Before You Buy Alternative Music
So, your asking the obligatory question, "What is Alternative Music?" There really is no set in-stone answer and the definition has changed over the years. Here is a look into the world of Alternative.
What Is It?
In it's purest sense, Alternative Music is the opposite of Pop music (i.e.; whatever is on the Popular music charts). However, Alternative has become an umbrella term for describing new rock music. Modern Rock is probably a better description. Alternative embodies many sub-genres including: Indie Rock, Alt Folk, Gothic, Brit-Pop, Alt.Country, Shoegazer, Nü-Metal, Grunge, Punk, Emo, New Wave, Post-Rock and literally dozens more.
• Alternative Artist Link Index
Where It Started
The roots of Alternative music go back to the late 1960s with bands like The Velvet Underground, Iggy and the Stooges, MC5, The Silver Apples and many more. These bands fused art and intellectualism, along with counterculture ideals, with rock and roll. The trend continued through out the 1970s with bands like David Bowie, T-Rex, Can, Neu, Kraftwerk, Television and The New York Dolls. All of these groups would be a major influence on the formation of Punk rock in about 1976-1977. Punk rock was very important to the development of Alternative music because of it's DIY (Do It Yourself) aesthetic. In other words, it took music out of the hands of dinosaur bands and arena rock and gave it back to people who were interested in creating something unique, even though they may not be a guitar virtuoso. By 1980, Punk was giving way to New Wave and the art and intellectualism was again being introduced into rock music. On college campuses everywhere, students were either forming bands or at least buying Alternative music.
How It Progressed
In the early to mid 1980's, bands such as REM and Echo & the Bunnymen became mainstay's on the college radio stations as well as late night video shows like Night Flight and 120 Minutes on MTV. It wasn't long before those college students were out in the "real" world and running the record labels and radio stations. Major Alternative radio stations began popping up around the US, but remained an underground phenomenon. Independent record labels were discovering 100s of talented bands and the Alternative underground was flourishing. The rules changed in 1991 when Nirvana's album Nevermind exploded. Alternative music was now a big money maker and suddenly, Alternative was the thing to be. Hundreds of Nirvana clone bands surfaced and all the major label record scouts wanted to be the one to discover the next Nirvana (nobody ever did). Most new releases from then on would be lumped into the Alternative category. Metallica, Gin Blossoms, Ani DiFranco, Sonic Youth and Oasis have virtually nothing in common, other than being modern musicians, but they are all squashed into the Alternative moniker.
Most of what gets called Alternative today is very much mainstream popular music. Many people have come to resent the words Alternative Music, since everything, good or bad, seems to get called alternative. However, there are still Independent Record labels and artists out there who demonstrate the alternative spirit of art and intellectualism. Ani DiFranco is a good example of a successful and respectable musician who's DIY ethic and truly unique style is indicative of an Alternative tag. New bands like The Strokes and The White Stripes, as well as Emo bands like Jimmy Eat World and Thurday are bigger than ever.
Alternative Music is made up of many different genres and styles. The following is a look at many of the most popular.
Bands that embody the Do It Yourself (DIY) attitude of Punk Rock. Their albums are recorded on a smaller budget and released through record labels that are not corporations, but independently owned. These bands are commonly though of as having more musical integrity than bands that record for major, corporate owned record labels.
Alt.Country (a.k.a. Insurgent)
A style that encompasses influences from Gram Parsons, Neil Young, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, interpreted through the eyes of musicians that were raised on Rock Music or even Punk Rock. Usually, the appeal of Country music to a young artist is the dark subject matter and emotional aspect of the music. This is not to be confused with the shiny, overproduced, 2 minute, faux emotional Country-Pop songs being played on Country radio.
Gothic Rock grew out of Punk Rock in the late 70s and early 80s. The music consists of dark imagery and cold, sinister and/or sorrowful sounds. People who are into Gothic music are known for wearing black clothes and vampirish looks. In addition, romanticism, religion and existentialism are all very important.
Punk Rock is basically traditional Rock and Roll (three chords and a melody) played faster, louder and angrier. Punk was one of the most important developments in pop culture and Alternative music because it took music out of the hands of the Classic Rock supergroups of the 70s and gave it back to the common man. Lyrics usually focus on politics or personal alienation.
True Industrial is organized noise presented as music. Early Industrial artists used tools such as jackhammers, saws, drills and sheet metal as instruments, paired them with samplers and avant-garde / experimental recording methods. Over the years, the genre has morphed into nothing more than dark electronic dance music.
Grunge is heavy, murky sounding Modern Rock. Artists were raised on the heavy sounds of 70s Metal bands like Black Sabbath or even Foghat, but also heavily influenced by Punk Rock, making them edgier sounding.
Named for the stage persona of it's key bands, they would stand motionless starring at their shoes (more likely their guitars). Deafeningly loud "wall of sound" guitars mixed with heavy atmospherics and buried vocals.
Term used for a band who has roots in Indie rock, but incorporates other styles like jazz, ambient, electronic or ambient into their sound, creating something entirely new and nontraditional. Basically, a term for bands that are hard to classify.
Emo originated as Hardcore Punk with more personal vocals. Today it's a hybrid of Indie Rock and Hardcore with a focus on expressive or emotional vocals.
Nü-Metal is basically Grunge infused with a heavy dose of Metal. They use 7-String guitars allowing for an extra low and heavy sound. These bands also have a tendency focus on self destruction and anger. Often, Rap style lyrics and attitudes are incorporated into the music.