Editorial: What Exactly Is Alternative?

One of life's big questions.

March 27, 2019

"What is Alternative?"

It's a conversation we have often around the office.  

Sometimes between ourselves, sometimes with listeners, sometimes at the whim of random sales people who wander into our studio area to tell us how much they love "that one Dirty Vegas song".  It's also not uncommon for the conversation to end in a Mexican standoff. One party pointing to classic examples like Nirvana, Modest Mouse, Twenty One Pilots, etc., while the other positions Alternative as more of an attitude, an ethos, a set of ideals.  

The latter obviously opens the definition to more liberal interpretation, and points us to a topical yet divisive example in an artist you're likely unfamiliar with, Lil Nas X and his runaway viral hit (currently sitting at #32 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart), "Old Town Road".  On first listen, fans of this fine radio station might find Lil Nas X to have more in common with rappers like Travis Scott, or Lil Uzi Vert, but at it's core, the track's DNA invokes the genre busting ideals of Beck, or The Beastie Boys - hell, the song itself even samples Nine Inch Nails, turning a downtempo instrumental into a hybrid country-trap banger.  

While purists will likely scoff at the position I'm taking here, it's not hard to present a compelling argument that Alternative has always been about taking elements that traditionally find themselves at odds, and smashing them together to create something wholly new.  Bands like Pearl Jam melded the darkness of metal to the DIY energy of punk, Gorillaz pulled reggae/dub sampling sensibilities and pasted Damon Albarn's Britpop vocals over the top, Panic at the disco took the the musicality of Broadway and sandwiched it between scene guitars and high energy drums, I could do this all day, really.

But the point here isn't to say our job as a radio station is to dictate what Alternative is or isn't in your own mind, simply to pose the question....  What is it?  It's easy to say what Alternative HAS BEEN, but what is it now? Where is it going? These are the things we examine as we add songs to our playlist, from EDM tinged tracks like, Bastille + Marshmello's "Happier", to the folksier stomp-clamp of Mumford and Sons (two sounds themselves that were once at odds till Avicii combined them).

As far as I can tell, Alternative is simply about having no rules, and doing what feels right.  It's a lifestyle, and a mentality, a combination of things, all under the banner of a semi-meaningless, catch-all, label.  Like 5 or 6 years ago when everyone called everything "Indie", what the hell was that??  So next time you find yourself saying "that's not Alternative", I implore you to take the time to explore why that's your instinct, and perhaps even dig a bit deeper, you might find it to be a bit more Alternative than you think.

While we may not be playing Lil Nas X anytime soon, this might shed at least a bit of light on how songs make it to air, as the definition continues to evolve and genre walls (yes, even Pop) continue to topple.  But at the center of it all, our decisions are guided with the singular goal of amplifying the feedback we get from our listeners, on what exactly Alternative means to you.

So, with that said - Tell us what you think Alternative means on Facebook and Twitter.  We're listening