In case you haven’t noticed, the 90s are back. Blink-182, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Weezer, Green Day and Prophets of Rage (which might as well be Rage Against the Machine) all have new albums, are on tour or both. Playlists of alt-rock radio stations are slowly moving away from the downtempo, introspective woe-is-me, banjo-and-ukulele-and-electropop material that’s been in vogue for the last decade.
A couple of questions: Why now? And why are older bands back in vogue–even with the demo who wasn’t even born when Kurt Cobain checked out?
This was the topic of this week’s Sands Report, an industry newsletter for alt-rock radio programmers. Here are some explanations:
- It’s cyclical. The industry rode a wave of new music and new bands, but that party’s over. When ratings began to slump, it was time to go back to a more familiar alt-rock attitude.
- People are tiring of faceless one-hit-wonders who struggle to put together a half-hour set of decent material. Would you recognize Hozier if you bumped into him on the street? Name me one member of the Lumineers. Whatever happened to Gotye? People are cycling back to wanting real rock stars.
- Today’s alt-rock audience is discovering the incredible amount of quality music that came out of the 90s. One programmer notes that this even extends to festival fashion: “Look at the festival wear— chokers, baby doll dresses and flannels around waists—the ‘90s are alive and well with ‘the kids,’ so it’s the perfect opportunity for those ‘90s bands to strike while the iron’s hot.”
- Helicopter parents. Here’s a quote from another programmer : “Can I tell you how much I believe in the helicopter parent theory as to why kids today seem to glom onto and approve the music, books, and movies their parents liked rather than finding their own?” Dad music may be cool after all.
- YouTube: Discovering older bands from other eras is now just a click or two away.
I’ll add one other factor: the current US election campaign. Many 18-34s in America were solidly behind Bernie Sanders and his left-wing (well, for America) policies. But now that he’s out, they’re faced with the horrible choices of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Whenever young people turn sour on politics, alt-rock tends to get harder and angrier. And with a new Green Day record coming out (it’ll be very politic and pissed off) and Prophets of Rage attracting tens of thousands to their gigs, you can feel attitudes shifting.
And the music industry is watching. If it sees a trend/sound developing, they’ll be all over it. A reunion of the classic Smashing Pumpkins lineup? I’d almost say that’s a sure thing for 2017. An Oasis reunion? The pressure is on. More Nine Inch Nails? Don’t count it out. I’ll say this: Coachella 2017 will be interesting.
I for one welcome back our new/old alt-rock overlords.