The 1980s. A time when people weren’t afraid to be experimental with their clothes, hair, or music. The music reflected society and politics. In both, there was a sense of decadence and disaffection with the mainstream. It was also the birth of the alternative rock genre, which is still popular today. The term started to cover bands that were making music that was cutting edge and different. Many of them were independent, which gave them the creative license to be freer artistically. There were also many smaller labels that signed bands from the punk subculture. Out of all this, alternative rock emerged.
British alternative rock
The British sound was more pop than anything else. It also focused much more on themes and cultural influences that British audiences could relate to. One city had an impact on British music of the 1980s. Manchester gave the country the “Madchester” scene. There was an explosion of bands that psychedelic rock and the drug scene, especially MDMA, influenced. The bands were signed to independent record labels, something that’s common among most alternative rock bands.
The Smiths could be called the major alternative British rock band of the decade . Their self-titled 1984 album didn’t just speak to the young people of the time. It also was brilliant in terms of quality. The subject matter was typical of alternative 1980s rock bands: longing, alienation, and rejection. Again, like many popular bands at the time, they had their roots in Manchester.
The American underground
In America, alternative rock was an evolution from punk to a more mainstream sound. Bands like Husker Du were originally punk, then transformed their sound. Their contribution was to show that melody and punk weren’t incompatible. There were elements of folk music as well, used by R.E.M., who are often called one of the best bands of the decade. They’re a perfect example of the many influences that blended to make the decade’s music. They also used one of the other major influences: the return of jangle pop. This upbeat, energetic sound was perfect for the pop charts.
Just like in Britain, the labels of 1980s alternative rock in America were mostly independent. At least at the beginning. By the end of the 1980s, it’s debatable whether many bands were still “alternative”. Due to their popularity, they signed to major record labels. R.E.M. and Jane’s Addiction were two prominent bands that signed contracts which really boosted their profile.
The American scene had diverse range of voices by the time the decade ended. Both pop and more traditional rock could be heard on the radio. Alternative rock had come to represent a wide number of bands and styles. On the cusp of the 1990s, a newly emerged genre called grunge was all the rage. The murky guitar of grunge was all about a return to punk rock and heavy metal. Alternative rock has survived though and continues to dominate the music scene even now.