Origin, history and background information
Alternative music can be separated into the following genres:
Alternative rock is a genre of rock music that emerged from the underground music scene of the 1980s and became widely popular in the 1990s. The term "alternative" was coined in the 1980s to describe punk rock-inspired bands on independent record labels that did not fit into the mainstream genres of the time. As a musical genre, alternative rock consists of various subgenres that have emerged from the independent music scene since the 1980s, such as grunge, Britpop, gothic rock, and indie pop. These genres are unified by their collective debt to the style and/or ethos of punk, which laid the groundwork for alternative music in the 1970s.
Though the genre is considered to be rock, some of its subgenres are influenced by folk music, reggae, electronic music and jazz among other genres. At times alternative rock has been used as a catch-all phrase for rock music from underground artists in the 1980s, all music descended from punk rock (including punk itself, New Wave, and post-punk), and, ironically, for rock music in general in the 1990s and 2000s.
While a few artists like R.E.M. and The Cure achieved commercial success and mainstream critical recognition, many alternative rock artists during the 1980s were cult acts that recorded on independent labels and received their exposure through college radio airplay and word-of-mouth. With the breakthrough of Nirvana and the popularity of the grunge and Britpop movements in the early 1990s, alternative rock entered the musical mainstream and many alternative bands became commercially successful.
Alternative dance is a term used for the genre of music combining elements of dance-pop (or other forms of electronic dance music such as house or techno) and alternative rock genres such as indie pop. Alternative dance music is typically predominantly electronic, with programmed beats from drum machines or sampled drum loops and sequenced synthesizer melodies, and thus musically very similar to commercial dance-pop. The indie element is most prevalent in the songwriting; unlike much dance music, alternative dance typically contains lyrics, and, as in indie pop or indie rock, these are often more thematically complex and/or less polished than those of commercial pop.
The seeds of alternative dance were sown when New Order, inspired by Kraftwerk and the New York club scene, started combining sequenced electronic elements with their brand of icy post-punk and often enigmatic lyrics. Other Manchester bands, such as the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays continued the tradition of combining traditionally guitar-based indie music with electronic instrumentation and production; this culminated in the Madchester scene. The later records of PiL are also a prime example of alternative dance.
Alternative dance gained in popularity after the Second Summer of Love, when the sounds of Acid House music had filtered through to and influenced the sounds of chart pop. Various people from an indie background soon adapted the equipment and techniques of dance-pop, combining it with a more astute and less populistic songwriting sensibility. Well-known examples of this movement include Saint Etienne and Dubstar. Modern bands inspired by the Alternative Dance music scene include The Rapture and Tom Vek.
As both the financial costs and levels of musical virtuosity required to make passable-sounding electronic music drop under the influence of technological improvements, and people who grew up listening to electronic pop take up music, the electronic style epitomised by alternative dance is increasingly becoming the mainstream of independent music, with the once dominant guitar-based form of pop that dominated low-budget independent recordings now becoming just another subgenre.
Alternative metal is an eclectic form of music that gained popularity in the early 1990s alongside grunge. In many instances, it can be accurately described as a fusion of heavy metal and alternative rock. It is characterized by some heavy metal trappings (most notably heavy riffs), but usually with a pronounced experimental edge, including unconventional lyrics, odd time signatures, unusual technique, a resistance to conventional approaches to heavy music and an incorporation of a wide range of influences outside of the metal music scene.
Alternative hip hop is a genre that is defined in greatly varying ways. All Music Guide defines it as follows:
Alternative hip-hop refers to Hip-Hop groups that refuse to conform to any of the traditional stereotypes of rap, such as gangsta, funk, bass, hardcore, and party rap. Instead, they blur genres, drawing equally from funk and pop / rock, as well as jazz, soul and reggae.
Alternative country includes various subgenres of country music contrasted with mainstream or pop country.
Alternative country can refer to several ideas. Most generally, any musician who plays a type of country music different from the prevailing trend can be said to play "alternative country". By this standard, for example, the Bakersfield sound was alternative in the 1950s, and the Lubbock, Texas musicians were alternative in the 1960s.
In the 1990s, however, "alternative country" came to refer to a diverse group of musicians and singers operating outside the traditions and industry of mainstream country music. In general, these musicians eschewed the high production values and pop outlook of the Nashville-dominated industry, to produce music with a lo-fi sound, frequently infused with a strong punk and rock & roll aesthetic, bending the traditional rules of country music. Lyrics are often bleak, gothic or socially aware. In other respects, the musical styles of artists that fall within this genre often have little in common, ranging from traditional American folk tunes and bluegrass, through rockabilly and honky-tonk, to music that is indistinguishable from mainstream rock or country. Indeed, many alternative country artists come from punk and rock backgrounds.
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