Neither group is what you'd consider a rock band, but maybe that doesn't matter. Like a rising tide, Nirvana didn't just carry Superchunk and Dinosaur Jr. over the ramparts, they cleared the way for acts like They Might Be Giants and the Dead Milkmen. While media could only really conceive of flannel and Seattle, the alt-rock underground was — like that of its early-'80s predecessors — broad and diverse.

Yet there is no denying that the ready availability of music has changed how people consume it.

"You're coming out of something that was a little more of a whisper on the wind, and now you can find out all the information on your favorite artist," says Craig Finn (the Hold Steady, Lifter Puller). "Now kids are, like, 'I'm getting into Dylan,' and suddenly they know it all in three weeks. It took me until I was 28 to get to The Band, because I started with punk and there just wasn't enough time in the day [to work my way back]."

The increasing irrelevance of radio among young people and the wide availability of music has sort of collapsed time. Established artists note how much young fans are as drawn to older songs and deep album cuts as they are to the artists' newest music. Thanks to the Internet, an artist's back catalog is nearly as relevant as the current release.

Some feel this smorgasbord complicates the emergence of another Nirvana. For a movement to gain steam, it needs to reach critical mass. People's tastes may just be too broad, and the available options too many for people to fully buy in.

"The way everything works today — media and instant everything — there are too many distractions for one thing to solidify. It's not out of the question, of course, but it's that people listen to one song and move on to something else," Wurster says. "Kids are bombarded with so much that it's hard for anything to really get entrenched enough to form a movement."


We've had plenty of trends. When will we have something that sticks, something transformative? The underground's ripe for it, like a Manhattan-size island of misfit toys. The Internet's cleared away the middle men, and the rigors of the road have hardened skins and sharpened wits. The success of Bon Iver, a Wisconsin-based band that sold 104,000 copies of its most recent album in its first week of release in the United States, shows that people will go for even relatively unknown acts without big-label budgets.

"I doubt, at least in the beginning, [Bon Iver] got a very different push from the label," Finn says. "What happened is people reacted. They heard that record, it made them feel something, and they sort of voted with their attention/dollars/whatever."

Given the viral intensity of mass communications these days, what's to prevent an even more virulent contagion than Bon Iver from cutting through the culture? Who wouldn't thrill to experience something like Elvis, the Beatles, or the Clash in real time, as opposed to reliving it on documentaries and YouTube videos?

"It gives you hope when something like that happens," agrees Deer Tick's John McCauley. "But there hasn't been a sound of a generation yet."

We're just waiting on someone to lead the charge. Someone will take the reins. It's almost inevitable. Someone with enough charisma and savvy not to wilt beneath the hot media glare. Isn't that what part of what makes them Mick Jagger or David Bowie?

"It's the thing inside the people. It's the same thing as Elvis. It's want, drive, desire, and power. That's all it comes down to. The cream does rise to the top," says Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs, Twilight Singers). "Phenomena happen. Look at Frank Ocean, a perfect example of someone who basically got dropped by his label, put out his own record. Gave it away for free on Tumblr, and next thing he knows, he's playing Coachella. There's always that dude who gets around it and redefines it thusly. That will never stop."

Nor will rock. It will forever be a place kids go to find identity, sow some rebellion, and just celebrate the fine art of living. Guitars and loud, boisterous music always will have a home in kids' hearts, even when the media and money men are indifferent.

"A lot of people say [guitar-based rock] sort of comes and goes, but for people like me and my friends, it never really went away," says Paul Saunier of noisy rock duo PS I Love You. "The mainstream notices it sometimes, and then they don't . . . For me, releasing albums was a fun thing I've always wanted to do, and now I do it. It's almost more about me."

These communities never truly disappear. As it does with any club, membership fluctuates. But underground rock persists because it offers something we will always crave: a sense of belonging. (Even/especially for the outcasts.) At a time when all of us are struggling financially, those uniting threads are stretched that much tighter. (Also like 20 years ago: Remember "it's the economy, stupid"?)

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18 comments
pking5
pking5

To say that the underground music scene is in a "fertile" period seems pretty silly. Nothing in many years has come out that feels as authentic and exciting as what was happening 20 years ago. Sorry kids. When you get angry enough at Facebook, American Idol, Glee, and all the other crap, then maybe something can happen.

passthesalt91
passthesalt91

No. There will never be another "Nirvana." There will never be another "revolution" like the one they started in the early 90s. They said the same thing about The Mars Volta for crying out loud. Different times, different attitudes. It will never happen.

kayyyy
kayyyy

perry farrell isn't being honest or realistic i was at lolla this year and he booked haley reinhart, an american idol alum (she actually has a great voice and writes herself) but just fact checking here. and perry booked lady gaga TWICE for lolla. she's a singer songwriter at heart, though

 

 any comeback of that style of rock would be contrived

joeLeggy
joeLeggy

@TheGrungeScene But who's going too lead it?

joeLeggy
joeLeggy

@TheGrungeScene Most definetly it's coming SOON!

sorayab
sorayab

I loved the music of that era and I would hate for it to be re-hashed. It would be IMPOSSIBLE for a band coming out now with that same style not to be tampered with and exploited; turned into a contrived trend. I don't see this as a good thing. That said, I despair of the state of music GENERALLY these days. And Kurt thought it was bad back then...

SorayaBakhbakhi
SorayaBakhbakhi

@RoystonGhana As much as I LOVE the music and style of that era, I would hate for it to be re-hashed. It would destroy what made it special.

drone
drone

Chippendale is the DRUMMER not the bass player.

gage992112
gage992112

Here goes "remember the old days" b. s....  The computer made music disposible.  People can download 1,000's of songs with little emotional investment or physical involvement.  I don't get the same rush looking at music on Amazon as I did the first time I walked into Tower Records or looking for a bootleg at Roads to Moscow or cased a Diamond's department store for the quickest  way to the customer service where the Select-a-seat was located (and bitch about the $.45 service charge) because that's how we used to get tickets and music. 

 

And guess what---rock has alwas been DIY.  Blame Buddy Holly (sorry, doesn't fit your narrative).  

 

I think grunge was one of the last gasps of Old school R 'nR.  And ironically Nirvana played the opening night of their IN Utro tour at the Arizona State Fair (I mean because the article about the Arizona State Fair was a major sidebar)  But grunge was the last musical bubble before the current digital age.

 

And Perry Ferrall...  the first time I saw him was in a closed Clothe World at 33 ave & Bethany Home to Celebrity Theater, ASU activity Center, opening LOLLAPLOOZA on a f'n hot day in July  1991 and more recently at the Sea of Concrete (Desert Sky Pavillion I think) .   And I think there was 1992 post LOLLA gig @ the Ice House downtown.  I was just glad he didn't do the Steve Perry dissappearing thing (because he seems a bit like an introvert)  and I was worried about that when Porno for Pyros came out.

 

Rock is dead they say..........

Steve
Steve

"Nor will rock. It will forever be a place kids go to find identity, sow some rebellion, and just celebrate the fine art of living. Guitars and loud, boisterous music always will have a home in kids' hearts, even when the media and money men are indifferent."  

 

Forever? Always?  Seriously?  The music is only about 60 years old, and you've decided this style is eternal?  Get real.

humanclock
humanclock

"...(Coachella, Bumbershoot, Fun Fun Fun Fest) that have popped up across the country over the past decade."Uh, the year Bumbershoot started you might have been able to spot Kurt Cobain there screaming his lungs out...because he would have been four years old and dropped his ice cream cone.

LMFQP
LMFQP

@joeLeggy @thegrungescene You should check out @AnaKills from Detroit. A lot of talent and 90's raw feel.

RoystonGhana
RoystonGhana

@SorayaBakhbakhi ...couldn't agree more. Pop eats itself every few years and spews out pale simulacra that miss the point by miles

SorayaBakhbakhi
SorayaBakhbakhi

@RoystonGhana Exactly. I mean, if Kurt Cobain thought it was bad when he was alive, it's a million times worse now.

SorayaBakhbakhi
SorayaBakhbakhi

@RoystonGhana I know, though I think KC did want success in a way, but he resented the idea of compromising himself. I love Bill Hicks!

RoystonGhana
RoystonGhana

@SorayaBakhbakhi he must spin every time nickleback think about going near a studio. Bill hicks would be apoplectic too

 
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