One of the labels that were applied to the new musical proposals that appeared between the end of the 20th century and the 21st, was the so-called alternative music. Under this adjective, an attempt was made to identify groups and artists who, based on established genres such as Rock or Folk, included novel elements in them, until they became something different from the traditional variants practiced until then.
Origin of the term
When using “alternative” as a defining word for a type of music, we find ourselves with something so broad, so potentially varied that it has been applied to dozens and dozens of artists and genres or musical styles over time.
Therefore, we can understand the alternative as a bet against the masses, against what is commercial for simply commercial, as what is interesting or risky as opposed to what is easy or familiar.
But, to be more specific, what we today mainly recognize as “alternative music” was forged between the late 1980s and early 1990s, as a reference to the work of certain bands and artists who practiced styles that, in At first, from their attitude and their compositions, it seemed that they could not achieve great success.
Although, as we will see, for some of them it did happen.
The truth is that already in the 1960s and 1970s, the adjective alternative had been used to especially point out unconventional musical proposals and, in some way, challenging with respect to majority or mainstream tastes , beyond identifying with a style or other.
Some examples of what I just wrote would be the following musical genres:
This practice of sonority and some rock elements was characterized by having symphonic or progressive overtones or seeking a certain solemnity and depth in their compositions.
Mike Oldfield, Brian Eno or even Pink Floyd are often cited as examples of this trend.
At the beginning of the 1970s, with the appearance of the new synthesizers, some musicians made forays into atmospheric or spatial music, as a true alternative to what was mostly heard in those years.
Vangelis or Jean Michel Jarre were two of the most recognized creators who practiced this way of composing and recording, although later they also focused on other styles.
In the same way, due to its groundbreaking character with the established, the first incarnations of techno music are usually included as an alternative. Danceable but hard music, rhythmic based on the use of electronic instruments are, broadly speaking, defining characteristics of the genre.
The Kraftwerk group is often mentioned as the authentic precursor of this way of making music. Later, in the 1980s and onwards, new genres drank from this creative idea such as Trance, Acid House, Trip Hop and many more.
With this label, we wanted to encompass any type of musical proposal that is based on rhythms or folkloric traditions from anywhere in the world to make compositions that also include modern elements. It may be the language, the thematic focus, the attitude, or simply the sound treatment of the traditional instruments, but something that places them outside the typical folkloric framework of each region.
Punk was an ideological revolution as much as a musical one. With their direct, short and incisive songs, the bands showed with their lyrics, with their sound and with their aesthetics their proposal against the established, at all levels, and claimed the voice of the most disadvantaged people in the cities, especially.
Frustration, the no-future, and anger at feeling trapped in the system conducive to the emergence of that alternative, that response to the idealized image and message that used to be exposed in the media.
Prominent representatives were the Sex Pistols, The Clash or The Damned, in England or the Ramones, The Dead Boys and Blondie, in the United States, before spreading to the rest of the world.
Hip hop and all the culture that developed around it in New York, first, and then in the rest of the world, was for many years an alternative phenomenon since, really, it only impacted certain communities in large neighborhoods. cities.
As in other genres, some artists took their rhymes and instrumentals to ever-growing audiences, even breaking into the mainstream of the turn-of-the-century music industry.
In any case, some styles like the so-called Hardcore Hip hop, for example, and a good part of the production of this genre have continued to offer recordings with explicit language and aggressive sounds that the average ear of the audience would not hesitate to classify as too strange or simply alternative.
These few references are worth as an introduction to what, many years ago, was considered alternative, to some extent.
In the 1980s
The fact is that, during the 1980s, what would end up being known worldwide as alternative music germinated.
Some groups developed genres or subgenres of modern music that paved the way for the label in question to come into widespread use.
Styles and labels such as Hardcore, Metal and others were related to this non-commercial option, that is, not pleasing to the ears of the majority of the audience until completing a panorama full of more or less minority proposals that covered expressive musical possibilities. all types.
We are going to examine two genres that provided an inspiration and a guide for the alternative explosion of the next decade.
With this label, an attempt was made to encompass a series of groups and artists who used the Punk attitude but practicing compositions where there was room for much more than the short, angry and distorted songs of the original Punk.
Groups like The Cure, Siouxsie And The Banshees, Joy Division or Talking Heads are usually included as practitioners of this term, which really encompasses very different proposals.
College Rock is an expression used to designate a certain type of innovative musical proposals in the 1980s in the United States.
Originating in North American universities and their radios, some musicians enriched their Rock, Pop and other compositions with new arrangements and sounds, adding experimental and underground elements .
Groups like REM, Husker Du or 10,000 Maniacs already stood out with their recordings during those years and, really, they were precursors of the massive genres that would come in the following decade.
In alternative music since 1990
Currently, what is most identified as the golden age of alternative music, alludes to a good number of groups and artists that, in the early years of the 1990s and, generally, with a Rock base of some kind, contributed a renewed energy and generational peculiarities that permeated a large part of the world.
Perhaps the style or genre that best embodied and had the most success in relation to those proposals, more or less alternative, was the so-called Grunge.
Sometimes also called the ” Seattle sound “, because many of those musical groups came from that part of the United States, grunge is usually considered a type of alternative rock, with elements of hardcore, punk, heavy and others, which They developed within a classic pop-rock song structure.
Bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains were the ones that had the most impact and repercussion, until turning this type of music into the most listened to throughout the world, for a few years.
Others, like Radio Head, evolved and created their own unmistakable, rich and modern style taking the idea of alternative to its highest levels, perhaps.
The Grunge, finally, would not be more than a part of something bigger that, many times, has been called Alternative Rock.
The alternative and the independent
Another concept, term or label that is often related to music considered alternative is independent or indie .
This word is used to use as the tendency or need of some groups and artists to try to have a professional life, recordings, performances and others, apart from the largest record companies and their methods focused on achieving the highest possible economic returns.
This attempt to function under the DIY idea, ” Do It Yourself “, that is, “do it yourself”, came, in some way, from the Punk spirit and even Psychedelic and tried to achieve the greatest possible autonomy for the creators themselves and their ideas. aesthetic and musical
Actually, the term ” indie ” has been applied to a wide variety of styles, artists and bands that do not pursue, or do not achieve, commercial success.
The alternative and the experimental
On the other hand, and as a consequence of that disruptive spirit, so to speak, of the “alternative” musicians, it has not been strange that, let’s say, experimental elements have been used in the compositions that can be described in this way.
By experimental we understand here any strategy or sound that is little known or used in the context of modern music in its most widespread and consumed styles.
However, both the alternative, as well as the independent, or whatever way we choose to name the most risky musical proposals of each era, inevitably run the risk of being successful, as we have seen, and, therefore, ceasing to be so, to a large extent, by becoming a mass cultural object.
In short, we can conclude the article as we began.
If you go against the current, write songs and offer something different enough to the majority tastes of each moment, your proposal can be calmly qualified as ” alternative “, it reminds a lot or little of this or that genre.
It must be said, in any case, in honor of the truth and what one could suppose that art, artists and music of alternative songs intend to do with that of seeking new creative forms and new sound and expressive stimuli.
When we hear a new combination of elements or directly hear an unknown or unexpected sound or focus, something activates in our heads and our bodies.
It is not necessary that we like it or the opposite, but the truth is that our brain is like that and the attention and the expectation, very often, consists of being surprised with something different, perhaps new, or not so much, but something that provokes a novel response, in any case.
The history of songs, music and art in general is full of this type of response to what is established, of attempts to overcome or modify what is known and perceive sensations such as joy, anger, sadness or disappointment again, for example.
If we consider alternative music in this way, it only remains to say that hopefully this effort will never end and that our thirst to change to feel that we are still alive can continue generation after generation.