Who Created Alternative Indie Music?

When people hear “indie,” they likely think of white guys with long hair strumming a guitar and wearing jeans; but what does the term really signify?

Today, indie is more than a genre–it represents an attitude of authenticity and independence. Artists such as Arctic Monkeys and Weezer create music that transcends genre labels.

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan paved the way for singer-songwriters with more to say than simple love songs with his poetic writing and gravelly voice, not only through songs but also with sparse instrumentation that recalls Drake’s depression before his tragic suicide.

Even after his lack of chart success in the 1990s, he continued touring and releasing live albums such as Trouble No More box set.

He collaborated with artists like guitarist Scott Amendola from Wilco, as well as California avant jazz musician Nels Cline. Their version of Dylan’s “Masters of War” provides an example of alternative indie music’s early sound with its haunting vocal line and acoustic opening, an electric bass solo, and haunting backing vocals reminiscent of folk music.

Nick Drake

Nick Drake died at 26 in 1974, yet his work continues to reach new audiences decades after. It has served as an influence for indie artists who have made their own unique interpretations of his unique soundworld.

Drake remains influential despite not finding commercial success during his life; his meditative take on English folk has left an indelible mark upon subsequent artists’ works. His sparse yet haunting vocals provide the musical backdrop to which many subsequent artists can draw.

Joe Boyd understood this and worked tirelessly to ensure other musicians could add to his vision. He encouraged collaborations among talented friends – for instance arranging for harpsichordist John Cale to play “Poor Boy”, and inviting percussionist Rocky Dzizornu on “Free Ride”. These unique collaborations gave each song on Drake’s albums its own distinct sound.


Post-punk and new wave movements of the 1980s brought with them an exploration of music and politics. Artists such as Joy Division and The Cure integrated elements from rock, art rock, punk and electronic music to craft darker yet introspective sounds; their influence even extended into bands like R.E.M. who created music that spoke directly to a disillusioned generation.

Indie music evolved as a genre characterized by non-commercially driven, song-led guitar music with DIY aesthetics, often featuring realist or pessimistic lyrics with strong sociopolitical or arts references.

American band REM established their signature indie sound on their initial five albums released through independent label I.R.S. The group embraced the independence and unconventionality of indie music despite eventually signing with major record label Warner Records. Although named REM after dictionary definition of rapid eye movement (REM), singer Michael Stipe insisted they never meant for their name to connote sleep physiology.

The Replacements

Paul Westerberg, Bob Stinson and Tommy Stinson formed The Replacements in 1979 and recorded seven albums before disbanding in 1991. These musicians have since been heralded as one of the great bands of all time while providing inspiration to subsequent indie rock acts.

Though they had signed with major labels, they retained the irreverent, upbeat punk spirit that had made them popular on songs like ‘Dose of Thunder’ and ‘Kiss Me on the Bus’. Their album cover for Pleased to Meet You (showing Paul wearing a torn shirt while shaking hands with an impressive Rolex-wearing record executive) demonstrated this.

The Replacements were an unruly band, yet their music remains iconic from the 1980s. Their catchy punk-influenced rock songs helped define an entire generation of alternative music.

Husker Du

Husker Du was not known for their romantic appeal, but they nonetheless created a sound which set themselves apart from any other band at the time, often singing politically-charged tunes.

R.E.M, The Replacements and Black Flag were heavily influenced by RHCP during their eighties rock scene glory days; as were countless others. RHCP were pioneers of melodic hardcore with heavy psychedelic influences combined with shattering volume levels; creating what can only be described as groundbreaking music!

Bob Mould (vocals and guitar), Greg Norton (bass), and Grant Hart (drums) created an unforgettable sound in classic albums like ‘Zen Arcade’, ‘New Day Rising’, and ‘Flip Your Wig’, which was both anthemic yet emotive. This book provides insight into their work lives as well as personal lives; making for a fascinating read!

The Pixies

Even with their modest commercial success, the Pixies became an influential force in alternative indie music. Their unique guitar sound provided inspiration for several bands like Nirvana, Radiohead and Weezer to use their sound as part of their sound palette.

Black Francis was known for penning lyrics with dark, cryptic themes relating to mental instability and violent biblical imagery, including mental instability. His plaintive, desperate vocals added further depth and aggression to their sound.

Guitarist Joey Santiago made memorable textures with his playing, adding mini-hooks to Francis’ vocal melodies and giving them mini-hooks of his own. Their 1988 album Surfer Rosa became an instantaneous classic thanks to four key factors.

The Smiths

The Smiths were one of the most iconic bands of their era and have left an indelible mark on alternative indie music. Morrissey’s introspective lyrics combined with Johnny Marr’s inventive guitar melodies produced an irresistibly melancholic yet catchy sound that captured listeners worldwide.

Morrissey, Marr, Andy Rourke, and Mike Joyce formed The Smiths in 1982 in Manchester, England. Their songs explored topics like alienation, unrequited love and social disillusionment – leaving a lasting impactful on fans as well as nonconformists alike.

Their work represented an early departure from synthesizer driven new wave and heralded in an age of guitar rock that would shape English rock until the mid ’90s. Influences ranged from the Stone Roses and Oasis through Morrissey’s poetic lyrics and unique falsetto voice, all the way to hip-hop culture at large.


Nirvana may be best known for popularizing grunge, but they did so much more. Through their music and videos, they exposed how Hollywood glamour was fake. And they proved anyone could create a successful rock band by remaining true to themselves.

Their raw authenticity helped break down genre barriers, while inspiring a whole new generation of bands who continued exploring diverse sounds and perspectives. It marked a moment when artists realized they could make music without major label support; we now see bands like Weezer using their fame to support important causes like Weezer did, while bands such as Bratmobile or L7 inspired whole new generations with their rough-clattering punk style, which can all be traced back to Kurt Cobain and Nirvana.


After closing for Oasis, Weezer attracted the notice of producer Ric Ocasek and his label DGC. Ocasek sent them to New York to record their debut album; during which time guitarist Jason Cropper was dismissed due to him disrupting Cuomo and bassist Matt Sharp’s chemistry; Brian Bell from Carnival Art replaced him.

Though their origins lay elsewhere (Singer-guitarist Rivers Cuomo was originally from Connecticut; drummer Matt Sharp hails from Arlington Virginia; bassist Brian Bell hails from Knoxville Tennessee), Weezer quickly rose to stardom within LA’s music scene with their powerful power pop sound that resonated with young audiences. Maladroit and Live albums followed, marking Weezer’s early experimental side; they explored ways of distilling down songs into pure pop essence.

The Killers

The Killers have quickly established themselves as pioneers of alternative music with their catchy indie rock anthems and electrifying live performances, which have catapulted them to stardom as an influential band. Working alongside renowned producers and musicians has only cemented this status further.

Hot Fuss, their 2004 debut album, earned critical acclaim and propelled Las Vegas rock quartet into international recognition. This success led to subsequent albums such as Sam’s Town and Day & Age being released by them.

With each new album released by the band, they have demonstrated its musical evolution and willingness to push creative boundaries. Their most recent effort, Battle Born, involved five producers – including Stuart Price himself – as well as including “Human,” which was inspired by Brandon Flowers’ loss of his mother.