Alternative rock

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REM 2003 Live in Padua

The term alternative rock came up in the late 1970s and was established in the early 1990s as a generic term for several variants beyond the previously common structures of rock and pop music. Accordingly, Alternative Rock is subordinate to the collective term Alternative . The term indie rock (from English independent , "independent") is also used today for many corresponding performers , although it was originally delimited by the fact that it referred to performers with contracts with independent labels , while alternative rock referred to performers with Highly endowed record contracts and broad marketing opportunities. However, major labels set up subcontractors or bought existing small record companies. The terms independent and indie rock lost their meaning and were first supplemented by the term alternative , later almost replaced. Therefore, today indie rock is mostly considered a sub-form of alternative rock.


Dave Thompson names the mid-1970s as the origin of alternative rock, referring to the releases of Lou Reeds Metal Machine Music and Patti Smith's album Horses, as well as the founding of the Sex Pistols . All three events should result in a pop-cultural wave of events, which included both the constant amalgamation of musical styles and ongoing subcultural developments. At that time still known under terms such as New Music , New Wave or Independent , the term Alternative Rock for precisely those subcultural styles of music should gain a foothold from the beginning of the 1990s.

Patti Smith 1976 Live in Copenhagen

"Within little more than a year, Reed's buzzing, cacophonous slab of noise was informing the first tentative steps of a world-be electric pioneers; Smith's scream of consciousness babelogue was opening the floodgates through witch the entrie New York underbelly would pour into limelight; and the Sex Pistols were unleashing a horde of like-minded hooligans to forge a music, a fashion, and most of all, an attitude which - with Reed and Smith tight to their hand - rewrote the rule book in hateful crayon strokes, eight miles high.

And rule one was - there were no more rules "

“In just over a year, Reed's cacophonically humming noise disc showed the first attempts at a coming world of electronic music; Smith's cry of consciousness "Babelogue" opened the floodgates through which the dark side of New York should pour into the limelight; and the Sex Pistols unleashed a like-minded horde of thugs who were supposed to establish a music, a fashion and especially - in close association with Smith and Reed - an attitude that circumscribed the rules in eight miles of hateful colored letters.

And the first rule was - there would be no more rules. "

- Dave Thompson

The mixing of the original punk rock to the new wave was made possible by artists such as The Clash , The Police , Public Image Ltd. , Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Damned , who expanded the former punk with elements from reggae , glam rock or funk and roots reggae .

So early on, some representatives of punk experimented with styles that were previously viewed as incompatible. From the mid-1980s onwards, representatives of hardcore punk , even a radicalization of punk , tried to link their music with other musical styles. As in punk before, performers such as Black Flag , Hüsker Dü and Agnostic Front incorporated elements from hip-hop , blues and metal into their music. This mélange produced an abundance of heterogeneous, subculture-oriented rock music that clearly stood out from punk and hardcore. In addition to the commercially successful New Wave, post-punk and post-hardcore also became known as generic terms for music styles beyond the mainstream. On the other hand, the partly commercially successful music styles Gothic Rock , Oi! or industrial but also synth pop on those developments that have taken place since the mid-1970s.

In the second half of the 1980s, the term New Wave gradually went out of use. At this time, Hi-NRG and Eurodisco as well as simple pop artists dominated the charts, including bands and solo artists who were initially assigned to the New Wave themselves and had gradually moved away from their punk and post-punk roots over time . Music channels like MTV are increasingly dedicated to the metal and sleaze rock environment.

In the mid-1980s, current independent styles such as noise rock , shoegazing , jazzcore , Madchester , Psychobilly or even indie rock achieved only regional to national success and could not yet establish themselves internationally. Until hardcore, post-punk, and post-hardcore gradually became popular.

Martin Büsser describes this development from the perspective of hardcore, which became popular in the late 1980s:

"[...] something happened circa 1989, what the scene worried and confused whirled: one outside began to come - quite suddenly, it was cramped and uncomfortable in the small shops, larger had her - [...] already started a passionate battle of words against the students pigs on on the one hand, the Metaldeppen on the other hand, the new recipients of the hitherto closely guarded scene. "

- Martin Büsser


At the end of the 1980s, the music industry also discovered the commercial potential of the varieties of the post-punk and post-hardcore spectrum and began to take over previous independent bands and labels. The first successes of this reorientation came with the great grunge and crossover boom at the beginning of the 1990s.

Nirvana 1992 Live at the MTV Video Music Awards

“While the entertainment industry might still view these sounds from the scene at the end of the 80s with latent skepticism, its strategic market pitfalls began to work with the sudden global success of the Seattle trio Nirvana at the latest . Nirvana came out at the end of 1991 with their second milestone album Nevermind on the renowned major label Geffen Records and experienced an unprecedented breakthrough for the entire genre. In the years that followed, the cleverly fanned mass hysteria surrounding anti-stars, Gen X -Lifestyle, Teenage Rebellion and Grunge Look formed the ideal hook for the effective marketing of youthful identification poles [...]. "

- Marcel Anders

Crossover and grunge were only two terms in the musical styles grouped under the term alternative rock. What all styles and performers had in common was the combination of punk and hardcore with other styles of music, which could also correspond to the mainstream . Those styles that took over elements from popular music forms such as hip-hop , funk , folk rock or pop music reached a larger target group, were therefore easier to sell and were therefore increasingly promoted by large record companies and music television.

On the other hand, the hype about grunge and nirvana was fatal for other less rock or metal-oriented styles in the alternative and independent sector . Robyn Hitchcock explained the change after Nirvana pushed him off the top of the American alternative charts.

“Some of the people who had their breakthrough at the same time as us had now reached a higher level on the corporate ladder […], but everyone else was overwhelmed by this development […]. We were still an alternative band, but everything had changed, suddenly it was rock again, long hair was back in, you put your fists in the air again, bought pretzels and yelled: 'Here we go!' The musical landscape had changed [...]. "

- Robyn Hitchcock

Establishment in the music industry

Nick Cave 1986 Live in Deinze

After alternative rock and alternative metal had established themselves in the course of the 1990s, they became a pop-cultural phenomenon as a modern variant of the independent and metal scene. Heavy rotation in music television and radio replaced large parts of the previous rock and metal mainstream. Grunge and crossover opened up a potential audience for other styles, so that music outside of the mainstream came more and more into the public eye. In 1992, the American music broadcaster MTV set up Alternative Nation in addition to the weekly 120Minutes, a second daily broadcast format for alternative rock and alternative metal . This persistent blending of media, art and commerce ultimately led to the commercial use of alternative rock for advertising purposes.

The following list refers to the artists and styles that were popular in the height of the 1990s. Sometimes there are no specific style names beyond alternative rock and rough overlaps with alternative metal can be identified in many areas.

Important influence Genre name if available Important performers in alternative rock
British invasion Britpop Oasis · Blur · Pulp · The Verve
Classic rock Alternative rock later post grunge Bush · Live · Foo Fighters
Folk rock Alternative rock folk rock Alanis Morissette · REM · Heather Nova · Counting Crows
Wireless Acid jazz Jamiroquai · Incognito · Galliano
Funk · Rap Funk Metal · Crossover Red Hot Chili Peppers · Jane's Addiction · Living Color · Extreme
fusion Post-hardcore Helmet · Rollins Band
Hardcore punk Alternative rock Life of Agony · Therapy?
Hard rock Grunge Pearl Jam · Nirvana · Alice in Chains · Soundgarden
Neue Deutsche Welle Hamburg School Tocotronic · The Stars · Blumfeld
New wave Alternative rock Placebo · Garbage · Therapy?
Noise rock Noise rock · Alternative rock The Jesus Lizard · Fugazi · Dinosaur Jr.
pop music Power pop The La's · Weezer
Post-industrial Industrial rock Revolting Cocks · Nine Inch Nails
Punk rock Pop punk The Offspring · Green Day · Sum 41
Singer-songwriter Alternative rock Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds · PJ Harvey · Beck · Tori Amos
Space rock Stoner rock Monster Magnet · Kyuss · Fu Manchu

Development into the present

Franz Ferdinand 2006 Live in Dundee

From this abundance of different musical styles, own derivatives and modifications developed again, the rock styles that emerged in the 2000s such as post-grunge , dark rock , new prog , indie rock - and post-punk revival nourish themselves from the successes of alternative rock. The attention gained in the 1990s established the spectrum of alternative rock as an integral part of the music industry. Previous mainstream and alternative rock complement each other since then. The formula "Alternative is rock music with innovative style elements that really rocks off." also characterizes the difficulty of grasping the extremely comprehensive term. The idea of innovative style elements wants to set alternative rock in contrast to the mainstream rock styles such as classic rock , sleaze rock and pop rock that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, but does not limit alternative rock either. Current rock music has since been dominated by alternative rock, music television, radio and magazines predominantly receive new and old interpreters of alternative rock. Various styles of alternative rock have remained popular up to the present day. Alternative rock artists, along with pop and modern R 'n' B, are considered a lucrative factor in the music industry. Titles by artists such as Stiltskin , Babylon Zoo , Caesars , Franz Ferdinand , The Killers , Mando Diao have been used extensively in advertising since the mid-1990s at the latest. In addition, with the hype surrounding Nirvana, alternative rock was increasingly promoted in movies, music television and radio.


Pearl Jam 2006 Live in Berlin

Alternative rock is considered an omnipresent term by critics, which does not do justice to the music and the representatives. Due to the wide establishment of different musical styles and interpreters of alternative rock in the musical mainstream, the term alternative hollowed out independently. In 2000, Dave Thompson questioned the title Alternative without knowing an adequate answer to his question. He not only pointed out the success of the alternative rock bands as a point of criticism, but also questioned the basic application of the term.

“It was never the most appropriate term for the music described, and became increasingly less so as the music itself began crossing into the mainstream. What […] was alternative about a band - U2 , REM, or Nirvana for example - whose records sold into millions, whose tours could sell out sport field? Or […] why were a band like Motorhead considered a heavy metal act when their rudiments were clearly rooted in a raw punk ethic, while Pearl Jam were called alternative, when the opposite was true? "

“It was never the most appropriate term to describe the music, and it became less and less as the music itself increasingly drifted into the mainstream. What was alternative about bands - such as U2, REM or Nirvana - who sold albums by the million and whose tours could fill stadiums? Or why is a band like Motörhead considered a heavy metal act, although their approach is based on the rough ethos of punk, while Pearl Jam are called alternative and the opposite is the case? "

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d e Marcel Anders: Alternative for how much longer? In: Deese, Hillenbach, Kaiser, Michatsch: Jugend und Jugendmacher . Original edition: Metropolitan, Munich 1996, ISBN 978-3-89623-050-8 , p. 55ff.
  2. a b Dave Thompson: Alternative Rock: Third Ear - The Essential Listening Companion . Miller Freeman Books, 2000, ISBN 978-0-87930-607-6 .
  3. a b Dave Thompson: Alternative Rock: Third Ear - The Essential Listening Companion . Miller Freeman Books, 2000, ISBN 978-0-87930-607-6 , viii-introducion
  4. Barry Myers: New Wave is today's rock 'n' roll . In: Rolf Lindners: Punk Rock . 1981, ISBN 3-88215-043-2 , p. 81
  5. ^ Bettina Roccor: Heavy Metal. The bands. The fans. The opponents . CH Beck, Munich 1998, p. 76ff.
  6. ^ Martin Büsser: If the kids are united . 2010, ISBN 978-3-930559-48-0 , p. 135
  7. ^ Martin Büsser: If the kids are united . 2010, ISBN 978-3-930559-48-0 , p. 134 f.
  8. Marcel Anders: Alternative for how much longer ? In: Deese, Hillenbach, Kaiser, Michatsch: Jugend und Jugendmacher . 1996, ISBN 978-389623-050-8 , p. 57
  9. Genre description on
  10. Hitchcock quoted from Dave Thompson: Shadow World . 2004, ISBN 3-85445-236-5 , p. 316.
  11. Alternative Metal on
  12. Alternative Rock on ( Memento from August 28, 2010 in the Internet Archive )
  13. Alternative Rock on