Alternative or indie music refers to rock and pop music that’s produced outside the mainstream by musicians from outside its market. This genre often incorporates homemade elements, being less polished than mainstream offerings.
In the 2000s, guitar rock (Phoebe Bridgers, Soccer Mommy, Porridge Radio and Mitski) reigned supreme. These days however, Folktronica offers an exciting blend of electronica with acoustic instruments.
The White Stripes
Jack and Meg White revolutionized indie rock in the Noughties with their electrifying blues sound that defied military might. Detroit-based, candy cane sorta-siblings Jack and Meg White launched a garage-blues revival that attracted imitators such as Ohio’s Black Keys and England’s Royal Blood; yet behind their cartoonish aesthetic lay virtuosic musicianship and an unforgettable journey of Motor City struggle and romance.
Their music is an exquisite minimalist masterpiece that maximizes the power of guitar-drum duo, conjuring up an effect similar to arena rock as handcrafted in an attic. Guitarist Jack White brings together punk, metal and backwoods grit into one unique vocal performance; drummer Meg White keeps pace by pairing his fretwork with sparse but powerful cymbal, bass drum and snare cracks for maximum impact.
They drew heavily upon blues music as much as punk and country, yet never devolved into stereotypical, offensive caricatures or racist cultural appropriation. Their blues obsession manifested itself in mellow slide solos, Blind Willie McTell tribute songs like “I’m Bound to Pack It Up”, and an unexpected guest appearance of harpist on “Apple Blossom,” yet these gestures were always balanced with an inherent sense of restraint that ensured their songs remained respectfully diverse while never devolved into stereotypical caricatures or self-congratulatory navel-gazing.
Elephant, the band’s breakthrough album, now comes with a 20th anniversary edition that includes a bonus disc containing their live performance at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom from 1999 and an accompanying book of lyrics including unpublished rough drafts and photographs, plus essays written by Third Man Records co-founder Ben Blackwell, writer Hanif Abdurraqib and Nashville poet Caroline Randall Williams.
At a time when music has become disposable and disposable bands are all-too-common, the White Stripes stand as a shining example of creating something original and vital. While some might dispute their later efforts did not live up to early promise, the reissues of White Blood Cells and Elephant are well worth owning for hearing their original material at its best; their unique track list also uncovers long forgotten gems within their songbook.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers
Red Hot Chili Peppers (RHCP), formed in Los Angeles by high school friends Anthony Kiedis, Hillel Slovak and Michael Peter Balzary (aka Flea) in 1983, have long been one of the most innovative rock bands ever. Rooted in alternative rock with an emphasis on funk as well as influences from punk and psychedelic rock genres; live performances are known for being high-energy with dynamic stage presence as well as an improvisational approach from each member of the band.
Initially, the group played at Los Angeles-area strip clubs and musical venues where they perfected their sound while honing their on-stage act, performing naked with tube sock coverings on selected parts of their bodies. Following an exceptional show at The Rhythm Lounge club owner asked them back the following week; six songs from that initial performance made its way onto their first demo tape, which helped secure more bookings for them.
By 1983, manager Lindy Goetz had secured them with a record deal and changed their name to What Is This? Shortly after signing, Irons and Slovak decided to leave What Is This for more serious music careers with their band Anthym, leaving Kiedis as the sole remaining member. To fill in their gaps, Kiedis hired drummer Cliff Martinez from punk band The Weirdos as drummer, as well as guitarist Jack Sherman.
After the release of their 1989 album Mother’s Milk, Blood Sugar Sex Magik quickly rose in popularity – but this success proved short-lived as guitarist John Frusciante left in 1992 to be replaced by Dave Navarro who then appeared on their 1995 release One Hot Minute but didn’t receive as much critical or commercial acclaim as Blood Sugar Sex Magik had done.
Kiedis and Smith have remained consistent members throughout their history despite numerous lineup changes; nominated for 16 Grammy Awards (winning six) as an alternative rock group; continue touring globally; their most recent album release being 2016’s “The Getaway”.
At the dawn of the 21st century, indie rock bands like The Strokes restored style and catchy songwriting to an otherwise dour genre – post-grunge music had long since died out – with striking results. Hailing from New York’s hipster scene, these New York hipsters managed to craft their own sound that combined classic tunesmiths’ melodic sensibility with that of fellow NYC bands – an influence still evident today and inspiring numerous bands that would follow in their footsteps.
The Strokes were formed from a group of musicians that all graduated from Manhattan high schools, and their music is an expression of that experience. Their songs feature smooth yet intelligent melodies with lyrics telling tales of love and loss; at the same time they push genre boundaries by experimenting with various sounds and styles.
“Ode To The Mets” features raw vocals and distorted guitar, with melancholic undertones. Furthermore, “Maps” takes an introspective approach to longing; featuring Karen O’s emotive vocals and melodic riffs to make this track an indie classic.
However, “Jerk It Out” has more upbeat energy with a catchy beat and infectious melody – making it a favorite on indie rock playlists everywhere.
The Strokes remain active today, though their style has evolved considerably over time. Experimentation with modern production and synths continues while remaining faithful to their indie roots; The New Abnormal was released as their sixth studio album and showcased this more mature side of them.
Other notable indie rock acts include The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who have earned industry respect with their vibrant live shows and innovative soundscapes. Comprised of three brothers and a cousin, their diverse sound draws upon Southern rock, gospel music and jazz genres; inspiring other acts such as Fleet Foxes and Mumford & Sons who blend folk-based indie rock music with a contemporary edge.
Indie rock bands that blend pop elements into their music have found success by crafting catchy tunes that are relatable and accessible to listeners. Artists such as MGMT and Crystal Castles use electronic sounds for an innovative sound; some have become mainstream while others continue innovating the genre.
The Killers are an iconic indie rock band known for their distinctive blend of vocal and musical qualities that resemble those found in Franz Ferdinand and Yeah Yeah Yeahs songs, such as high vocals, strict rhythm, and ironic text. These bands are well-renowned across the world.
Hot Fuss was released as The Killers’ breakthrough album in 2004, landing at number five on US charts and becoming an international smash hit, garnering many prestigious awards (such as Best Rock Album at Grammys ). Following its success, The Killers embarked on an international tour, playing shows in many countries worldwide.
In 2008, they released Day & Age, an album which forgoing Americana-infused Sam’s Town for pop pastiches and Bowie-influenced dance-rock elements. It proved both commercially and critically successful; “Human” even reached #1 on both charts! Day & Age was followed up with a world tour and subsequent live DVD release at Royal Albert Hall.
Following their debut success, The Killers have released seven studio albums and four live recordings since. Wonderful Wonderful was their most recent effort and reached number one both in the UK and Australia upon its release last year – it marked their first record sans drummer Brandon Flowers; Brian Eno and Mark Knopfler each provided contributions on it as well.
The Killers provide an alternative form of indie rock music and draw inspiration from various genres of music. Their sound is distinct and has inspired other bands to emulate it. Their songs combine elements of both dark and upbeat genres of music that has won them numerous fans around the globe. Therefore, it’s wise to keep an open mind when exploring different styles of music as you may discover your new favorite band!