Tuesday, September 28, 2021
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Alternative Rock- Lesson 101


My last article http://edtimes.in/2015/01/stairway-heaven-rock-101.html was an introduction to the world of rock. I also mentioned that I would be dealing with the subgenres of rock and nope, I have not forgotten my promise lovelies. Before we start let’s try to answer this –

What do Audioslave, Anberlin and Arctic Monkeys have in common?





Alternative rock.



Whether it’s Kurt Cobain’s drool-worthy voice or the catchy tune of the Arctic Monkeys, alternative rock is a genre which has been extremely influential in the world of music. Here’s what you need to know about alternative rock!

Let’s start with the very basics –

What is alternative rock?



Alternative rock or alt-rock is a genre of music which emerged in the 1980s and became widely popular in the 1990s. Its roots go back to the underground independent music scene and the term was coined to describe punk-rock inspired bands which had their independent record labels. The lyrics are usually transgressive and portray a defiant attitude (songs by Marilyn Manson) and the music is characterized by a distorted guitar sound. It is also reflective of a generational discontent and the basic idea is that if people hate this type of music enough and keep complaining about the bands then their names would reach the ears of the people who would actually appreciate their music.


Sweet Dreams by Marilyn Manson –

The name alt-rock is given to rock music which did not fit any other genre and a lot of music has been classified as alt-rock music even though they do not particularly fit this genre. Nirvana is credited with bringing this genre into the forefront but before that it was popular with the college crowds. The popularity of this genre arose only after the grunge period and Britpop (The Smiths, Oasis, Placebo) movements. Grunge (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and so on) was a type of alternative rock music which denounced commercialism. However, many alt-rock bands have achieved commercial success and have collaborated with major record labels.


You Know You’re Right by Nirvana along with the lyrics –


The Legends:

  1. The Sex Pistols: The alternative rock culture was initiated by The Sex Pistols, who were an English punk rock band. They are considered one of the world’s most popular music icons. The song God Save the Queen by them was very controversial at the time of release and both the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority refused to play the song.
  2. Patti Smith or “The Punk Poet Laureate”: is an American singer-songwriter who became a significant part of the Ney York City punk rock movement. Her debut album Horses (1975) got listed in the National Recording Registry for being culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.
  3. Lou Reed: was an American musician and was known for his distinctive deadpan voice. The album Metal Machine Music by him brought genres like industrial music and noise rock into light.


When the popularity of alternative rock music was at its peak, many recording companies handed out their labels to bands which fit very loosely under this genre. This was done especially to increase sales by using the name of this genre. A closer look into these bands would tell us that their music was more pop than alt-rock. The alternative music scene was also responsible for giving rise to genres like indie rock (Modest Mouse), gothic rock (The Cure), indie pop (Death Cab for Cutie) and so on. At times, alt-rock has also been used as a phrase to refer to all types of music which have descended from punk rock. Lately alt-rock has become a term which is used to describe all rock music in the 1990s and 2000s which is in stark contrast to what it meant initially. Thus, the connotation also changes with respect to the time period.


The musicians associated with this genre had the courage to go against established genres like classic rock however, their yearning to do something different often made them feel that they would be, by definition, unpopular. Despite repeated attempts to reject conventional sounds, bands like Soundgarden and Screaming Trees did in fact end up getting inspired from bands like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin.

Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden –


Alternative’s mainstream success declined due to a number of reasons, most notably with the death of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and the lawsuit by Pearl Jam which in turn stopped them from playing in major venues. The Lollapalooza (an annual music festival featuring popular alt-rock bands and many more) concept had also lost its charm by 1997 and in 1998 the festival was cancelled. By the start of the 21st century many major alternative bands like Alice in Chains, Hole, Rage Against The Machine had disbanded or were on hiatus. But what we need to understand is that these musicians excelled in manifesting the voice of a very distressed generation and turning it into melody.





Several alternative rock bands re-emerged in the early 2000s like the Arctic Monkeys and The Strokes which drew inspiration from post punk and new wave and bands like The White Stripes. The music world was abuzz with their success stories and after almost a decade of absenteeism these alternative band were ready to rule the world of music all over again!

I’ll be covering more subgenres in my coming articles till then listen to this –

Knee Socks by the Arctic Monkeys –



Also do share what you know about alternative rock in the comments below and spread the music!

Written By- Shruti Das


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