Alternative rock (also called alternative music, alt-rock or simply alternative) is a style of rock music that emerged from the independent music underground of the 1980s and became widely popular in the 1990s. In this instance, the word "alternative" refers to the genre's distinction from mainstream rock 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. At times, "alternative" has been used as a catch-all description for music from underground rock artists that receives mainstream recognition, or for any music, whether rock or not, that is seen to be descended from punk rock (including some examples of punk itself, as well as new wave, and post-punk).
Alternative rock broadly consists of music that differs greatly in terms of its sound, social context and regional roots. By the end of 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 shoegaze. Most of these subgenres had achieved minor mainstream notice and a few bands representing them, such as Hüsker Dü and R.E.M., had even 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.
|Cultural origins||Late 1970s to early 1980s, United Kingdom and United States|
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 sold through record store chains that were owned by the entertainment corporations. The 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.
Before the term alternative rock came into common usage around 1990, the sort of music to which it refers was known by a variety of terms. In 1979, Terry Tolkin used the term Alternative Music to describe the groups he was writing about. In 1979 Dallas radio station KZEW had a late night new wave show entitled "Rock and Roll Alternative". "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. 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. By 1985, indie' had come to mean a particular genre, or group of subgenres, rather than simply distribution status.
The use of the term alternative to describe rock music originated around the mid-1980s; 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. Individuals who worked as 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". 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". 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". 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". 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 and Jane's Addiction. That same year, Farrell coined the term Alternative Nation. In the late 1990s, the definition again became more specific. 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".
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." 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. 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. 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; 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.
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. 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. 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." 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. 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.
A precursor to alternative rock existed in the 1960s with the proto-punk scene . We're Only In It For The Money by the Mothers of Invention (1967) is considered by some to be an early alternative rock album . Cabaret Voltaire, The Monochrome Set, Swell Maps, Pop Group and PIL were alternative rock groups in 1970s.
By 1984, a majority of groups signed to independent record 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.
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. 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. 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". 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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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. 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." 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." 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. [The Replacements] were one of the few underground bands that mainstream people liked."
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) 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. 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. Grunge featured a sludgy, murky guitar sound that synthesized heavy metal and punk rock. 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. Early grunge bands Soundgarden and Mudhoney found critical acclaim in the U.S. and UK, respectively.
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. Some bands such as Pixies had massive success overseas while they were ignored domestically.
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.
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. Bands of this subgenre took inspiration from two British post-punk groups, Joy Division and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Bauhaus' debut single "Bela Lugosi's Dead", released in 1979, is considered to be the proper beginning of the gothic rock subgenre. 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.
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". 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. 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.
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, while New Order emerged from the demise of post-punk band Joy Division and experimented with techno and house music. 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 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. 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.
By the start of the 1990s, the music industry was enticed by alternative rock's commercial possibilities and major labels actively courted bands including Jane's Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dinosaur Jr., Firehose, and Nirvana. In particular, R.E.M.'s success had become a blueprint for many alternative bands in the 1990s to follow; the group had outlasted many of its contemporaries and by the 1990s had become one of the most popular bands in the world.
The breakthrough success of the band Nirvana led to the widespread popularization of alternative rock in the 1990s. The release of the band's single "Smells Like Teen Spirit" from its second album Nevermind (1991) "marked the instigation of the grunge music phenomenon". Due to constant airplay of the song's music video on MTV, Nevermind was selling 400,000 copies a week by Christmas 1991. The success of Nevermind surprised the music industry. Nevermind not only popularized grunge, but also established "the cultural and commercial viability of alternative rock in general." 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.
Nirvana's surprise success with Nevermind heralded a "new openness to alternative rock" among commercial radio stations, opening doors for heavier alternative bands in particular. 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. 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." 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.
During the middle of the 90s, Alanis Morissette and band had huge success with the album Jagged Little Pill released in 1995. During the same year No Doubt released Tragic Kingdom to wide acclaim and Skunk Anansie released the album Paranoid & Sunburnt followed a year later by Stoosh.
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. By the second half of 1992 Ten became a breakthrough success, being certified gold and reaching number two on the Billboard 200 album chart. 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. The popular breakthrough of these grunge bands prompted Rolling Stone to nickname Seattle "the new Liverpool." 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.
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." 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. 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." Nevertheless, upon its release in September 1993 In Utero topped the Billboard charts. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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. 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), which went on to become the third best-selling album in the UK's history.
Long synonymous with alternative rock as a whole in the US, indie rock became a distinct form following the popular breakthrough of Nirvana. 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".
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. 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. The period also saw alternative confessional female singer-songwriters. Besides the aforementioned Liz Phair, PJ Harvey fit into this sub group.
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." Post-grunge was a more commercially viable genre that tempered the distorted guitars of grunge with polished, radio-ready production. 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. Bush, Candlebox and Collective Soul were labelled almost pejoratively as post-grunge which, according to Tim Grierson of About.com, 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." Post-grunge morphed during the late 1990s as post-grunge bands such as Foo Fighters, Creed and Nickelback emerged.
Post-rock was established by Talk Talk's Laughing Stock and Slint's Spiderland albums, both released in 1991. 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. While the name of the genre was coined by music journalist Simon Reynolds in 1994, the style of the genre was solidified by the release of Millions Now Living Will Never Die (1996) by the Chicago group Tortoise. 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. A related genre, math rock, peaked in the mid-1990s. In comparison to post-rock, math rock is more "rockist" and relies on complex time signatures and intertwining phrases. 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.
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. 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.
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, which in effect barred the group from playing many major venues around the United States. 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. 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".
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. 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.
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. 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). The new emo had a much more mainstream sound than in the 1990s and a far greater appeal amongst adolescents than its earlier incarnations. 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. Emo's mainstream success continued with bands emerging in the 2000s, including multi-platinum acts such as Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance and mainstream groups such as Paramore and Panic! at the Disco.
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. 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." Thirty Seconds to Mars experiencing a notable rise in popularity during the latter half of the 2000s. 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.
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. 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. While there have been conflicting opinions on the relevance of alternative rock to mainstream audiences beyond 2010, Dave Grohl commented on an article from the December 29, 2013 issue of the New York Daily News stating that rock is dead: "speak for yourself... rock seems pretty alive to me." Contemporary mainstream alternative rock bands tend to fuse musical elements of hard rock, electronic, 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. American alternative duo Twenty One Pilots blurs the lines between genres including hip-hop, emo, indie pop and reggae and has managed to break numerous records. They become the first alternative act to have two concurrent top five singles in the United States while their fourth studio album Blurryface (2015) was the very first album in history to have every song receive at least a Gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America.
Adult album alternative (also triple-A, AAA, or adult alternative) is a radio format. A spinoff from the album-oriented rock format, its roots trace to the 1960s and 1970s from the earlier freeform and progressive formats.Alternative Songs
Alternative Songs (also called Alternative and formerly known as Modern Rock Tracks and Hot Modern Rock Tracks) is a music chart in the United States that has appeared in Billboard magazine since September 10, 1988. It lists the 40 most-played songs on alternative and modern rock radio stations. The chart was introduced as a companion to the Mainstream Rock Tracks 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" (particularly spearheaded by the grunge explosion in the early 1990s), the Alternative Songs and Mainstream Rock Songs charts began featuring more of the same songs. However, the formats would differentiate themselves by the late 2000s. Today, the Alternative Songs chart favors more indie rock, indie pop, and synth-pop bands while the Mainstream Rock Songs chart favors more alternative rock, hard rock, and heavy metal music.
The chart is based solely on radio airplay. As of 2012, approximately 80 radio stations are electronically monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week by Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems. Songs are ranked by a calculation of the total number of spins per week with its "audience impression", which is based upon exact times of airplay and each station's Arbitron listener data. The chart had 30 positions when it was introduced in September 1988, and was expanded to 40 positions on September 10, 1994.The chart was renamed Alternative Songs beginning with the June 20, 2009 issue after Billboard fully absorbed Radio & Records, whose similar chart was called "Alternative" instead of "Modern Rock".The Red Hot Chili Peppers hold the record for most number-one songs at 13, a record they have held since 2016.Foo Fighters are the chart's top act and "Uprising" by Muse is the Alternative Songs chart's all-time No. 1 song.The first number-one song on the Alternative Songs chart was "Peek-a-Boo" by Siouxsie and the Banshees. The current number-one song for the chart dated April 20, 2019, is "Ready to Let Go" by Cage the Elephant.Alternative metal
Alternative metal (also known as alt-metal) is a rock music fusion genre that infuses heavy metal with influences from alternative rock and other genres not normally associated with metal. Alternative metal bands are often characterized by heavily downtuned, mid-paced guitar riffs, a mixture of accessible melodic vocals and harsh vocals and sometimes unconventional sounds within other heavy metal styles. The term has been in use since the 1980s, although it came into prominence in the 1990s.Other genres considered part of the alternative metal movement included rap metal and funk metal, both of which influenced another prominent subgenre, nu metal. Nu metal expands the alternative metal sound, combining its vocal stylings and downtuned riffs with elements of other genres, such as hip hop, funk, thrash metal, hardcore punk and industrial metal.Benjamin Burnley
Benjamin Jackson Burnley IV (born March 10, 1978) is an American musician, singer, songwriter, and record producer, best known as the founder and frontman of the American rock band Breaking Benjamin. As the sole constant of the group, Burnley has served as its principal songwriter, lead vocalist, and guitarist since its inception in 1999. Since signing with Hollywood Records in 2002, Burnley has composed six studio albums under the name Breaking Benjamin, three of which have reached platinum and two of which have reached gold in the United States. Outside of Breaking Benjamin, Burnley has also collaborated with acts such as Adam Gontier and Red.Burnley's lyrical content frequently and most recently consists of cryptic, angst-ridden themes that "waffle between being plaintive and aggressive." Burnley has the range of a tenor and occasionally utilizes death growls in his singing. IGN described him as having a "somewhat innocuous voice that is crystal clear... fluctuating between contemplative subjectivity and growling anger." Burnley uses baritone guitars and drop tunings to match the range of his voice.Billie Joe Armstrong
Billie Joe Armstrong (born February 17, 1972) is an American singer, songwriter, musician, record producer, and actor. Armstrong serves as the lead vocalist, primary songwriter, and lead guitarist of the punk rock band Green Day, co-founded with Mike Dirnt. He is also a guitarist and vocalist for the punk rock band Pinhead Gunpowder, and provides lead vocals for Green Day's side projects Foxboro Hot Tubs, The Network and The Longshot.
Raised in Rodeo, California, Armstrong developed an interest in music at a young age, and recorded his first song at the age of five. He met Mike Dirnt while attending elementary school, and the two instantly bonded over their mutual interest in music, forming the band Sweet Children when the two were 15 years old. The band changed its name to Green Day, and would later achieve commercial success. Armstrong has also pursued musical projects outside of Green Day's work, including numerous collaborations with other musicians.
In 1997, to coincide with the release of Nimrod, Armstrong founded Adeline Records in Oakland to help support other bands releasing music, and signed bands such as The Frustrators, AFI and Dillinger Four. The record company later came under the management of Pat Magnarella and finally shut down in August 2017.Black Francis
Charles Thompson IV (born April 6, 1965) is an American singer, songwriter, and guitarist. He is best known as the frontman of the influential alternative rock band Pixies, with whom he performs under the stage name Black Francis. Following the band's breakup in 1993, he embarked on a solo career under the name Frank Black. After releasing two albums with record label 4AD and one with American Recordings, he left the label and formed a new band, Frank Black and the Catholics. He re-adopted the name Black Francis in 2007.
His vocal style has varied from a screaming, yowling delivery as lead vocalist of the Pixies to a more measured and melodic style in his solo career. His cryptic lyrics mostly explore unconventional subjects, such as surrealism, incest, and biblical violence, along with science fiction and surf culture. His use of atypical meter signatures, loud–quiet dynamics, and distinct preference for live-to-two-track recording during his time with the Catholics, give him a distinct style within alternative rock.Thompson regrouped the Pixies in early 2004 and continues to release solo records and tour as a solo artist.Chris Martin
Christopher Anthony John Martin (born 2 March 1977) is an English singer, songwriter, musician, record producer, and philanthropist. He is the lead singer and co-founder of the rock band Coldplay. Born in Exeter in Devon, Martin went to University College London where he formed a rock band with Jonny Buckland in 1996 called Pectoralz, which was eventually renamed Coldplay in 1998.
Martin, along with the other Coldplay members, achieved worldwide fame with the release of the band's single "Yellow" in 2000, a song that also earned the band their first Grammy Award nomination in the Grammy Award for Best Rock Song. The band also garnered critical acclaim and several accolades for their subsequent albums including A Rush of Blood to the Head and Viva la Vida, winning a Grammy Award for both and a Brit Award for the former. Coldplay has sold over 90 million records worldwide, making them one of the world's best-selling music artists. One of the highest profile musicians in British popular culture, Martin appeared on Debrett's 2017 list of the most influential people in the United Kingdom.Christian alternative rock
Christian alternative rock is a form of alternative rock music that is lyrically grounded in a Christian worldview. Some critics have suggested that unlike CCM and older Christian rock, Christian alternative rock generally emphasizes musical style over lyrical content as a defining genre characteristic, though the degree to which the faith appears in the music varies from artist to artist.Dave Grohl
David Eric Grohl (born January 14, 1969) is an American singer, songwriter, musician and director. He is the founder, lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist and primary songwriter of the rock band Foo Fighters since 1994, and was the best known and longest-serving drummer for Nirvana from 1990 to 1994, when they disbanded following the death of Kurt Cobain.
Foo Fighters meld melodic elements with heavier ones, and have found worldwide success and won multiple awards, most notably with four of their albums winning Grammy Awards for Best Rock Album. With Nirvana, Grohl established himself as a highly appreciated drummer, and in 2014 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside bandmates Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic in the group's first year of eligibility. Grohl is also the drummer and co-founder of the rock supergroup Them Crooked Vultures, and wrote the music and performed all the instruments for his short-lived side projects Late! and Probot. He has also recorded and frequently toured with rock band Queens of the Stone Age.Dolores O'Riordan
Dolores Mary Eileen O'Riordan (; 6 September 1971 – 15 January 2018) was an Irish musician, singer and songwriter. She was the vocalist for rock band The Cranberries from 1990 until they disbanded in 2003, later reuniting with her band in 2009, which she led until her death in 2018. Her death caused the Cranberries to disband again.
O'Riordan's first solo album, Are You Listening?, was released in May 2007 and was followed up by No Baggage in 2009. O'Riordan was known for her lilting mezzo-soprano voice, her emphasised use of keening, and her strong Limerick accent. She appeared as a judge on RTÉ's The Voice of Ireland during the 2013–14 season. In April 2014, O'Riordan joined and began recording new material with the trio D.A.R.K.Dream pop
Dream pop (or dreampop) is a subgenre of alternative rock and neo-psychedelia that developed in the 1980s. The style is typified by a preoccupation with sonic texture and atmosphere as much as melody. It often overlaps with the related genre of shoegazing, and the two genre terms have at times been used interchangeably.Kate Bush
Catherine Bush (born 30 July 1958) is an English singer, songwriter, and record producer. Bush came to notice in 1978 when, aged 19, she topped the UK Singles Chart for four weeks with her debut single "Wuthering Heights", becoming the first female artist to achieve a UK number one with a self-written song. She has since released 25 UK Top 40 singles, including the top-10 hits "The Man with the Child in His Eyes", "Babooshka", "Running Up That Hill", "Don't Give Up" (a duet with Peter Gabriel) and "King of the Mountain". She has released ten studio albums, all of which reached the UK Top 10, including the UK number-one albums Never for Ever (1980), Hounds of Love (1985), and the compilation The Whole Story (1986). She is the first British solo female artist to top the UK album charts and the first female artist to enter the album chart at number one.Bush began writing songs at 11. She was signed to EMI Records after Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour helped produce a demo tape. Her debut album, The Kick Inside, was released in 1978. Bush slowly gained artistic independence in album production, and has produced all her studio albums since The Dreaming (1982). She took a hiatus between her seventh and eighth albums The Red Shoes (1993) and Aerial (2005). She drew attention again in 2014 with her concert residency Before the Dawn, her first shows since 1979's The Tour of Life.
Bush's eclectic and experimental musical style with literary and unconventional lyrical themes has influenced a diverse range of artists. She has been nominated 13 times for British Phonographic Industry accolades, winning for Best British Female Artist in 1987. She has also been nominated for three Grammy Awards. In 2002, she was recognised with an Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music. In October 2017 she was nominated for induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018. Bush was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2013 New Year Honours for services to music.Keanu Reeves
Keanu Charles Reeves ( kee-AH-noo; born September 2, 1964) is a Canadian actor, director, producer, and musician. He gained fame for his starring role performances in several blockbuster films, including comedies from the Bill and Ted franchise (1989–1991); action thrillers Point Break (1991), Speed (1994), and the John Wick franchise (2014–2019); psychological thriller The Devil's Advocate (1997); supernatural thriller Constantine (2005); and science fiction/action series The Matrix (1999–2003). He has also appeared in dramatic films, such as Dangerous Liaisons (1988), My Own Private Idaho (1991), and Little Buddha (1993), as well as the romantic horror Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992).
Reeves has earned critical acclaim for his acting. One New York Times critic praised Reeves' versatility, saying that he "displays considerable discipline and range... he moves easily between the buttoned-down demeanor that suits a police procedural story and the loose-jointed manner of his comic roles". However, Reeves has spent much of his later career being typecast. A recurring character arc in many roles he has portrayed is one of saving the world, as can be seen in the characters of Ted Logan, Buddha, Neo, Johnny Mnemonic, John Constantine, and Klaatu. His acting has garnered several awards, including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
During his film career, Reeves has engaged in several forms of artistic expression. He is a musician and played bass guitar for the bands Dogstar and Becky. Acting onstage, he performed as Prince Hamlet for the Manitoba Theatre Centre's production of Hamlet. He wrote the text for a picture book, Ode to Happiness, illustrated by Alexandra Grant. He has also produced a documentary, Side by Side, and directed the martial arts film Man of Tai Chi.Kurt Cobain
Kurt Donald Cobain (February 20, 1967 – April 5, 1994) was an American singer, songwriter, and musician, best known as the guitarist and frontman of the rock band Nirvana. Cobain is remembered as one of the most iconic and influential rock musicians in the history of alternative music.
Born in Aberdeen, Washington, Cobain formed the band Nirvana with Krist Novoselic and Aaron Burckhard in 1987 and established it as part of the Seattle music scene which later became known as grunge. After signing with major label DGC Records, Nirvana found success with "Smells Like Teen Spirit" from their second album Nevermind (1991). Following the success of Nevermind, Nirvana was labelled "the flagship band" of Generation X, and Cobain was hailed as "the spokesman of a generation"; however, Cobain resented this, believing his message and artistic vision had been misinterpreted by the public, with his personal problems often subject to media attention.During the last years of his life, Cobain struggled with heroin addiction and chronic health problems such as depression. He also struggled with the personal and professional pressures of fame, and his marriage to musician Courtney Love. On April 8, 1994, at the age of 27, Cobain was found dead at his home in Seattle, and police concluded he died on April 5 from a self-inflicted shotgun wound to his head.Cobain has been described as a "Generation X icon". He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, along with Nirvana bandmates Dave Grohl and Novoselic, in their first year of eligibility in 2014. In 2003, David Fricke of Rolling Stone ranked him the 12th greatest guitarist of all time. He was ranked 7th by MTV in the "22 Greatest Voices in Music". In 2006, he was placed 20th by Hit Parader on their list of the "100 Greatest Metal Singers of All Time".List of alternative rock artists
This is a list of alternative rock artists.
Media related to alternative rock at Wikimedia Commons.
Bands are listed alphabetically by the first letter in their name, and individuals are listed by first name.Matt Bellamy
Matthew James Bellamy (born 9 June 1978) is an English singer, musician, and songwriter. He is best known as the lead singer, guitarist, pianist, and primary songwriter of the rock band Muse. He is recognised for his eccentric stage persona, wide tenor vocal range, and abilities on the piano and guitar.Many Muse songs are recognisable by Bellamy's use of vibrato, falsetto, and melismatic phrasing, influenced by Jeff Buckley. As a guitarist, Bellamy often uses the arpeggiator and pitch-shift effects to create a more "electronic" sound, citing Jimi Hendrix and Tom Morello as influences. His guitar playing is also influenced by Latin and Spanish guitar music. His lyrics often incorporate political and dystopian themes.
Muse have won numerous awards, including two Grammy Awards, winning the Grammys for Best Rock Album for The Resistance and Drones, two Brit Awards, winning Best British Live Act twice, five MTV Europe Music Awards and eight NME Awards. They have sold over 20 million albums worldwide. In 2012 the band received the Ivor Novello Award for International Achievement from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.Michael Stipe
John Michael Stipe (born January 4, 1960) is an American singer-songwriter and the lead singer of the alternative rock band R.E.M. from their formation in 1980 until their dissolution in 2011.
Possessing a distinctive voice, Stipe has been noted for the "mumbling" style of his early career. He was in charge of R.E.M.'s visual aspect, often selecting album artwork and directing many of the band's music videos. Outside the music industry, he owns and runs two film production studios, C-00 and Single Cell Pictures.
As a member of R.E.M., Stipe was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. As a singer-songwriter, Stipe influenced a wide range of artists, including Kurt Cobain of Nirvana and Thom Yorke of Radiohead. Bono of U2 described his voice as "extraordinary".Modern rock
Modern rock is rock music made between the late 1970s to present day. Some radio stations use this term to distinguish themselves from classic rock, which is based in 1960s–1980s rock music.Noise rock
Noise rock (sometimes called noise punk) is a noise-oriented style of experimental rock that spun off from punk rock in the 1980s. Drawing on movements such as minimalism, industrial music, and New York hardcore, artists indulge in extreme levels of distortion through the use of electric guitars and, less frequently, electronic instrumentation, either to provide percussive sounds or to contribute to the overall arrangement.Some groups are tied to song structures, such as Sonic Youth. Although they are not representative of the entire genre, they helped popularize noise rock among alternative rock audiences by incorporating melodies into their droning textures of sound, which set a template that numerous other groups followed.
decade of origin
|Subgenres and |
|People and groups|