Diehard Nirvana Fans Are Using AI to Rewrite the Band’s History

It's a larger subculture than you'd expect

Kurt Cobain street art
Street art by various artists in Hoxton including a representation of the grunge artist Kurt Cobain of Nirvana wearing one of his iconic outfits on 18th October 2023 in London, United Kingdom.
Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images

Three years ago, a musical project called Lost Songs of the 27 Club used AI to imagine what a host of deceased musicians might have done had their lives not ended when they did. Among the musicians whose work was emulated on the album were the likes of Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain. Turns out, when it comes to the last name on that list, this project was just the tip of the iceberg.

In an extensive report on his Substack newsletter Alive in the Nineties, Aaron Gilbreath explored the peculiar subculture of people using AI and other methods to predict where Nirvana’s music might have gone had Cobain not died in 1994. (Full disclosure: Gilbreath is a friend; his newsletter is highly recommended, as is his other writing on music.)

While the idea of using technology to speculate about unmade Nirvana albums might seem like an obscure pursuit, there does seem to be an audience for it. Several of the projects Gilbreath writes about — including the albums The Greenhouse and Heaven is a Hoax — have over 200,000 views on YouTube.

As Gilbreath writes, this subculture encompasses a lot of different methodologies. One of the musicians covered in the article used a Markov chain to create “new” Nirvana lyrics based on their existing discography; others built their re-creations around demos and live recordings that are then processed in a way to evoke Nirvana’s studio work.

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Perhaps the most surreal turn that these projects take involves fanfiction that plays out like alternate histories of Nirvana. A world where Dave Grohl brought several Foo Fighters songs to Nirvana is one theme that pops up, but it’s far from the only recurring motif. “Things get weird,” Gilbreath writes of this aspect of the subculture. “”Fandom can be pure and natural. And fandom can get dark and consumptive.”

The whole article is well worth checking out. And it’s a statement to Nirvana’s staying power that, even now, their music — both beloved and obscure — has sparked this level of interest.

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