The Rise of Alternative Music

Like Tweet Pin it Share Share Email

Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand, Muse, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and many similar bands are at the very top of the music scene of the first decade of the 21st century. Because of the sound that has the touch points with several musical genres, yet does not belong to them, these bands are classified as bands of alternative or indie rock. Since we know that “alternative” literally translates to something different, and in music, we define it as “something different from the mainstream”, then how can bands that make millions of dollars be called alternative?


Alternative music is the term that appeared at the very beginning of the ’80s, in the post-punk stage. Some of the first bands that launched the alternative wave were R.E.M., Bauhaus, U2, The Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Fall, Siouxsie & the Banshees, and New Order. However, even before them, we had bands that we could consider pioneers of this musical phenomenon. These were The Velvet Underground, Talking Heads, Joy Division, Iggy Pop, T. Rex, David Bowie, and the like. If we are to be thorough, we will draw the conclusion that alternative music also includes Jazz, Blues, Rock, and every other genre that has turned out to be a bounty of mass-accepted music.


To help keep track of the development and evolution of alternative music, we will have to separate Britain from America and look at them separately. All of the above bands have influenced the development of new music genres that have become commercially over time, so there was a need to create new Indie and Underground styles. In Britain, The Cure, U2, Depeche Mode and especially The Smiths were the best. The Smiths are distinguished because they played a key role in the emergence of so-called “Madchester” sound, featuring alternative compositions of The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, and Britons, which originally belonged to Blur, Suede, Oasis, Pulp, Elastica, Supergrass, etc.

In America, music went in another direction. David Bowie, T. Rex, and later Van Halen, are responsible for the emergence of Glam rock, which ruled during the 1980’s in the US. So, apart from The Velvet Undergound, R.E.M, and similar bands, America did not have many alternative bands in that decade.

The first Indie rock compositions did not have a big impact on the former American population, as it did in Britain. Moreover, American alternative bands were the main contributors to the development of new Indie genre in England. That is how the term “Indie rock” was set up, and a number of Madchester and Britpop bands joined Radiohead.

The first, real alternative music evolution in America happened at the end of the ’80s, with the emergence of Seattle sound. Sonic Youth and Pixies are bands that were of great importance to the emergence of Cobain’s Nirvana and Grunge. Thanks to Grunge, Glamour lost their popularity, and the American got the bands Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, and many others.

All these examples show that alternative bands began as underground bands, but whenever they became commercially successful, a new generation of bands was found.