Have you ever heard someone talking about ‘alternative’ music? Many people are unfamiliar with this music genre. Alternative music is also called ‘alt-rock’. It is a style of music that had its beginnings in the ‘indie’ or ‘independent music’ field. Independent music dates back to the early 1970s. Musicians of this genre produced and sold their music independent of the commercial record labels of that time. Think of the ‘do-it-yourself’ publishing companies for independent writers today and you will have a good idea of indie music.
Alternative music grew out of independent music. It was a unique style that was relegated to ‘the underground’ in the 1970s and then went mainstream in the 1980s. Some say it is best described as ‘underground punk rock’. However, this was a much broader, less specifically defined music genre that the more easily identified styles of country or R & B perhaps. Alternative began to be used as a catch-phrase and expanded to new-wave and post-punk artists and music.
What can be said about ‘alt-rock’ is that the sound and context of the tunes is recognizably different from most music. Even so, quantifying it in terms of style seemed to elude most music critics. There could be several reasons for this including a lack of understanding of this style or simply a lack of respect for it as authentic music. Even so, that did not prevent alternative rock from carving out a space in the music world. It was once described in a well-known magazine as music that consists of power chords being blasted out by guitars with a mix of buzz and squeak as background and chiming riffs to round out the sound. When lyrics were added they often spoke of social concerns that might best be classified as emotional problems by today’s youth.
One more thing about alternative music – while most ‘alt-rock’ musicians were independent some found their way to fame through commercialization of their music – Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins are just two examples. Too, alternative rock as a music genre has morphed and changed somewhat over the decades.