‘(This is Known as) The Blues Scale’: Outtakes from the Sonic Youth / Nirvana ’91 European Tour

While the approximate year of when punk rock actually “broke” into the mainstream differs from who you talk to or the weight of cultural references, it could be said that the year 1991 was an indication of a shift in the underground. Or at least it is according to Dave Markey, filmmaker and denizen of the West Coast punk rock scene, known for certain achievements as the We Got Power! fanzine, The Slog Movie, Sin 34, and the Black Flag music video for “Slip it In” (filmed at my high school). After seeing Mötley Crüe perform “Anarchy in the UK” on TV while on a European tour with Sonic Youth and Nirvana, Markey proclaimed that 1991 was the year punk rock finally broke, which became an ongoing joke throughout the tour. The catchphrase even became the title of the Super-8 documentary that Markey was filming.
In ways, the tour was a “calm before the storm” for Nirvana, who were supporting Sonic Youth on the run and on the verge of colossal mega-fame. Just a month later, they would release Nevermind and we all know what came after that. If you haven’t seen Markey’s incredible documentary, 1991: The Year Punk Broke, do yourself a favor and check it out. An incredibly genuine behind-the-scenes look at indie-grunge royalty as they traverse Europe during a pre-Lollapalooza era. Oh, and some pretty memorable live performances by Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr, Babes in Toyland, and the Ramones (sans Dee Dee).
Flier from Sonic Youth / Nirvana show in Cork, Ireland
While the doc originally saw limited release in 1992, legal disputes with Nirvana’s estate kept the film from making its way onto DVD – that is until 2011, when Universal coincided the release with Nevermind’s 20th anniversary. Eyeing its eventual reissue, Markey began to assemble a postscript companion piece made up of unused outtakes and other footage from the documentary, titled (This is Known as) The Blues Scale. The name originated from a statement that Cobain yelled to Markey while ripping through a guitar solo on stage.
Thurston watching Nirvana at the Pukkelpop Festival
Since it is all b-side material, the film presents a unique look at another side of the tour – more-so how these performers were ‘performing’ offstage. There are a few live cuts, but since they were originally excluded from the opus concert doc, it’s more focused on the hijinks and personalities of the tour. And in that sense, Blues Scale is an even more raw and honest look into 90’s rock history. Like, for instance, there’s a story about how Nirvana got kicked off MCA after Kim Gordon wrote “Fuck You” on a card the label left in their dressing room. Or that Kurt Cobain thought up a gimmick that involved him hanging himself onstage. There are also scenes with Sonic Youth at an amusement park, a giddy Cobain playing spin the bottle, Thurston Moore’s take on emocore (“Mick Jagger is the king of emocore”), and cameos by Courtney Love, J. Mascis, Epic Soundtracks, and longtime Black Flag roadie, Joe Cole.
If you want to learn more about the tour from Markey’s perspective, you can take a look at his 1991 tour diary.
Watch ‘(This is Known as) The Blues Scale’ below:


Dave Markey promoting ‘1991’ on Canadian television in 1993

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘1991: The Year Punk Broke’: Classic alt-rock documentary
‘The Slog Movie’: Raw and unkempt punk chaos erupts out of West Los Angeles, 1982
Sonic Youth raw and live in 1991
Ever wanted to play bass in Dinosaur Jr? In 1991, you could have applied for the job via fax