This article will discuss why alternative music is called alternative. You may be wondering why would an independent record label or even an indie band even call themselves an alternative band?
I believe it has something to do with the fact that “alternative music” has always focused on emerging musicians and their fans.
As rock music expanded its borders beyond North America, Canada, and Europe in the 1960s, there was no negative connotation attached to “alternative”; it was simply a descriptor that young bands and fans alike wore with pride.
As new subgenres such as jazz, post-punk and new wave came to the fore, alternative’s precise meaning became muddled. In fact, the term’s usages started to deteriorate into something akin to a catch-all for a wider spectrum of experimental styles.
During this decade, a specific type of alt-rock developed could arguably be considered an alternative to mainstream rock music. Known as grunge, this was a genre typified by lyrics that addressed the negative aspects of modern life and a non-standard musical format (3/4 time) that significantly differentiates it from other forms of rock music.
With the popularization of the internet and the massive digitalization of music production in the 1990s, alternative’s wide-ranging definition became even more diffuse. The genre moved away from the record label’s polished image and on-stage performances towards a more raw, underground aesthetic.
Why is a piece of music deemed an alternative if it has little or no influence from mainstream rock music? Isn’t music supposed to be subjective?
Isn’t that the whole point of making music? The answer is that, yes, it’s subjective, but one way of limiting the scope of the term is to think of alternative music as a reaction against mainstream rock music.
The Pixies are an American alternative band that came to the fore in the early 90s. They were well-established by their 1995 album. Doolittle made the number-one spot on the US album charts.
However, their popularity started to wane after lead singer, and songwriter Black Francis openly denounced women on the album’s sleeve. His controversial statements were so outrageous that many critics felt the album was tainted with sexism.
If you search for alternative music on YouTube, you’ll find plenty of music that resembles popular rock music but doesn’t follow a rigid formula. One of the most popular examples is the hefty metal band Cage the Elephant.
On their 2012 album Tell Me I’m Pretty, the “alternative” references come from its title. However, on their second album Dead Vomit, they used the term to describe the band’s reputation as a sex symbol and even incorporate it into their music videos (for example: “Tilting at the Univiscute”).
You can’t spell alternative without alternative
Alternative music is now so diffuse that it’s virtually impossible to pin it down to a genre. So, who, then, should be credited with creating the term? There’s no doubt the Pixies were instrumental in defining the genre in their own way.
However, the term was popularized by Trent Reznor, the singer of Nine Inch Nails. He made it into a rallying cry in 1993 with his song “Head Like a Hole” and has continued to use the term as a label for his style of music.
In contrast, the Pixies were essentially a minor commercial success; their first record was released on a major label, Elektra Records.
When Reznor declared, “Alternative music does not exist,” he wasn’t speaking from the viewpoint of an outsider (like the Pixies) but instead from one who had already had plenty of experience in music and had broken through the barriers that were holding the new subgenre back from the mainstream.
Reznor’s advocacy also connected the term with the online music community, which had recently emerged and was rapidly consolidating into one dominant voice. In a way, he allowed alternatives to be incorporated into the mainstream without it having to conform to mainstream rock parameters.
You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t list your favorite alternative band. There is no universal definition for the term “alternative,” and there’s no way that I’d cherry-pick my list.
You will find a few other examples, however. So, how do you decide which one is the best?
With the rise of bands like Arcade Fire, the Black Keys, Arcade Fire, and The Black Keys and the rise of YouTube and its prominence on the music scene, alternative music has been defined by these bands. These acts have toured and supported each other and recorded together (for example, all three acts participated in the Arcade Fire album, The Suburbs).
So, it seems to me that at the moment, alternative music is defined by its supporters, not its critics. If you want to hear great alternative music, you have to be a fan of this genre, whether you’re a fan of the Black Keys, Arcade Fire, Radiohead, St. Vincent, Silversun Pickups, or if you prefer Radiohead’s Electronica.
And it’s even more challenging to find good alternative music that isn’t influenced by these bands because they’re the standard by which everyone has to measure themselves.
However, you can also listen to anything that’s not influenced by rock, and you’ll probably be as pleased as I am with the current state of alternative music. Your best bet is to go out and listen to live music like we did when we went to a Black Keys show at the Fillmore in San Francisco.
Not all alternative musicians are new, just as most mainstream rock musicians aren’t new. You can’t listen to the Beatles or Led Zeppelin without being familiar with many rock musicians of the day.
However, most modern rock music has come and gone many times in the past 40 years. You would think that the number of artists who successfully combine different styles would increase over time.
It has not.
This is not to say that there is not a diversity of musicians who are making an impact. Most of the artists you hear in a mall or a club do not attempt to blend diverse styles.
However, even those that do are not as prolific as artists that have come before them. An example is Beck.
His albums feature various music with themes that blend blues, soul, country, electronica, electronica, and jazz. However, most of his music is not classified as an alternative.
If you listen to contemporary popular music, you’ll notice that many of the most successful artists have been trained in classical music and popular music. Many of them have appeared on various reality TV shows.
Another example is Carly Simon. Most people do not know that she is a well-known jazz pianist who was also the first lady of Songwriting.
However, most of her songs are very pop. She has done almost no classical piano and not much jazz.
Her songwriting is very popular, and many of her songs were written for other artists. This is not to say that she doesn’t write or perform the classical piano.
She does. However, it’s not very well known that she has performed the classical piano.
An example of a musician who doesn’t fit into any of the four categories is Tangerine Dream. They have been performing for almost 50 years.
However, their music is not like any other music of the time. It is a unique combination of musical genres.
It is the last-known example of purely electronic music. Some people categorize this music as progressive, but it really has no place in the genre of alternative music.
Tangerine Dream has a wealth of experience performing all different music styles and has composed many symphonies and pieces for the theatre. It would be tough for anyone to claim that this is not accomplished music.
The term “alternative music” is often used to describe a specific musician. Many alternative musicians have successful solo careers so that the word can be easily associated with one artist.
This can make it seem like an indie-rock musician is not a part of the genre and vice versa. However, the word is generally applied to artists who do not have a solo career and do not release albums.
In the ’90s, many bands released albums and had a wide range of musicians playing on the albums. This would include bands like Radiohead, Foo Fighters, U2, The Stone Roses, etc.
The reason they are usually called alternatives is that they are more specifically defined. Even if they are playing with other bands, they are still not considered an alternative action by the general public.
You would think this would make the term outdated, but even though these bands are not well known in other genres, they are still trendy. You’ll find Radiohead in the Top 10 of most pop charts, U2 in the Top 20 of most indie charts, and Foo Fighters and The Stone Roses in the Top 30 of most rock charts.
These bands have not been successful in other genres because they are such well-known artists who have played their instruments and recorded their music their whole lives.