Since the release the first album by the Velvet Underground with Nico in 1967, that music that would be defined as alternative, underground, or indie began with an album that got a lot of attention but not a lot of sales. Yet, it has been stated that anyone who bought that Velvet Underground album when it came out started a band. Since that landmark release, the music of the underground that was an antithesis to the peace and love vibe of the late 1960s would morph into various new styles of music. From the Velvet Underground came proto-punk bands like the Stooges, the MC5, and the New York Dolls that helped pave the way for punk.
Punk came out in the mid-1970s as a reaction to the mass-commercialism and big-business world of rock before it eventually sank back into the underground towards the end of the decade. The 1980s saw punk morph into hardcore with little independent labels starting to pop up supporting bands around various regions across the U.S. In Britain, punk’s arrival led to the formation of various genres in the wake of punk’s demise such as post-punk, Goth, and synth-pop. While bands like the Athens, Georgia-based band R.E.M., the Irish band U2, and the Manchester-based the Smiths would have some degree of commercial success. Only R.E.M. and U2 were able to capture a worldwide audience heading into the 1990s while the Smiths who were a cult band in the U.S. broke up in 1987.
The legacy the Smiths left in the 1980s, during a period of pop music played by established artists, did create a new wave of music for Manchester. The arrival of the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays in the late 80s would bring a new wave of music that fused a psychedelic edge with elements of the rave music that was coming from the Hacienda nightclub in Manchester. While the Stone Roses were pegged to be the next big band following the release of their 1989 self-titled debut that culminated with a big show in Spike Island in May of 1990. The band’s momentum was destroyed later that year due to litigation as they were unable to re-capture the promise they had with their debut album.
While the Smiths and the Stone Roses were sowing the seeds for a new wave of British indie music. The American music scene that had been dominated by hardcore punk in the 1980s was becoming something much bigger. With Minneapolis based bands like the Replacements and Husker Du branching out further from hardcore, it allowed a new style of music to emerge with melody and raging guitars. While R.E.M. had managed to gain a following over the years with their mesh of post-punk and jangle-pop that finally got mainstream attention with 1987’s Document. The band was moving into more folk towards the end of the 80s while an array of different bands with different types of music were emerging.
From the raucous rock sounds of the Pixies and Jane’s Addiction to the emerging sounds of industrial music of bands like Ministry, Skinny Puppy, and Nine Inch Nails. There was something happening in the U.S. that wasn’t being largely exposed by the mainstream press as the only exposure they would have on MTV was a show called 120 Minutes. It was around that time that the music scene of Seattle was starting to gain ground through bands like Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone, Tad, and Screaming Trees. Rock also got noisier from acts like the Scottish band the Jesus & Mary Chain, New York City’s Sonic Youth, and the Irish band My Bloody Valentine.
By 1990, there was a lot happening in the U.S. and the U.K. that would change the face of popular music as new trends emerged and new ideas were happening. 1991 was stated that was the year punk broke that was later quoted in Sonic Youth’s 1992 documentary about their European tour with a little known Aberdeen, Washington band called Nirvana. In reality, it was a whole lot more than that as 1991 was the year that indie and alternative music finally arrived into the mainstream.
Part 1: The Emergence of Trip-Hop and Electronica
While nightclubs all over the world were busy dancing to mindless, uninspiring dance music that all sounded the same. There was something going on in Britain in the world of electronic music. While the house music scene in Manchester was about to go into a decline due to financial issues and other influences emerging in its nightclub called the Hacienda. There was something else going on southwest of Manchester in a city called Bristol. A mixture of hip-hop, dub, jazz, and down-tempo electronic music would be called trip-hop as the group that would introduce this new form of music is Massive Attack.
Massive Attack was formed by a group of deejays and a graffiti artist/lyricist along with a MC named Tricky, a female vocalist, and dancehall singer Horace Andy. In April of 1991, the group released what many considered to be one of the greatest albums of the 1990s with Blue Lines. The group’s debut album helped create a hip-hop scene in Britain that extremely different from its U.S. counterparts that also included a laid-back sound and a production that was truly atmospheric. For many wanting something new in the world of electronic music, Massive Attack was a breath of fresh air for many. The group would become one of the most dominant acts of the 1990s with two more albums that showed the evolving production style and the progression of trip-hop music that would bring acts like Morcheeba, Portishead, and Massive Attack MC Tricky to the world.
The emergence of trip-hop would help set a new wave of electronic music as acts like Aphex Twin, the Orb, and Orbital would emerge creating a new wave of electronic ambient music. Aphex Twin, an alias of Richard D. James, would release EPs during this period while Orbital would emerge with their first album in September of 1991. The early recordings that Aphex Twin and Orbital were making would set a new wave of ambient music while creating different ideas of the genre. With Orbital later going into more rhythmic territory with their records, Aphex Twin would delve into darker, noisier material that helped bring ideas to dark ambient music. While both of those acts taking more avenues to find more ways to fuse ambient with electronic music, it was the Orb that help create a successful fusion in a different way.
The Orb releases The Orb’s Adventure Beyond the Ultraworld in August of 1991. The record was widely considered to be the most successful fusion of ambient and house music as the group added an element of psychedelia to the music. Featuring an array of samples of various music genres from jazz, reggae, classical, film score music, R&B, and the early music of Pink Floyd. The record was considered to be a landmark for the electronic music genre.
This sudden new wave of electronic music that was to emerge would lead to the arrival of many acts to come like the Chemical Brothers, the Prodigy, Autechre, Goldie, and many more. These artists would later become part of the massive new wave of electronic music in the mid-1990s. By the end of the year, there was a sudden divide in the world of dance music as the mainstream still cling to the Eurodance and dance-pop music that was dominating the year while the underground were finding new genres of electronic music emerging in Britain. It would be clear that it would be the underground music scene that would help shape dance and electronic music throughout the decade and what is ahead.
© thevoid99 2011