgia.)

But Chapel Hill, home to the University of North Carolina, was special in the manner specific to college towns filled with progressive ideas, open-minded artists, and energetic young minds eager to soak it all in. It was fertile ground to launch one of American independent music’s greatest local scenes, and with bands like Archers of Loaf, Superchunk, and Squirrel Nut Zippers, it became just that. Hell, it was too great to ignore—even the local news tried to sort out the phenomenon.

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But before the '90s grunge media frenzy, Chapel Hill had a reputation as an underground music mecca. Bands like Fugazi and Guided by Voices constantly passed through, establishing a connection with the music community over time and influencing the scene with each visit. Just as the town entered its true artistic peak, Sonic Youth penned its classic tribute song to the place, “Chapel Hill,” on their seventh studio album, 1992’s Dirty. (More on that in the first issue of the new CREEM Magazine, coming Sept. 15. Subscribe now.)

The history of Chapel Hill, and North Carolina independent music in general, is rich and complex, which makes it challenging to navigate. Here’s what you need to know.

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