Alternative rock

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Alternative rock (also called alternative music, alt-rock, or simply alternative) is a category of rock music that emerged from the independent music underground of the 1970s and became widely popular in the 1990s. "Alternative" refers to the genre's distinction from mainstream or commercial rock or pop music. The term's original meaning was broader, referring to a generation of musicians unified by their collective debt to either the musical style or simply the independent, DIY ethos of punk rock, which in the late 1970s laid the groundwork for alternative music. [5]


In September 1988, Billboard introduced "alternative" into their charting system to reflect the rise of the format across radio stations in the United States by stations like KROQ-FM in Los Angeles and WDRE-FM in New York, which were playing music from more underground, independent, and non-commercial rock artists. [6] [7]

The genre can be found as early as the 1960s, with bands such as the Velvet Underground and other artists, continued to evolve alternative rock throughout the 1980s. Traditionally, alternative rock broadly consisted of music that differed greatly in terms of its sound, social context and regional roots. Throughout the 1980s, magazines and zines, college radio airplay, and word of mouth had increased the prominence and highlighted the diversity of alternative rock, helping to define a number of distinct styles (and music scenes) such as noise pop, indie rock, grunge, and shoegazing.

Most of these subgenres had achieved minor mainstream notice and a few bands, such as Hüsker Dü and R.E.M., were signed to major labels. But most alternative bands' commercial success was limited in comparison to other genres of rock and pop music at the time, and most acts remained signed to independent labels and received relatively little attention from mainstream radio, television, or newspapers. With the breakthrough of Nirvana and the popularity of the grunge and Britpop movements in the 1990s, alternative rock entered the musical mainstream and many alternative bands became successful.

Origin of term

In the past, popular music tastes were dictated by music executives within large entertainment corporations. Record companies signed contracts with those entertainers who were thought to become the most popular, and therefore who could generate the most sales. These bands were able to record their songs in expensive studios, and their works then offered for sale through record store chains that were owned by the entertainment corporations, along with eventually selling the merchandise into big box retailers. Record companies worked with radio and television companies to get the most exposure for their artists. The people making the decisions were business people dealing with music as a product, and those bands who were not making the expected sales figures were then excluded from this system. [8]

Before the term alternative rock came into common usage around 1990, the sorts of music to which it refers were known by a variety of terms. [9] In 1979, Terry Tolkin used the term Alternative Music to describe the groups he was writing about. [10] In 1979 Dallas radio station KZEW had a late night new wave show entitled "Rock and Roll Alternative". [11] "College rock" was used in the United States to describe the music during the 1980s due to its links to the college radio circuit and the tastes of college students. [12] In the United Kingdom, dozens of small do it yourself record labels emerged as a result of the punk subculture. According to the founder of one of these labels, Cherry Red, NME and Sounds magazines published charts based on small record stores called "Alternative Charts". The first national chart based on distribution called the Indie Chart was published in January 1980; it immediately succeeded in its aim to help these labels. At the time, the term indie was used literally to describe independently distributed records. [13] By 1985, indie had come to mean a particular genre, or group of subgenres, rather than simply distribution status. [12]

The use of the term alternative to describe rock music originated around the mid-1980s; [14] at the time, the common music industry terms for cutting-edge music were new music and post modern , respectively indicating freshness and a tendency to re contextualize sounds of the past. [5] [15] In 1987, Spin magazine categorized college rock band Camper Van Beethoven as "alternative/indie", noting that their 1985 song "Where the Hell Is Bill" (from Telephone Free Landslide Victory ) "called out the alternative/independent scene and dryly tore it apart." [16] David Lowery, then frontman of Camper Van Beethoven, later recalled: "I remember first seeing that word applied to us... The nearest I could figure is that we seemed like a punk band, but we were playing pop music, so they made up this word alternative for those of us who do that". [17] DJs and promoters during the 1980s claim the term originates from American FM radio of the 1970s, which served as a progressive alternative to top 40 radio formats by featuring longer songs and giving DJs more freedom in song selection. According to one former DJ and promoter, "Somehow this term 'alternative' got rediscovered and heisted by college radio people during the 80s who applied it to new post-punk, indie, or underground-whatever music". [18] At first the term referred to intentionally non–mainstream rock acts that were not influenced by "heavy metal ballads, rarefied new wave" and "high-energy dance anthems". [19] Usage of the term would broaden to include new wave, pop, punk rock, post-punk, and occasionally "college"/"indie" rock, all found on the American "commercial alternative" radio stations of the time such as Los Angeles' KROQ-FM. Journalist Jim Gerr wrote that Alternative also encompassed variants such as "rap, trash, metal and industrial". [20] The bill of the first Lollapalooza, an itinerant festival in North America conceived by Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell, reunited "disparate elements of the alternative rock community" including Henry Rollins, Butthole Surfers, Ice-T, Nine Inch Nails, Siouxsie and the Banshees (as second headliners) and Jane's Addiction (as the headlining act). [20] Covering for MTV the opening date of Lollapalooza in Phoenix in July 1991, Dave Kendall introduced the report saying the festival presented the "most diverse lineups of alternative rock". [21] That summer, Farrell had coined the term Alternative Nation. [22] In December 1991, Spin magazine noted: "this year, for the first time, it became resoundingly clear that what has formerly been considered alternative rock – a college-centered marketing group with fairly lucrative, if limited, potential- has in fact moved into the mainstream". [20]

In the late 1990s, the definition again became more specific. [5] In 1997, Neil Strauss of The New York Times defined alternative rock as "hard-edged rock distinguished by brittle, '70s-inspired guitar riffing and singers agonizing over their problems until they take on epic proportions". [19]

Defining music as alternative is often difficult because of two conflicting applications of the word. Alternative can describe music that challenges the status quo and that is "fiercely iconoclastic, anticommercial, and antimainstream", but the term is also used in the music industry to denote "the choices available to consumers via record stores, radio, cable television, and the Internet." [23] However alternative music has paradoxically become just as commercial and marketable as the mainstream rock, with record companies using the term "alternative" to market music to an audience that mainstream rock does not reach. [24] Using a broad definition of the genre, Dave Thompson in his book Alternative Rock cites the formation of the Sex Pistols as well as the release of the albums Horses by Patti Smith and Metal Machine Music by Lou Reed as three key events that gave birth to alternative rock. [25] Until recent years (early 2000s) when indie rock became the most common term in the US to describe modern pop and rock, the terms "indie rock" and "alternative rock" were often used interchangeably; [26] whilst there are aspects which both genres have in common, indie rock was regarded as a British-based term, unlike the more American alternative rock. [27]


The name "alternative rock" essentially serves as an umbrella term for underground music that has emerged in the wake of punk rock since the mid-1980s. [28] Throughout much of its history, alternative rock has been largely defined by its rejection of the commercialism of mainstream culture, although this could be contested ever since some of the major alternative artists have achieved mainstream success or co-opted with the major labels from the 1990s onwards (especially since the new millennium and beyond). Alternative bands during the 1980s generally played in small clubs, recorded for indie labels, and spread their popularity through word of mouth. [29] As such, there is no set musical style for alternative rock as a whole, although The New York Times in 1989 asserted that the genre is "guitar music first of all, with guitars that blast out power chords, pick out chiming riffs, buzz with fuzztone and squeal in feedback." [30] More often than in other rock-styles since the mainstreaming of rock music during the 1970s, alternative rock lyrics tend to address topics of social concern, such as drug use, depression, suicide, and environmentalism. [29] This approach to lyrics developed as a reflection of the social and economic strains in the United States and United Kingdom of the 1980s and early 1990s. [31]


Precursors (1960s and 1970s)

A precursor to alternative rock existed in the 1960s with the proto-punk scene. [32] The origins of alternative rock can be traced back to The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967) by the Velvet Underground, [33] which influenced many alternative rock bands that would come after it. [34] 60's eccentric and quirky figures, such as Syd Barrett have influence on alternative rock in general. [35]


One of the first popular alternative rock bands, R.E.M. relied on college-radio airplay, constant touring, and a grassroots fanbase to break into the musical mainstream. Padova REM concert July 22 2003 blue.jpg
One of the first popular alternative rock bands, R.E.M. relied on college-radio airplay, constant touring, and a grassroots fanbase to break into the musical mainstream.

The Dead Kennedys formed the independent record label Alternative Tentacles in 1979, releasing influential underground music such as the 1983 self-titled EP from the Butthole Surfers. By 1984, a majority of groups signed to indie labels mined from a variety of rock and particularly 1960s rock influences. This represented a sharp break from the futuristic, hyper-rational post-punk years. [36]

"Alternative music is music that hasn't yet achieved a mainstream audience, Alternative isn't new wave any more, it's a disposition of mind. Alternative music is any kind of music that has the potential to reach a wider audience. It also has real strength, real quality, real excitement, and it has to be socially significant, as opposed to Whitney Houston, which is pablum."

—Mark Josephson, Executive Director of the New Music Seminar speaking in 1988 [37]

Throughout the 1980s, alternative rock remained mainly an underground phenomenon. While on occasion a song would become a commercial hit or albums would receive critical praise in mainstream publications like Rolling Stone , alternative rock in the 1980s was primarily featured on independent record labels, fanzines, and college radio stations. Alternative bands built underground followings by touring constantly and by regularly releasing low-budget albums. In the case of the United States, new bands would form in the wake of previous bands, which created an extensive underground circuit in America, filled with different scenes in various parts of the country. [28] College radio formed an essential part of breaking new alternative music. In the mid-1980s, college station KCPR in San Luis Obispo, California, described in a DJ handbook the tension between popular and "cutting edge" songs as played on "alternative radio." [38]

Although American alternative artists of the 1980s never generated spectacular album sales, they exerted a considerable influence on later alternative musicians and laid the groundwork for their success. [39] On September 10, 1988, an Alternative Songs chart was created by Billboard , listing the 40 most-played songs on alternative and modern rock radio stations in the US: the first number one was Siouxsie and the Banshees' "Peek-a-Boo". [40] By 1989 the genre had become popular enough that a package tour featuring New Order, Public Image Limited and the Sugarcubes toured the United States arena circuit. [41]

In contrast, British alternative rock was distinguished from that of the United States early on by a more pop-oriented focus (marked by an equal emphasis on albums and singles, as well as greater openness to incorporating elements of dance and club culture) and a lyrical emphasis on specifically British concerns. As a result, few British alternative bands have achieved commercial success in the US. [42] Since the 1980s alternative rock has been played extensively on the radio in the UK, particularly by disc jockeys such as John Peel (who championed alternative music on BBC Radio 1), Richard Skinner, and Annie Nightingale. Artists that had cult followings in the United States received greater exposure through British national radio and the weekly music press, and many alternative bands had chart success there. [43]

American underground in the 1980s

Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth SonicYouth.JPG
Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth

Early American alternative bands such as the Dream Syndicate, the Bongos, 10,000 Maniacs, R.E.M., the Feelies and Violent Femmes combined punk influences with folk music and mainstream music influences. R.E.M. was the most immediately successful; its debut album, Murmur (1983), entered the Top 40 and spawned a number of jangle pop followers. [44] One of the many jangle pop scenes of the early 1980s, Los Angeles' Paisley Underground revived the sounds of the 1960s, incorporating psychedelia, rich vocal harmonies and the guitar interplay of folk rock as well as punk and underground influences such as the Velvet Underground. [28]

American indie record labels SST Records, Twin/Tone Records, Touch and Go Records, and Dischord Records presided over the shift from the hardcore punk that then dominated the American underground scene to the more diverse styles of alternative rock that were emerging. [45] Minneapolis bands Hüsker Dü and the Replacements were indicative of this shift. Both started out as punk rock bands, but soon diversified their sounds and became more melodic. [28] Michael Azerrad asserted that Hüsker Dü was the key link between hardcore punk and the more melodic, diverse music of college rock that emerged. Azerrad wrote, "Hüsker Dü played a huge role in convincing the underground that melody and punk rock weren't antithetical." [46] The band also set an example by being the first group from the American indie scene to sign to a major record label, which helped establish college rock as "a viable commercial enterprise." [47] By focusing on heartfelt songwriting and wordplay instead of political concerns, the Replacements upended a number of underground scene conventions; Azerrad noted that "along with R.E.M., they were one of the few underground bands that mainstream people liked." [48]

By the late 1980s, the American alternative scene was dominated by styles ranging from quirky alternative pop (They Might Be Giants and Camper Van Beethoven), to noise rock (Sonic Youth, Big Black, the Jesus Lizard [49] ) and industrial rock (Ministry, Nine Inch Nails). These sounds were in turn followed by the advent of Boston's Pixies and Los Angeles' Jane's Addiction. [28] Around the same time, the grunge subgenre emerged in Seattle, Washington, initially referred to as "The Seattle Sound" until its rise to popularity in the early 1990s. [50] Grunge featured a sludgy, murky guitar sound that syncretized heavy metal and punk rock. [51] Promoted largely by Seattle indie label Sub Pop, grunge bands were noted for their thrift store fashion which favored flannel shirts and combat boots suited to the local weather. [52] Early grunge bands Soundgarden and Mudhoney found critical acclaim in the U.S. and UK, respectively. [28]

By the end of the decade, a number of alternative bands began to sign to major labels. While early major label signings Hüsker Dü and the Replacements had little success, acts who signed with majors in their wake such as R.E.M. and Jane's Addiction achieved gold and platinum records, setting the stage for alternative's later breakthrough. [53] [54] Some bands such as Pixies had massive success overseas while they were ignored domestically. [28]

In the middle of the decade, Hüsker Dü's album Zen Arcade influenced other hardcore acts by tackling personal issues. Out of Washington, D.C.'s hardcore scene what was called "emocore" or "emo" emerged and was noted for its lyrics which delved into emotional very personal subject matter (vocalists sometimes cried) and added free association poetry and a confessional tone. Rites of Spring has been described as the first "emo" band. Former Minor Threat singer Ian MacKaye founded Dischord Records which became the center for the city's emo scene. [55]

Robert Smith of the Cure Robertsmith.jpg
Robert Smith of the Cure

Gothic rock developed out of late-1970s British post-punk. With a reputation as the "darkest and gloomiest form of underground rock", gothic rock utilizes a synthesizer-and-guitar based sound drawn from post-punk to construct "foreboding, sorrowful, often epic soundscapes", and the subgenre's lyrics often address literary romanticism, morbidity, religious symbolism, and supernatural mysticism. [56] Bands of this subgenre took inspiration from two British post-punk groups, Joy Division and Siouxsie and the Banshees. [57] Bauhaus' debut single "Bela Lugosi's Dead", released in 1979, is considered to be the proper beginning of the gothic rock subgenre. [58] The Cure's "oppressively dispirited" albums including Pornography (1982) cemented that group's stature in that style and laid the foundation for its large cult following. [59]

The key British alternative rock band to emerge during the 1980s was Manchester's the Smiths. Music journalist Simon Reynolds singled out the Smiths and their American contemporaries R.E.M. as "the two most important alt-rock bands of the day", commenting that they "were eighties bands only in the sense of being against the eighties". Reynolds noted that the Smiths' "whole stance was predicated on their British audience being a lost generation, exiles in their own land". [60] The Smiths' embrace of the guitar in an era of synthesizer-dominated music is viewed as signaling the end of the new wave era and the advent of alternative rock in the United Kingdom. Despite the band's limited chart success and short career, the Smiths exerted an influence over the British indie scene through the end of the decade, as various bands drew from singer Morrissey's English-centered lyrical topics and guitarist Johnny Marr's jangly guitar-playing style. [42] The C86 cassette, a 1986 NME premium featuring Primal Scream, the Wedding Present and others, was a major influence on the development of indie pop and the British indie scene as a whole. [61] [62]

Other forms of alternative rock developed in the UK during the 1980s. the Jesus and Mary Chain's sound combined the Velvet Underground's "melancholy noise" with Beach Boys pop melodies and Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" production, [63] [64] while New Order emerged from the demise of post-punk band Joy Division and experimented with techno and house music. [42] The Mary Chain, along with Dinosaur Jr., C86 and the dream pop of Cocteau Twins, were the formative influences for the shoegazing movement of the late 1980s. Named for the band members' tendency to stare at their feet and guitar effects pedals [65] onstage rather than interact with the audience, shoegazing acts like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive created an overwhelmingly loud "wash of sound" that obscured vocals and melodies with long, droning riffs, distortion, and feedback. [66] Shoegazing bands dominated the British music press at the end of the decade along with the Madchester scene. Performing for the most part in the Haçienda, a nightclub in Manchester owned by New Order and Factory Records, Madchester bands such as Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses mixed acid house dance rhythms with melodic guitar pop. [67]

Popularization in the 1990s

Alanis Morissette Alanis Morissette at Espacio Movistar 6.jpg
Alanis Morissette

By the start of the 1990s, the music industry was enticed by alternative rock's commercial possibilities and major labels had already signed Jane's Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Dinosaur Jr. [53] In early 1991, R.E.M. went mainstream worldwide with Out of Time while becoming a blueprint for many alternative bands. [28]

Kurt Cobain (foreground) and Krist Novoselic with Nirvana live at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards. Nirvana around 1992.jpg
Kurt Cobain (foreground) and Krist Novoselic with Nirvana live at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards.

The first edition of the Lollapalooza festival became the most successful tour in North America in July and August 1991. For Dave Grohl of Nirvana who caught it near Los Angeles in an open-air amphitheater, "it felt like something was happening, that was the beginning of it all". The tour helped change the mentalities in the music industry: "by that fall, radio and MTV and music had changed. I really think that if it weren’t for Perry [Farrell], if it weren’t for Lollapalooza, you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation right now". [68]

The release of the Nirvana's single "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in September 1991 "marked the instigation of the grunge music phenomenon". Helped by constant airplay of the song's music video on MTV, their album Nevermind was selling 400,000 copies a week by Christmas 1991. [69] Its success surprised the music industry. Nevermind not only popularized grunge, but also established "the cultural and commercial viability of alternative rock in general." [70] Michael Azerrad asserted that Nevermind symbolized "a sea-change in rock music" in which the hair metal that had dominated rock music at that time fell out of favor in the face of music that was authentic and culturally relevant. [71] The breakthrough success of Nirvana led to the widespread popularization of alternative rock in the 1990s. It heralded a "new openness to alternative rock" among commercial radio stations, opening doors for heavier alternative bands in particular. [72] In the wake of Nevermind, alternative rock "found itself dragged-kicking and screaming ... into the mainstream" and record companies, confused by the genre's success yet eager to capitalize on it, scrambled to sign bands. [73] The New York Times declared in 1993, "Alternative rock doesn't seem so alternative anymore. Every major label has a handful of guitar-driven bands in shapeless shirts and threadbare jeans, bands with bad posture and good riffs who cultivate the oblique and the evasive, who conceal catchy tunes with noise and hide craftsmanship behind nonchalance." [74] However, many alternative rock artists rejected success, for it conflicted with the rebellious, DIY ethic the genre had espoused before mainstream exposure and their ideas of artistic authenticity. [75]


Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam in concert in Italy 2006.jpg
Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam

Other grunge bands subsequently replicated Nirvana's success. Pearl Jam had released its debut album Ten a month before Nevermind in 1991, but album sales only picked up a year later. [76] By the second half of 1992 Ten became a breakthrough success, being certified gold and reaching number two on the Billboard 200 album chart. [77] Soundgarden's album Badmotorfinger , Alice in Chains' Dirt and Stone Temple Pilots' Core along with the Temple of the Dog album collaboration featuring members of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, were also among the 100 top-selling albums of 1992. [78] The popular breakthrough of these grunge bands prompted Rolling Stone to nickname Seattle "the new Liverpool." [52] Major record labels signed most of the prominent grunge bands in Seattle, while a second influx of bands moved to the city in hopes of success. [79]

At the same time, critics asserted that advertising was co-opting elements of grunge and turning it into a fad. Entertainment Weekly commented in a 1993 article, "There hasn't been this kind of exploitation of a subculture since the media discovered hippies in the '60s." [80] The New York Times compared the "grunging of America" to the mass-marketing of punk rock, disco, and hip hop in previous years. As a result of the genre's popularity, a backlash against grunge developed in Seattle. [52] Nirvana's follow-up album In Utero (1993) was an intentionally abrasive album that Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic described as a "wild aggressive sound, a true alternative record." [81] Nevertheless, upon its release in September 1993 In Utero topped the Billboard charts. [82] Pearl Jam also continued to perform well commercially with its second album, Vs. (1993), which topped the Billboard charts by selling a record 950,378 copies in its first week of release. [83]


Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis Oasis Noel and Liam WF.jpg
Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis

With the decline of the Madchester scene and the unglamorousness of shoegazing, the tide of grunge from America dominated the British alternative scene and music press in the early 1990s. [42] As a reaction, a flurry of British bands emerged that wished to "get rid of grunge" and "declare war on America", taking the public and native music press by storm. [84] Dubbed "Britpop" by the media, this movement represented by Pulp, Blur, Suede, and Oasis was the British equivalent of the grunge explosion, in that the artists propelled alternative rock to the top of the charts in their home country. [42] Britpop bands were influenced by and displayed reverence for British guitar music of the past, particularly movements and genres such as the British Invasion, glam rock, and punk rock. [85] In 1995 the Britpop phenomenon culminated in a rivalry between its two chief groups, Oasis and Blur, symbolized by their release of competing singles on the same day. Blur won "The Battle of Britpop", but Oasis soon eclipsed the other band in popularity with their second album, (What's the Story) Morning Glory? (1995), [86] which went on to become the third best-selling album in the UK's history. [87]

Indie rock

The indie rock band Pavement in 1993 Pavement, the band, in Tokyo.jpg
The indie rock band Pavement in 1993

Long synonymous with alternative rock as a whole in the US, indie rock became a distinct form following the popular breakthrough of Nirvana. [88] Indie rock was formulated as a rejection of alternative rock's absorption into the mainstream by artists who could not or refused to cross over, and a wariness of its "macho" aesthetic. While indie rock artists share the punk rock distrust of commercialism, the genre does not entirely define itself against that, as "the general assumption is that it's virtually impossible to make indie rock's varying musical approaches compatible with mainstream tastes in the first place". [88]

Labels such as Matador Records, Merge Records, and Dischord, and indie rockers like Pavement, Superchunk, Fugazi, and Sleater-Kinney dominated the American indie scene for most of the 1990s. [89] One of the main indie rock movements of the 1990s was lo-fi. The movement, which focused on the recording and distribution of music on low-quality cassette tapes, initially emerged in the 1980s. By 1992, Pavement, Guided by Voices and Sebadoh became popular lo-fi cult acts in the United States, while subsequently artists like Beck and Liz Phair brought the aesthetic to mainstream audiences. [90] The period also saw alternative confessional female singer-songwriters. Besides the aforementioned Liz Phair, PJ Harvey fit into this sub group. [91]


Post-grunge band Creed in 2002 Creed (band) in 2002.jpg
Post-grunge band Creed in 2002

During the latter half of the 1990s, grunge was supplanted by post-grunge. Many post-grunge bands lacked the underground roots of grunge and were largely influenced by what grunge had become, namely "a wildly popular form of inward-looking, serious-minded hard rock."; many post-grunge bands emulated the sound and style of grunge, "but not necessarily the individual idiosyncracies of its original artists." [92] Post-grunge was a more commercially viable genre that tempered the distorted guitars of grunge with polished, radio-ready production. [92] Originally, post-grunge was a label used almost pejoratively on bands that emerged when grunge was mainstream and emulated the grunge sound. The label suggested that bands labelled as post-grunge were simply musically derivative, or a cynical response to an "authentic" rock movement. [93] Bush, Candlebox and Collective Soul were labelled almost pejoratively as post-grunge which, according to Tim Grierson of, is "suggesting that rather than being a musical movement in their own right, they were just a calculated, cynical response to a legitimate stylistic shift in rock music." [93] Post-grunge morphed during the late 1990s as post-grunge bands such as Foo Fighters, Creed and Nickelback emerged. [93]


Post-rock was established by Talk Talk's Laughing Stock and Slint's Spiderland albums, both released in 1991. [94] Post-rock draws influence from a number of genres, including Krautrock, progressive rock, and jazz. The genre subverts or rejects rock conventions, and often incorporates electronic music. [94] While the name of the genre was coined by music journalist Simon Reynolds in 1994 referring to Hex by the London group Bark Psychosis, [95] the style of the genre was solidified by the release of Millions Now Living Will Never Die (1996) by the Chicago group Tortoise. [94] Post-rock became the dominant form of experimental rock music in the 1990s and bands from the genre signed to such labels as Thrill Jockey, Kranky, Drag City, and Too Pure. [94] A related genre, math rock, peaked in the mid-1990s. In comparison to post-rock, math rock relies on more complex time signatures and intertwining phrases. [96] By the end of the decade a backlash had emerged against post-rock due to its "dispassionate intellectuality" and its perceived increasing predictability, but a new wave of post-rock bands such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Sigur Rós emerged who further expanded the genre. [94]

Reel Big Fish performing in 2008 Reel Big Fish live in Santa Cruz.jpg
Reel Big Fish performing in 2008

In 1993, Smashing Pumpkins album Siamese Dream was a major commercial success. The strong influence of heavy metal and progressive rock on the album helped to legitimize alternative rock to mainstream radio programmers and close the gap between alternative rock and the type of rock played on American 1970s Album Oriented Rock radio. [97] In 1995, Smashing Pumpkins also released their double album Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness which went on to sell 10 million copies in the US alone, certifying it as a Diamond record.

After almost a decade in the underground, ska punk, a mixture of earlier British ska and punk acts, became popular in the United States. Rancid was the first of the "Third Wave Ska Revival" acts to break. In 1996, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, No Doubt, Sublime, Goldfinger, Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake and Save Ferris charted or received radio exposure. [98] [99]

Change in sound

The Amerindie of the early '80s became known as alternative or alt-rock, ascendant from Nirvana until 1996 or so but currently very unfashionable, never mind that the music is still there.

Christgau's Consumer Guide: Albums of the '90s (2000) [100]

By the end of the decade, alternative rock's style changed due to a number of events, notably the death of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain in 1994 and Pearl Jam's lawsuit against concert venue promoter Ticketmaster,[ clarification needed ] which in effect barred the group from playing many major venues around the United States. [75] In addition to the decline of grunge bands, Britpop faded as Oasis's third album, Be Here Now (1997), received lackluster reviews and Blur began to incorporate influences from American alternative rock. [101] A signifier of alternative rock's changes was the hiatus of the Lollapalooza festival after an unsuccessful attempt to find a headliner in 1998. In light of the festival's troubles that year, Spin said, "Lollapalooza is as comatose as alternative rock right now". [102]

Despite a change in style, alternative rock still managed to be mainstream. Post-grunge remained commercially viable into the start of the 21st century, when bands like Creed and Matchbox Twenty became among the most popular rock bands in the United States. [92] At the same time Britpop began to decline, Radiohead achieved critical acclaim with its third album OK Computer (1997), and its follow-ups Kid A (2000) and Amnesiac (2001), which were in marked contrast with the traditionalism of Britpop. Radiohead, along with post-Britpop groups like Travis and Coldplay, were major forces in British rock in subsequent years. [103]

Emo band Jimmy Eat World performing in 2007 Jimmy Eat World Reading.jpg
Emo band Jimmy Eat World performing in 2007

In the mid-1990s, Sunny Day Real Estate defined the emo genre. Weezer's album Pinkerton (1996) was also influential. By 2000 and on into the new decade, emo was one of the most popular rock music genres. [55] Popular acts included the sales success of Bleed American by Jimmy Eat World (2001) and Dashboard Confessional's The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most (2003). [104] The new emo had a much more mainstream sound than in the 1990s and a far greater appeal amongst adolescents than its earlier incarnations. [104] At the same time, use of the term "emo" expanded beyond the musical genre, becoming associated with fashion, a hairstyle and any music that expressed emotion. [105] Emo's mainstream success continued with bands emerging in the 2000s, including multi-platinum acts such as Fall Out Boy [106] and My Chemical Romance [107] and mainstream groups such as Paramore [106] and Panic! at the Disco. [108]

21st century

Muse performing in 2010 Muse (4309212538).jpg
Muse performing in 2010

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, several alternative rock bands emerged, including the Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, Interpol and the Rapture that drew primary inspiration from post-punk and new wave, establishing the post-punk revival movement. [109] Preceded by the success of bands such as the Strokes and the White Stripes earlier in the decade, an influx of new alternative rock bands, including several post-punk revival artists and others such as the Killers, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, found commercial success in the early and mid 2000s. Owing to the success of these bands, Entertainment Weekly declared in 2004, "After almost a decade of domination by rap-rock and nu-metal bands, mainstream alt-rock is finally good again." [110] Thirty Seconds to Mars experienced a notable rise in popularity during the latter half of the 2000s. [111] American rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers entered a new-found popularity in 1999 after the release of their album Californication (1999), with continued success throughout the 2000s. Arctic Monkeys were a prominent act to owe their initial commercial success to the use of Internet social networking, [112] with two UK No. 1 singles and Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (2006), which became the fastest-selling debut album in British chart history. [113]

Twenty One Pilots performing in 2016 Twenty One Pilots, Brixton Academy, London (25218646916).jpg
Twenty One Pilots performing in 2016

Most references to alternative rock music in the United States past 2010 are to the indie rock genre, a term that previously had limited usage on alternative rock channels and media. [26] Radio Stations in the 2010s have been changing formats away from alternative rock, but this is mostly motivated by conglomeration efforts coupled with advertisers seeking more Top 40/Top 100 stations for sales. [114] While there have been conflicting opinions on the relevance of alternative rock to mainstream audiences beyond 2010, [115] [116] Dave Grohl commented on an article from the December 29, 2013 issue of the New York Daily News stating that rock is dead: [117] "speak for yourself... rock seems pretty alive to me." [118]

Contemporary mainstream alternative rock bands tend to fuse musical elements of hard rock, electronica, hip-hop, indie and punk while placing emphasis on keyboards and guitar. In 2010s, British rock band Muse gained a worldwide recognition with their album The Resistance and Drones which won Grammy Awards. [119] [120] American alternative duo Twenty One Pilots blurs the lines between genres including hip hop, emo, rock, indie pop and reggae and has managed to break numerous records. [121] They became the first alternative act to have two concurrent top five singles in the United States while their fourth studio album Blurryface (2015) was the first album in history to have every song receive at least a Gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America. [122] [123] [124] Twenty One Pilots also became the first rock act to have a song reach a billion streams on Spotify. [125] Their breakout hit single "Stressed Out" was the twenty-fifth song to achieve the rare feat of at least one billion plays on the streaming platform. The milestone comes at a time when music genres represented on streaming platforms like Spotify are fairly homogeneous, being dominated by genres such as hip hop, EDM, and adult contemporary-styled pop. [125]

See also

Radio formats

Related Research Articles

Nirvana (band) American rock band

Nirvana was an American rock band formed in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1987. Founded by lead singer-songwriter and guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic, the band went through a succession of drummers before recruiting Dave Grohl in 1990. Nirvana's success popularized alternative rock, and they were often referenced as the figurehead band of Generation X. Their music maintains a popular following and continues to influence modern rock and roll culture.

Rock music is a broad genre of popular music that originated as "rock and roll" in the United States in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and developed into a range of different styles in the mid-1960s and later, particularly in the United States and the United Kingdom. It has its roots in 1940s and 1950s rock and roll, a style which drew heavily from the genres of blues, rhythm and blues, and from country music. Rock music also drew strongly from a number of other genres such as electric blues and folk, and incorporated influences from jazz, classical and other musical styles. For instrumentation, rock has centered on the electric guitar, usually as part of a rock group with electric bass, drums, and one or more singers. Usually, rock is song-based music with a 4/4 time signature using a verse–chorus form, but the genre has become extremely diverse. Like pop music, lyrics often stress romantic love but also address a wide variety of other themes that are frequently social or political.

Britpop was a mid-1990s British-based music and culture movement that emphasised Britishness. It produced brighter, catchier alternative rock, partly in reaction to the popularity of the darker lyrical themes of the US-led grunge music and to the UK's own shoegazing music scene. The movement brought British alternative rock into the mainstream and formed the backbone of a larger British popular cultural movement, Cool Britannia, which evoked the Swinging Sixties and the British guitar pop of that decade.

Grunge is an alternative rock genre and subculture that emerged during the mid-1980s in the American Pacific Northwest state of Washington, particularly in Seattle and nearby towns. The style became known as a hybrid of punk and metal. The early grunge movement revolved around Seattle's independent record label Sub Pop and the region's underground music scene. The owners of Sub Pop marketed the style shrewdly, encouraging the media to describe it as "grunge". By the early 1990s, its popularity had spread, with grunge bands appearing in California, then emerging in other parts of the United States and in Australia, building strong followings and signing major record deals.

Emo is a rock music genre characterized by an emphasis on emotional expression, sometimes through confessional lyrics. It emerged as a style of post-hardcore from the mid-1980s hardcore punk movement in Washington, D.C., where it was known as emotional hardcore or emocore and pioneered by bands such as Rites of Spring and Embrace. In the early–mid 1990s, emo was adopted and reinvented by alternative rock, indie rock and pop punk bands such as Sunny Day Real Estate, Jawbreaker, Weezer and Jimmy Eat World, with Weezer breaking into the mainstream during this time. By the mid-1990s, bands such as Braid, the Promise Ring and the Get Up Kids emerged from the burgeoning Midwest emo scene, and several independent record labels began to specialize in the genre. Meanwhile, screamo, a more aggressive style of emo using screamed vocals, also emerged, pioneered by the San Diego bands Heroin and Antioch Arrow. Screamo achieved mainstream success in the 2000s with bands like Hawthorne Heights, Silverstein, Story of the Year, Thursday, The Used, and Underoath.

Indie rock is a genre of rock music that originated in the United States and United Kingdom in the 1970s. Originally used to describe independent record labels, the term became associated with the music they produced and was initially used interchangeably with alternative rock or "guitar pop rock". In the 1980s, the use of the term "indie" started to shift from its reference to recording companies to describe the style of music produced on punk and post-punk labels. During the 1990s, grunge and punk revival bands in the US and Britpop bands in the UK broke into the mainstream, and the term "alternative" lost its original counter-cultural meaning. The term "indie rock" became associated with the bands and genres that remained dedicated to their independent status. By the end of the 1990s, indie rock developed several subgenres and related styles, including lo-fi, noise pop, emo, slowcore, post-rock, and math rock. In the 2000s, changes in the music industry and a growing importance of the Internet enabled a new wave of indie rock bands to achieve mainstream success, leading to questions about its meaningfulness as a term.

Sub Pop American record label

Sub Pop is a record label founded in 1986 by Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman. Sub Pop achieved fame in the late 1980s for signing Seattle bands such as Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney, central players in the grunge movement. They are often credited with helping popularize grunge music. The label's roster includes Fleet Foxes, Foals, Beach House, The Postal Service, Flight of the Conchords, Sleater-Kinney, Blitzen Trapper, Father John Misty, Shabazz Palaces, Bully, METZ, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, TV Priest and The Shins. In 1995 the owners of Sub Pop sold a 49% stake of the label to the Warner Music Group.

Pop-punk is a form of rock music that combines the textures and fast tempos of punk rock with the melodies and chord progressions of pop music and power pop. It is defined for its emphasis on traditional pop songcraft and adolescent themes, and is distinguished from other punk-variant genres by drawing more heavily from 1960s pop rock and the music of bands such as the Beatles, the Kinks, and the Beach Boys.

<i>Bleach</i> (Nirvana album) 1989 studio album by Nirvana

Bleach is the debut studio album by the American rock band Nirvana, released on June 15, 1989 by Sub Pop. After the release of its debut single "Love Buzz" on Sub Pop in November 1988, Nirvana practiced for two to three weeks in preparation for recording a full-length album. The main recording sessions for Bleach took place at Reciprocal Recording in Seattle, Washington between December 1988 and January 1989.

Popular music in the 1990s saw the continuation of teen pop and dance-pop trends which had emerged in the 1970s and 1980s. Furthermore, hip hop grew and continued to be highly successful in the decade, with the continuation of the genre's golden age. Aside from rap, reggae, contemporary R&B and urban music in general remained extremely popular throughout the decade; urban music in the late-1980s and 1990s often blended with styles such as soul, funk and jazz, resulting in fusion genres such as new jack swing, neo-soul, hip hop soul and g-funk which were popular.

Australian indie rock is part of the overall flow of Australian rock history but has a distinct history somewhat separate from mainstream rock in Australia, largely from the end of the punk rock era onwards.

American rock

American rock has its roots in 1940s and 1950s rock and roll, rhythm and blues, and country music, and also drew on folk music, jazz, blues, and classical music. American rock music was further influenced by the British Invasion of the American pop charts from 1964 and resulted in the development of psychedelic rock.

Modern rock is rock music that followed the 1970s punk rock scene made between the mid 1970s to present day. Some radio stations use this term to distinguish themselves from classic rock, which is based in 1960s–1980s rock music.

In Bloom

"In Bloom" is a song by American rock band Nirvana, written by vocalist and guitarist, Kurt Cobain.

Lithium (Nirvana song) Song by Nirvana

"Lithium" is a song by American rock band Nirvana. It appears as the fifth track and third single from their second album Nevermind (1991). Written by frontman Kurt Cobain, the song is about a man who turns to religion amid thoughts of suicide. Nirvana first recorded "Lithium" in 1990 but then re-recorded the song the following year for Nevermind.

Alternative Airplay is a music chart in the United States that has appeared in Billboard magazine since September 10, 1988. It ranks the 40 most-played songs on alternative and modern rock radio stations. Introduced as Modern Rock Tracks, the chart served as a companion to the Mainstream Rock chart, and its creation was prompted by the explosion of alternative music on American radio in the late 1980s. During the first several years of the chart, it regularly featured music that did not receive commercial radio airplay anywhere but on a few modern rock and college rock radio stations. This included many electronic and post-punk artists. Gradually, as alternative rock became more mainstream, alternative and mainstream rock radio stations began playing many of the same songs. By late in the first decade of the 2000s, the genres became more fully differentiated with only limited crossover. The Alternative Airplay chart features more indie rock, indie pop, and synth-pop artists while the Mainstream Rock chart leans towards more guitar-tinged alternative rock, hard rock, and heavy metal.

Post-grunge is a rock music subgenre that emerged in the 1990s. Originally, the term was used almost pejoratively to label bands such as Bush, Candlebox and Collective Soul that emulated the original sound of grunge.

Popular music of the United Kingdom in the 1990s continued to develop and diversify. While the singles charts were dominated by boy bands and girl groups, British soul and Indian-based music also enjoyed their greatest level of mainstream success to date, and the rise of World music helped revitalise the popularity of folk music. Electronic rock bands like The Prodigy and Chemical Brothers began to achieve a high profile. Alternative rock reached the mainstream, emerging from the Madchester scene to produce dream pop, shoegazing, post rock and indie pop, which led to the commercial success of Britpop bands like Blur and Oasis; followed by a stream of post-Britpop bands like Travis and Feeder.

An independent music scene is a localized independent music-oriented community of bands and their audiences. Local scenes can play a key role in musical history and lead to the development of influential genres; for example, No Wave from New York City, Madchester from Manchester, and Grunge from Seattle.


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