Barsuk's first signees were a group of kids from Western Washington University called Death Cab for Cutie.
In my editor's letter in the current issue of Reverb Monthly, I write about the co-founders of Barsuk Records, who founded the label as a pair of grunge rockers looking for a vehicle for their band, This Busy Monster. In an e-mail, I asked Rosenfeld how grunge's success paved the way for his label, which today puts out music by bands and artists like Mathieu Santos and Pearly Gate Music that sound nothing like grunge.
Here's what he said:
I don't think Barsuk would exist today in the same form if it weren't for the musical environment that existed when Christopher and I were in school. Although of course there were plenty of great bands operating around these parts before those albums (including Nirvana!) and The Rocket was a thriving publication documenting and pushing what was going on, and there were clubs (including all-ages venues) and the whole Olympia DIY thing around K and Evergreen, I think the fact that some of the bigger bands went on to actually make a living definitely served as an inspiration for other people to stick with it longer than we might otherwise have, and to believe that pursuit of our indie rock dreams was a viable path for would-be responsible adults.
Of course, it's always possible that if Nevermind and Ten, etc hadn't been pretty huge, that something else great would have come out of what was already happening around here -- so much great stuff was already going on in Chicago and DC and Austin in the mid- to late-'80s, and my friends and I were already inspired by band like Fugazi, Melvins, Scratch Acid, Big Black, The Meat Puppets, Dinosaur Jr, Black Flag and The Minutemen. And Touch and Go and Dischord were these beacons of greatness that could have served as the sparks for larger cultural excitement about punk or indie rock if the Seattle bands didn't -- it might have been just a matter of time before the right mix of pop and punk did somewhere else what wound up happening here...
But, man -- Bleach and Nevermind are great albums. I will probably never again in my life be as excited about hearing new music for the first time as I was when I bought the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" CD.