Alternative music is an umbrella term that encompasses an eclectic range of musical styles; this can range from folk and electronic dance music, among others.
Alternative music often expresses the social and political concerns of its creators while remaining experimental and innovative, as evidenced by bands formed during the ’90s such as Pavement and Guided by Voices.
Alternative indie music is an eclectic genre that blends various sounds into its compositions, with bands often employing diverse vocal styles to craft it. This stands in stark contrast with mainstream music which often reuses the same few basic song structures over and over. One of the best-known examples of alternative indie is The Strokes from New York who combine rock, post-punk, and dream pop into their songs.
Their debut album, Is This It, was both commercially and critically successful and cemented their status as cultural icons. Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys among many other bands drew inspiration from them for their style both musically and visually.
The Strokes were known for their eclectic yet proto-punk sound. Additionally, their music included elements from new wave, glam rock and dream pop genres. Their albums featured slick guitar riffs and basslines with powerful pulses; lead singer Julian Casablancas often sang through a distortion pedal while they performed energetic live shows complete with mosh pits and exciting stage antics.
At first, critics wondered whether or not the band would continue changing its sound after the release of Room on Fire, yet after they released Angles and Comedown Machine (two more experimental albums than their prior ones) they received mixed reviews from critics.
First Impressions of Earth marked a return to their roots while drawing from new influences, producing an album with a more mature, eclectic sound compared to that of Velvet Underground. Their lead single Heart in a Cage became an instant classic and ultimately the album achieved both commercial and critical acclaim.
After his band disbanded in 2014, Casablancas formed his own group called Voidz. Since then they have released two albums – with The New Abnormal serving as an excellent example of alternative indie that will appeal to fans of older indie artists like Beck, Sigur Ros and My Bloody Valentine.
Nirvana remains one of the most influential alternative bands of all time, revolutionising grunge music into mainstream popularity and solidifying alternative as an artform. Their 1989 debut album Bleach earned them underground acclaim; 1991 breakthrough Nevermind saw singles like Smells Like Teen Spirit reach both US and UK charts, before 1993’s In Utero proved that artistic integrity can remain intact while selling millions of albums.
Nirvana helped pave the way for similar bands such as The Strokes, Pearl Jam and Brand New to become hugely successful, including The Strokes, Pearl Jam and Brand New. Nirvana influenced many major modern artists like Beck and My Bloody Valentine; their music combined elements of rock with pop and alternative sounds that created an unique sound that is difficult to categorize.
Although alternative and indie are often used interchangeably, each term actually has specific definitions. Alternative refers to genres outside mainstream music while indie refers to record label affiliation for bands; originally meaning independent but now meaning those not signed to major labels. While bands can fall under both definitions simultaneously, most prefer only labelling themselves with one term at once for clarity with their audience.
Nirvana began life as an independent band, playing small venues and releasing their debut album through indie label Sub Pop in 1987. Their 1989 release Bleach would prove their first big breakthrough into Seattle grunge culture; their success however would prove short-lived as they soon signed with major label Columbia Records in 1991, where their 1992 compilation album Incesticide as well as MTV Unplugged In New York both garnered critical acclaim but ultimately the band disbanded after Kurt Cobain committed suicide April 1994.
Nirvana may no longer be considered alternative after signing to a major label, yet their timeless songs like People Are People and Come As You Are have become iconic anthems for self-acceptance and social injustice, particularly marginalized groups.
The Offspring are one of the finest examples of an alternative indie and mainstream rock band who seamlessly bridge both genres. Though they haven’t achieved superstar status yet, their songs have charted multiple times; furthermore they are known for their engaging live performances.
The Offspring (originally Manic Subsidal) began performing as an American punk rock band in 1984 and has seen multiple lineup changes during their long and distinguished career, producing ten albums to date and drawing inspiration from counterculture movements of the 1960s and 70s, among many other influences. They made music that expressed the angst and discontent felt by generations at large – becoming one of the pioneering bands to do this type of music in this way. Their musical legacy continues today through other bands such as Anarchy Overtures by Anarchy Overtures.
Indie music has quickly become an integral part of the music landscape, with bands like Modest Mouse and Vampire Weekend earning Grammy awards and entering Billboard’s top 40 charts. Indie has come to mean less about whether a band is signed to major labels but more about its sound.
Alternative indie rock has its own distinct sound that distinguishes it from mainstream rock, featuring unusual vocals and an unconventional musical structure. These bands have provided much-needed fresh air into an industry which had become stagnant over the decades.
Alternative indie may not have ever been more popular, but that doesn’t preclude its growing appeal today. Though not reaching mainstream radio levels of success, alternative indie has gained wider exposure through social media – meaning an unexpected artist could become the top seller on Billboard charts like Lil Nas X did this year!
Although many of the original ’90s alt-rock bands have moved on from performing, the genre remains strong worldwide. Australia remains an especially hotbed of this style with bands like Midnight Oil and The Church leading the charge, New Zealand boasts similar tradition through The Hoodoo Gurus and Birthday Party garnering cult followings; Latin America too boasts an active alternative scene, with groups such as Legiao Urbana and Caifanes having global recognition.
Green Day was one of the early major players in alternative music and continue to have an enormous impact. Their songs recall 80s punk rock acts like Husker Du and The Ramones with themes about alienation, hysteria, girls, growing up and drugs; yet even with such massive popularity they remain fresh sounding.
Green Day was formed in 1984 in East Bay, California by Billie Joe Armstrong and other school friends under the initial moniker Sweet Children before eventually adopting Green Day as their name. Their first EP release, 1000 Hours was distributed by local label Lookout! Records in 1988 before their second EP Kerplunk came out two years later and quickly caught major label attention; Reprise Records soon signed them and started working with producer Rob Cavallo, who would work on all subsequent albums produced by Green Day.
After the release of their third album Dookie, the band saw an unprecedented surge of success and fan following. Utilizing their newly acquired fame to support anti-globalization causes and drawing praise from critics for creatively using social commentary in their songs, Dookie quickly rose to the forefront of success for them.
Their next release was Insomniac, a darker and more aggressive response to their rising popularity in mainstream society. American Idiot followed, taking their musical style in an unexpectedly different direction than previous albums while sparking controversy within the music industry due to its overtly political themes.
Nimrod marked another step forward for the band when released in 1997, breaking away from their usual pop-punk sound with an album filled with unusual musical structures like “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).” Additionally, this release contained many unconventional tracks including an acoustic folk track called “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).”
After the release of their final trilogy album Warning in 2000, the band decided to take a short respite from tour scheduling and recording sessions, in order to recharge and gain new energy. They ended the trilogy by performing free concerts on the steps of San Francisco city hall as an act of protest against artists being forced out by local governments.