The ’90s music scene was defined specifically by grunge with “alternative” being the overarching umbrella of music and culture that encompassed the decade. It was a time of simple three-chord songs and melancholy expression. Generation X found a voice and that voice was gritty and based around a more authentic sound and organic tone than the sounds of the decades that acted as bookmarks to the ’90s. The ’90s alternative rock scene also overlapped with the coming-of-age of the internet, providing a truly unique period for fans as the music was unique but the listening experience was just as unique, as well. It was a period of change in music and the way music was consumed. These are the nine signs that you were an alternative rock junkie during the ’90s.
99X Live Acoustic Sessions
Atlanta’s 99X radio station – remember radio stations? – became nationally known for hosting in-studio acoustic sessions with the biggest alt-rock acts of the ’90s. These live acoustic recordings would sometimes become B-sides to singles – remember those, too? – and, more often, would wind up recorded on tapes and traded amongst fans who congregated in AOL chat areas dedicated to specific buzz bands of the day. Remember this was before the rise of mp3 recordings and Napster.
KROQ Christmas CDs
Prior to the ’90s, radio stations existed solely in the monkey sphere of their physical broadcast area and that was it. The dawn of the internet age made the world a smaller place by the mid-’90s and KROQ of Los Angeles was able to garner a national demand for their yearly Christmas CDs which featured alt-rock bands performing Christmas standards and holiday-oriented original material. If you sought these Kevin and Bean KROQ Christmas CDs out, then you were an alt-rock junkie in the ’90s.
120 Minutes and Matt Pinfield
In the ’90s, if you wanted to see the latest music videos from the big “alt” bands of the era, there was no YouTube. Back in the day, alt-rock fans worshipped MTV’s “120 Minutes” as it was a shrine to alternative rock and the art of quality music videos. Many late-’90s ad campaigns were influenced by the visuals broadcast on this iconic alternative-oriented MTV program.
MTV2’s A-Z Music Video Countdown
Millennials often talk about how hard they have it, but they neglect to talk about how they enjoy instant access to every music video ever made. Back in the ’90s, we’d camp out around our standard-definition TVs and watch whatever the music video Gods chose for us. If your favorite band’s video wasn’t deemed worthy, you just had to do without or, if you were lucky, use a dial-up modem to get online and wait over an hour as a grainy 20-second clip downloaded. In 2000, MTV2 broadcast every single music video that ever aired on MTV and legions of alt-rock fans guesstimated when their favorite band’s music videos would air and changed their life plans accordingly.
The ’90s Rock Club Circuit
The ’90s alternative scene was truly special as most of the big names of the day toured the country heavily, performing in intimate clubs. Sure, bands still play clubs, but the circuit was etched in stone back then and you could count on seeing your favorite bands in small venues and those venues hosting a solid slate of major acts every other evening. Alt-rock junkies obsessively checked their favorite rockers’ websites and PollStar for tour dates as social media was still confined to AIM Away Messages during alt-rock’s heyday. You know you were a ’90s alternative junkie if club names like the Bowery Ballroom, Ziggy’s, Electric Ballroom, the 9:30 Club, Numbers, the Varsity, the Metro, and Liberty Lunch bring back strong memories.
Cassette Tapes As Currency
Before high-speed internet connections, P2P file sharing, and Bit Torrents, it was difficult to obtain anything beyond official studio releases. B&P trades were common with users of online message boards and cassette tapes were essentially currency. If you were not around for the ’90s, then you might not know that B&P means “blank and postage.” Dedicated alt-rock fans would send two cassette tapes and some cash for postage and the person with the rad recording would copy their bootleg and send it back on one of the cassettes, keeping the other as payment for the transaction. All of this was done just to listen to a rough-quality recording of an alt-rock band playing at a venue like Ziggy’s in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Paying Good Money For Bootlegs
The quality of a cassette tape recording degraded each time it was copied, meaning that first-generation tapes of live performances were extremely coveted by ’90s alt-rock fans, but even then the quality of these bootlegs was often lacking since the recording was made using ’90s portable technology located in some dude’s pocket. An entire cottage industry was built around obtaining soundboard-quality bootlegs of live concerts and selling them in professional-quality packaging. If you remember dropping upwards of $30 on one of these live concert bootlegs during the ’90s, then you were an alt-rock junkie.
Non-Musicians Buying Recording Equipment
The most dedicated alternative-rock fans took their love of the music to new levels. See, during the ’90s, these alternative rock acts built their loyal followings by incessant touring and the music itself was suited to great organic live performances. With that said, acts like Nine Inch Nails and the Smashing Pumpkins were popular with the soundboard set and their live bootlegs were readily available. Fans of smaller touring acts had a hard time finding quality recordings of their favorite bands so they resorted to buying their own equipment in order to record concerts.
Pogoing and Crowd Surfing
Crowd surfing has lived on and remains a recognizable term for those who did not live through the ’90s, but it is still inextricably linked to the alt-rock scene. Pogoing, however, was merely the act of jumping up and down and seems ridiculous to those who did not experience it or do it.
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