What is alternative music?

I ask the question generally, but I ask it coming from the point of view of having recently set up a Facebook group for live alternative music locally to me in Guilford.

In the “About” section I have said “… it is about alternative music.  If it is noisy or experimental or explicitly rejecting the mainstream then it’s in. That said there are relatively few hard and fast rules – please use some common sense.

“For fans of noise, sludge, doom, metal, post-rock, hardcore, anything with a post- or -core, psychedelia, garage rock, DIY, experimental, shoegaze, grunge, alternative rock. Punk’s a funny one – in theory punk’s in… in practice if you sound like you could have been a local gigging punk band in 1976/77 then it’s probably a bit old hat and boring to be alternative in 2017 (or whatever year it is when you read this).

“If you’re a band or fan of the following then this group is probably not for you – covers bands, folk, skiffle, pop, blues / classic rock, country, sixties / seventies / eighties, house, the sort of indie that appears on adverts for Waitrose. There are other groups that cover this sort of music. No jams / open-mics.”

The intention when I set the group up – with others – was that fans of noisy and alternative musically will have somewhere to share what’s going on to help cross-polinate the local scene.  There seemed to be little things going on, but far too isolated from each other.  I wanted to help support the sort of music that I like, which in the broadest terms is “alternative”.

I might argue that “alternative” maybe started with garage and psychedelia (and the Velvet Underground and the Stooges) in the late 60s.  You had the beginnings of metal and proto-punk in the early 1970s.  Then punk happened, then post-punk took the ideas of punk, but applied it in infinitely more varied ways apart from the simple “hard and fast and simple rock n roll” epitomised by the first wave in the UK (Sex Pistols being the obvious example).

In the 1980s metal started to go off in all sorts of directions, but some metal became mainstream, then you had hardcore punk, alternative rock and all sorts of weird and wonderful things under the name “indie”.  Britpop in the 1990s saw the more traditionalist arm of indie go mainstream, whilst all sorts of hard and heavy punk and hardcore sub-genres and derivations blossomed.  As far as I can see nothing has really changed fundementally since the 2000s started, things have evolved and ever more sub-grenres and micro-genres are making their mark, whilst the word “indie” seems to mean “guitar pop” and nothing more nowadays.  Guitar pop is not alternative.

To my my anything that was once alternative can still be alternative.  Not is, but can still be.  Let’s take a 60s style garage band – it can be done in a very conservative sounding and presented way – a retro nostalgia-fest.  But with the right, hard to put your finger on, attitude and presentation it can still be alternative, just.

Maybe this simply shows my age, but most noisy things since the mid-80s are still alternative.  Grunge, noise-rock, shoegaze – but if you are a blatant rip-off of one of the old bands then maybe you’re not alternative.  You need to bring something a bit different to the table.

Punk is where it gets fascinating.  I love US punk, the whole CBGBs thing, and then Bad Brains and Black Flag and Minor Threat.  Misfits.  Anyone who sounds like them is alternatative, surely?  Or rather if they sound a bit like them but bring a bit more to the table.  I think of UK punk as shit, apart from the great bands of course.  Stranglers – so much more than punk with their keyboards and rapid move to weird concept albums; Buzzcocks – pop-punk, not punk.  I can’t stand oi and street punk, and all the punk bands in the UK that completely missed that punk was dead musically in early 1977 and post-punk was where it was at.  Old punk bands are crap, all it is is ’50s ’60s music played badly / shouted.  It was rebellion for 5 minutes in 1976 and it is not alternative now – it was staid and boring by the time John Lydon saw the light and formed PiL.

There are two big flaws with my last paragraph.  One, I can imagine a young band doing what some of these old punks do and it being alternative.  Am I just being ageist?  Secondly you have a band like Ruts DC.  From what little I have heard they are horrid.  But one of my heroes is Henry Rollins and he’s recently appeared on one of their albums, and he’s always banging on about great British punk bands that him and his mates back in the late 70s and early 80s couldn’t get enough of.  Do I really wanna be on the other side to Henry Rollins in an argument?

I suppose that’s about it generally, and I’d better get back to the group.  I set it up (with others) to encourage post-rock, doom, sludge, noise-rock, math, all the -cores, grunge, the interesing end of metal, interesting modern punk – anything that I like that is good, different and invariably pretty noisy.  I am not interested in old punk bands so I hope they’re out.  But the group will not work if anyone tries to dictate, let alone me… it needs to develop and hopefully find a way that works for the majority without targetting a minority.  Maybe half of what I like is old hat and not that alternative, or interesting, to the average alternative music fan.  And maybe alternative goes a lot wider than I think, and old punks should be welcome.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: