On August 17 1991, Nirvana shot the video for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ below at GMT Studios in Culver City, California, on soundstage number 6 with the shoot starting at noon and lasting the entire day.
The video was based on the concept of a school concert which ends in anarchy and riot. Inspiration was taken from Jonathan Kaplan’s 1979 movie “Over the Edge”, as well as the Ramones film “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School”. First time director Samuel Bayer believed he was hired because his test reel was so poor the band anticipated his production would be “punk” and “not corporate.”
Nirvana handed out these flyers at their show on August 15, 1991 at The Roxy in Los Angeles and on August 16th, the day before the shoot, The LA radio station KXLU made the announcement that Nirvana was looking for punk rockers to be in the band’s video shoot the next day. The response was so overwhelming that hundreds of heartbroken kids were turned away. Here’s the flyer…
The video featured the band playing at a pep rally in a high school gym to an audience of apathetic students on bleachers, and cheerleaders wearing black dresses with the Circle-A anarchist symbol.
The video ends with the assembled students destroying the set and the band’s gear. The demolition of the set captured in the video’s conclusion was the result of genuine discontent. The extras that filled the bleachers had been forced to stay seated through numerous replays of the song for an entire afternoon of filming. Cobain convinced Bayer to allow the extras to mosh, and the set became a scene of chaos. Cobain said,
“Once the kids came out dancing they just said ‘fuck you,’ because they were so tired of this shit throughout the day.”
Here’s some cool photos of Kurt during a break from the video shoot…
Here is Kurt in his “Smells Like Teen Spirit” sweater. It’s probably his second most famous article of clothing behind the MTV Unplugged green cardigan.
The sweater and the Lake Placid Blue Fender Mustang Guitar used in the video were on display at the Seattle Experience Music Project (EMP).
Cobain disliked Bayer’s final edit and personally oversaw a re-edit of the video that resulted in the version finally aired. One of Cobain’s major additions was the next-to-last shot of the video, which was a close-up of his own face after it had been obscured for most of the video. Here’s Bayer’s frist edit.