The term alternative rock or alternative music1 was coined in the early 1980s to describe bands which didn't fit into the mainstream genres of the time. A catch-all phrase for modern rock and similar genres, it includes indie, post-punk, hardcore punk, Gothic rock, college rock and New Wave bands. However, most alternative bands were unified by their collective debt to punk, which laid the groundwork for underground and alternative music in the 1970s. Though the genre is considered "rock" it is heavily influenced by folk music, reggae and jazz music amoungst other genres. Notable alternative bands of the 1980s include R.E.M., Talking Heads, Sonic Youth, the Replacements and Husker Du.
In 1982, only a handful of college radio stations, like Danbury, Connecticut's WXCI, broadcast alternative music. Commercial stations completely ignored the genre. As alternative rock became more popular in the mid-1980s, it spread widely to other college radio stations, leading to the name "college rock." Finally, in the late 1980s, a few commercial stations such as Boston, Massachusetts's WFNX adopted the format.
Although these groups never generated spectacular album sales, they exerted a considerable influence on the generation of musicians who came of age in the 80s. Alternative music and the rebellious, DIY ethic it espoused became the inspiration for grunge, an early 90s movement led by Nirvana which, paradoxically, took alternative rock into the mainstream. While previously "alternative" was simply an umbrella term for a diverse collection of underground rock bands, Nirvana and similar groups fashioned it into a distinct style of guitar based rock which combined elements of punk and metal; their creation met with considerable commercial success.
By the mid-90s, alternative was synonymous with grunge in the eyes of the mass media and the general public and alternative culture was being marketed to the mainstream in much the same way as the hippie counterculture had in the 1960s. By this time, however, alternative bands who were leery of broad commercial success had developed indie rock, a new genre that espoused a return to the original ethos of alternative music.
In the first decade of the 21st century, mainstream alternative rock has continued to evolve beyond its 80s roots and low-fidelity ethos. Today's most popular "alternative culture" music acts, typified by youth oriented modern rock groups such as Linkin Park, incorporate complex electronic beats and highly produced albums, but owe a heavy debt to their metal and grunge forbears.
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