Theo Cateforis - "Alternative to What?”: Mainstreaming the Margins in 1990s Rock
From Theo Cateforis
Alternative rock arose from the 1980s American underground to become one of the 1990s’s best-selling musical phenomena. However, the music’s move into the mainstream proved to be deeply problematic, as evidenced by Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain’s fear of “selling out” and his resistance to the marketing of alternative as a desirable, rebellious commodity. As critic Thomas Frank memorably lamented at the time, if alternative was indistinguishable from the mainstream, then it begged the question: “Alternative to what?” This book-length project considers alternative as a conflicted musical and cultural terrain, one that saw major labels try to tap into and exploit alternative’s hip DIY sensibilities and alternative musicians respond with subversive sarcastic acts and disruptive sonic blasts. Residing between the periphery and center of popular culture, alternative was a uniquely unsettled space, but one that over time became deeply entrenched in the music industry.