Alternative Rock

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What is alternative rock?

A genre of music that emerged from the independent music underground of the 1970s and became popular in the 1990s

Which of the following is not a distinct style of alternative rock in the 1980s?

Glam rock

Which of the following bands helped set the stage for alternative's later breakthrough?


Which festival helped change the mentalities in the music industry and marked the instigation of the grunge music phenomenon?


What is post-rock?

A genre of music that subverts or rejects rock conventions

Which band popularized grunge and established the cultural and commercial viability of alternative rock in general?


Which of the following is not a band that emerged during the post-punk revival movement in the 1990s and early 2000s?

The White Stripes

Which band defined the emo genre in the mid-1990s?

Sunny Day Real Estate

Who achieved critical acclaim with their third album OK Computer (1997)?


Study Notes

The Genre of Rock Music: Alternative Rock

  • Alternative rock emerged from the independent music underground of the 1970s and became popular in the 1990s.

  • The term "alternative" refers to the genre's distinction from mainstream or commercial rock or pop music.

  • Alternative rock varied in terms of its sound, social context, and regional roots throughout the 1980s, with distinct styles such as noise pop, indie rock, grunge, and shoegaze.

  • Billboard introduced "alternative" into their charting system in 1988 to reflect the rise of the format across radio stations in the United States.

  • With the breakthrough of Nirvana and the popularity of the grunge and Britpop movements in the 1990s, alternative rock entered the musical mainstream.

  • Emo found mainstream success in the 2000s with multi-platinum acts such as Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, Paramore, and Panic! at the Disco.

  • The White Stripes and The Strokes found success in the early 2000s, influencing an influx of new alternative rock bands that drew inspiration from garage rock, post-punk, and new wave.

  • Before the term alternative rock came into common usage around 1990, the music was known by a variety of terms, such as "college rock" in the United States and "indie" in the United Kingdom.

  • Alternative rock has no set musical style, although it is generally characterized by guitar music with power chords, chiming riffs, fuzztone, and feedback.

  • Alternative rock lyrics often address topics of social concern, such as drug use, depression, suicide, and environmentalism.

  • Alternative rock bands built underground followings by touring constantly and regularly releasing low-budget albums.

  • American alternative rock was distinguished from that of the United Kingdom by a more pop-oriented focus and a lyrical emphasis on specifically British concerns.

  • American indie record labels SST Records, Twin/Tone Records, Touch and Go Records, and Dischord Records presided over the shift from hardcore punk to the more diverse styles of alternative rock that were emerging.The Rise and Evolution of Alternative Rock

  • Grunge emerged in the early 1990s with a sludgy, murky guitar sound that syncretized heavy metal and punk rock and was promoted by Seattle indie label Sub Pop.

  • By the end of the 1980s, alternative bands such as R.E.M. and Jane's Addiction achieved gold and platinum records, setting the stage for alternative's later breakthrough.

  • Gothic rock developed out of late-1970s British post-punk and was characterized by a synthesizer-and-guitar based sound that constructed "foreboding, sorrowful, often epic soundscapes".

  • The Smiths exerted an influence over the British indie scene through the end of the decade, as various bands drew from singer Morrissey's English-centered lyrical topics and guitarist Johnny Marr's jangly guitar-playing style.

  • Other forms of alternative rock developed in the UK during the 1980s, including the Jesus and Mary Chain's sound, New Order's experimentation with disco and dance music, and the shoegazing movement dominated by bands like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive.

  • By the start of the 1990s, major labels had already signed Jane's Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Dinosaur Jr, and R.E.M. went mainstream worldwide with Out of Time.

  • The first edition of the Lollapalooza festival in 1991 helped change the mentalities in the music industry and marked the instigation of the grunge music phenomenon.

  • Nirvana's 1991 album Nevermind popularized grunge and established "the cultural and commercial viability of alternative rock in general."

  • Britpop emerged in reaction to the tide of grunge from America dominating the British alternative scene and music press in the early 1990s, and represented by Pulp, Blur, Suede, and Oasis.

  • Indie rock became a distinct form following the popular breakthrough of Nirvana, rejecting alternative rock's absorption into the mainstream and a wariness of its "macho" aesthetic.

  • Post-rock was established by Talk Talk's Laughing Stock and Slint's Spiderland albums, drawing influence from a number of genres and subverting or rejecting rock conventions.

  • By the end of the decade, alternative rock's style changed due to a number of events, notably the death of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, Pearl Jam's lawsuit against concert venue promoter Ticketmaster, and Soundgarden's break-up in 1997.

  • Post-grunge emerged during the latter half of the 1990s, supplanting grunge and characterized by polished, radio-ready production that tempered the distorted guitars of grunge.A Brief History of Alternative Rock

  • Post-grunge was a musical movement that emerged in the mid-1990s, with bands like Bush, Candlebox, and Collective Soul labelled as such. It was seen by some as a cynical response to a legitimate stylistic shift in rock music.

  • Smashing Pumpkins' double album Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness, released in 1995, sold 10 million copies in the US alone, certifying it as a Diamond record.

  • Sunny Day Real Estate defined the emo genre in the mid-1990s, and Weezer's album Pinkerton (1996) was also influential.

  • Ska punk, a mixture of earlier British ska and punk acts, became popular in the United States in the late 1990s.

  • Post-grunge remained commercially viable into the start of the 21st century, with bands like Creed and Matchbox Twenty among the most popular rock bands in the United States.

  • Radiohead achieved critical acclaim with its third album OK Computer (1997), and its follow-ups Kid A (2000) and Amnesiac (2001), which were in marked contrast with the traditionalism of Britpop.

  • Red Hot Chili Peppers entered a new-found popularity in 1999 after the release of their album Californication (1999), with continued success throughout the 2000s.

  • By 2000 and on into the new decade, emo was one of the most popular rock music genres.

  • During the late 1990s and early 2000s, several alternative rock bands emerged, including the Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, Interpol, and the Rapture that drew primary inspiration from post-punk and new wave, establishing the post-punk revival movement.

  • In the 2010s, British rock band Muse gained worldwide recognition with their album The Resistance and Drones which won Grammy Awards.

  • Alternative pop, or alt-pop, is a term used to describe pop music with broad commercial appeal that is made by figures outside the mainstream, or which is considered more original, challenging, or eclectic than traditional pop music.

  • Lana Del Rey and Lorde achieved global success in the early 2010s with their cinematic, beat-heavy alt-pop, characterized by an alluring sadness and melodrama.

Think you know everything there is to know about alternative rock? Test your knowledge with our quiz! From the emergence of the genre in the underground music scene to its rise in popularity in the 1990s and beyond, this quiz covers the key moments and players in the evolution of alternative rock. From grunge to Britpop, post-rock to indie, and post-punk revival to alt-pop, this quiz will challenge even the most devoted alternative rock fan. So put on your favorite band t-shirt

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