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Can City Hall Make a Music Scene?

In hindsight, the recipe always seems easy.

Take, for example, one comparatively affordable city—someplace sleepy and isolated enough to do its own thing. Add rain and second-hand flannel. Stir together some hangry young musicians and a pair of shrewd fans-turned-record-label-bosses. Garnish with distinctive black-and-white photography full of flying sweaty hair.

Voila: You’ve just cooked up the Seattle grunge explosion of the ‘90s.

But in the moment, hot music cities arise unpredictably, disappear quickly, and often leave city leaders scratching their heads about what just happened. Professional speculators in hype may try to anticipate or stoke a scene blowing up, but a robust local music ecosystem usually seems to develop organically—or not at all.

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