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How Can You Define Rock Music?

When it comes to worldwide cultural phenomena, they don’t get much bigger than rock music. Since the 50s, rock has been raucously reforming, creating icons and increasingly niche sub-genres as it goes.

Answering the question of ‘what is rock music? can’t be done with adjectives alone. Because yes, rock music is loud, driving, high-octane and intense. Rock is also the soundtrack to rebellion. It is every transition that took us from Hendrix to My Chemical Romance. It is the instruments that came to define the genre.

What is rock music?

Before there was rock, there was rock n roll, the popularity of which took the US by storm in the late 40s and early 50s. By the 60s, rock spawned into a myriad of different styles and made it across the pond to the UK.

Rock n roll started as a mix of country, blues and RnB, whereas rock was a different blend of roots, such as folk, electric blues, jazz and classical. Right from the outset, the defining rock instrument was the electric guitar. Gibson Les Pauls, Fender Stratocasters, Gibson SGs, and the gorgeously brash Silvertone guitars all became as much of a part of rock history as the awe-inspiringly deft hands that played them.

Generally, rock music sticks to a 4/4 time signature with the usual ABABCB structures that allow the choruses to follow the verse. We probably don’t need to mention that rock musicians have become more diverse as they have moved away from the classic rock form. You have heard of Dream Theatre and King Crimson, right? This diversity is also lyrically reflected; as artists moved away from the classic rock styles, they started penning lyrics more attuned to their psych-rock, jazz-rock and folk-rock tonal palettes.

After the hippie scenes washed the rock genre in kaleidoscopic colour, prog rock, glam rock, and heavy metal entered the scene, which made the most out of the sonic power of rock. Punk and rock may be separate genres, but without rock, punk rock would never have happened. Punk also spawned sonic monsters, namely post-punk, which gave way to the alt-rock uprising in the 90s. Grunge, indie rock and Britpop were 3 of the rock sub-genres that pushed rock into mainstream view. Kurt Cobain’s suicide may not be the sole reason for the decline of rock music and alt-rock, but it happened as rock took a nosedive, despite the best efforts of pop-punk bands, nu-metal and electronic rock outfits.

In 2017 hip hop overtook rock and became the most popular genre, but don’t believe the lack of hype. Rock music still has its place in 2022. 80,000 rock fans still descend onto the Donnington ground every year to witness rock legends and luminaries, and plenty of rock artists are still reaching the Billboard charts with their overdriven sound. Greta Van Fleet, Foo Fighters, Royal Blood, Wolf Alice and Black Midi all delivered award-winning albums in 2021. Before declaring that rock isn’t what it used to be, check out some Rock music blogs UK. You will see that plenty of immensely talented artists are keeping the rock n roll bloodlines pumping.

What Is the Alternative Music Genre?

For some artists, the only descriptor or genre that comes close to describing their music is the word alternative. As more artists start to find the redundancy in genre constraints, more artists are using the eccentric catch-all genre as an alternative to lumping themselves into a category in which they scarcely fit.

As a genre, it doesn’t give away many indications of the sonic experience of their sound. It simply indicates that it falls away from the mainstream. A lack of mainstream aural tendencies doesn’t always mean that it lacks commercial potential – although the experimental nature of alternative music often means that it is inaccessible to what many consider the mainstream. Take prog-rock tracks that last for 9-minutes compared to the 3-minute perfect pop songs, for example.

Alternative genres include shoegaze, goth-rock, steampunk and no-wave, amongst many others; there will never be a definitive list; however, these genres start to paint a picture of the soundscapes that earn alternative status.

What is the definition of alternative music?

By the most simplistic definition, alternative music deviates from popular trends. As popular trends change, so does alternative music by proxy. Alternative music is also music that has lost its mainstream audience to the decades. It was probably pretty trendy to keep dusting off your Loveless record by My Bloody Valentine in the 90s. In 2021, the shoegazey noise rock masterpiece has fallen into the alternative camp.

The phrase started to become commonplace in America during the 80s; it was a way to describe the acts that offered an alternative to hair metal and pop. After music by the likes of the College Rock Gods, R.E.M. featured relentlessly on college radio stations throughout the 80s, national radio stations and record labels started to catch on and see the value in the alternative music industry. This meant that the rise of indie-rock and alt-rock happened simultaneously.

In America, the alternative music movement started with alt-rock; as a general rule, alt-rock was a derivative of punk or rock. Some of the best examples are Nirvana with their grungy sound and Sonic Youth with their harsh, discordant and endlessly enlivening experimental nature. On the other side of the pond, the punk rock movement in the UK gave way to the alternative music scene in Britain in the 70s.

To date, the most influential alternative artists include Radiohead, Joy Division, Pixies, Smashing Pumpkins, The Cure, Pearl Jam, Jane’s Addiction and The Jesus Mary Chain. And alternative music is so much more than a chapter in music history. There are plenty of upcoming alternative artists making waves with their less than archetypal tonal palettes.

You can take Nadine Shah and her jazzy pop-noir sound, Amanda Palmer and her cabaret punk theatrics, Hands Off Gretel with their infectious grunge-punk cross-over style, Empathy Test with their gothy EBM earworms, and Red Rum Club with their Tarantino-Esque Western vibes for the perfect example.

We’re always on the hunt for new artists that are pushing the boundaries with their experimental sound, creating fusion tracks, or simply refusing to follow the rules of convention. Submit alternative music to our award-winning blog that is frequented by label owners, playlist curators, and other major influencers in the alternative music industry.