Alternative Rock… or pop?

Alternative, A sub genre of rock music that has been around sense the 80s. although it is hard to describe the sound (alternative music artists range from heavy, nihilistic bands such as Alice in Chains to happy, folk pop bands such as Belle and Sebastian.) According to wikipedia, The term "alternative" was coined in the 80s to describe punk inspired bands on independent record labels that did not fit into any of the mainstream genres of the time. An Independent record label is a label that is not produced by the major commercial labels (A "major" is defined by AIM's as a multinational company that controls more than 5% of the world market for music.) Some examples of an independent label would be Saddle Creek, Kill Rock Stars, or Matador. Of course not all alternative bands are on major label, but what distinguishes alternative from other genres is it often has an underground quality or sound to it. Alternative bands often have a sound that distinguishes them from most other bands, such as the Pixies start, stop beats or the Meat Puppets combination of punk, folk, country and psychedelic rock.

In the early 90s alternative began to rise to mainstream success, and many bands started getting major label deals. “Grunge” music, a form of hard rock with punk and metal influences played by bands that normally came from the Seattle area was a big part of the mainstream alternative success of the 90s. Although bands such as Nirvana became very popular, their influences were the original alternative bands such as The Meat Puppets, The Pixies and The Vaselines. And because they still had an underground sound, they were still considered alternative. Other alternative bands such as R.E.M were popular with college radio or underground fans before reaching mainstream success.

But alternative now? There are bands like Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers or even Coldplay. But other bands that receive the label such as Fall Out Boy or Metro Station, fit the definition of pop more then alternative. And the main objectives of pop music are audience enjoyment and commercial success. Many of these bands turn lighter and less emotional by every album (if you must, listen to Fall Out Boys first cd, then their second, then the most recent on and you will see what I mean.) And as they turn lighter there commercial success increases. Now you may say “or well Nirvanas Nevermind is softer then Bleach and Nevermind was more popular” and well that is true they still never sounded “pop”. And there 3rd album In Utero, was harder than Nevermind. Pearl Jam on the other hand, had more success with their harder album ten, then with more folk inspired Vs (though there battle with ticketmaster surely didn’t help.)

People may think bands that use electric guitars are automatically rock, now Hannah Montana’s songs have electric guitar a lot and she is certainly not rock. Pop music doesn’t have to be Britney Spears or The Spice Girls. The Beatles are sometimes considered pop and they certainly don’t sound like Britney spears.

Now the last things that I want to include is that A. I am not dissing pop or it’s fans, Pop music can be fun to listen to B. I am not dissing Fall Out Boy type bands (yes, I don’t like them but that’s not the purpose of this blog) and C. I know how annoying and confusing music genres can be, and music is art and art can’t always be labeled. But I am just reflecting what I think should be categorized as alternative.

And to help people get an idea of what I consider to be the different styles of alternative I will list some bands, and yes I know many of these bands fit into more then one genre.

80s College rock/ Underground
Violent Femmes
Meat Puppets
Dinosaur Jr.

The Replacements
Hüsker Dü
Mission of Burma

90s alternative
Smashing Pumpkins
Foo Fighters
Red Hot Chili peppers

Pearl Jam
Alice In Chains
(earlyer) Hole
Babes In Toyland
Screaming Trees

Post grunge
Foo Fighters


Indie pop
Belle and Sebastian
Tegan and Sara
Tilly and the Wall
The Vaselines
Cat Power
Sufjan Stevens
Elliott Smith (xo and figure eight)

Folk Indie
Bright Eyes
Elliott Smith
Iron and Wine
Cat Power
The Decemberists

Modern alternative
Bloc Party
Death Cab For Cutie
The Flaming Lips
Arcade Fire

riot grrl/ feminist punk
Bikini Kill

Posted on July 5th, 2008 at 09:36pm


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