What is “Alternative Rock”?

Strumming guitars, harsh sounds, straight rhythms, defiant lyrics, and scruffy looks; these are just some of the ingredients of a genre that hit the music scene back in the eighties. Since then, this music style has always had a steady presence, keeping its creative strength and innovative power throughout the years.

What defines “alternative rock”? It has so many different nuances that it’s quite hard to categorise it on strict musical grounds. Basically, the artists playing this genre all have one thing in common; the energy their music conveys. This is achieved by taking the classic rock instruments and the structure of the songs to the next level. Distorted guitars and effects play a significant role, especially in the early punk and grunge productions.

A Band Effort

Many of the famous artists that have joined this new wave of musical expression are actually bands formed by just three or four members. Their music relies on a minimal number of instruments; drums, bass, guitar and lead vocals. The structure of the song is usually straightforward; intro, the body of the song, and the chorus are easily recognisable and straightforward. The voice of the singer is often mixed “inside” the instrumental architecture, meaning that it does not necessarily stand out. Still, it has to find its room between aggressive guitar sounds, punching bass and strong ever-present beat.

In the early nineties, the musical production world underwent the biggest revolution of the last century, with the advent of digital audio. A studio recording session could be enriched with effects and innovative techniques to make sounds never heard before. Indie music was one of the styles that took most advantage of this new way of making music, pushing its creative boundaries even further.

There are at least two sides to indie compositions. On the one hand, we have songs that convey blunt and fresh energy, made to be heard at a high volume, that sound almost like an outburst of pent-up energy. On the other hand, we find intimate ballads, with lyrics that dig into the deepest (and sometimes darker) feelings of the human soul.

The Rise of Indie Productions

As opposed to mainstream music, independent (or indie) productions gave fresh artists a chance to release their music even with a limited budget. Later on, when bands such as Nirvana reached planetary success and entered the top ten charts, “indie” became the name to describe major-labels mainly devoted to punk and grunge.

Nevertheless, during the years, there has been a constant growth of indie labels, as we can read in this interesting article, that talks about the history of this genre. If an artist signed to an indie label eventually becomes famous, the record company may use a major label’s distribution channels to make the music release available everywhere.