The Nineties continued to see the expansion of alternative rock, both
artistically and commercially. The general trend of the era was towards more
and more abstract music, music that had lost its original label of dance/party
First and foremost, the Nineties were the decade of singer songwriters who play ever more intellectual compositions: female composers such as Robin Holcomb, Tori Amos, Lisa Germano and Juliana Hatfield, male composers such as Matthew Sweet, Magnetic Field, Smog, Beck . Canada had Jane Siberry and Loreena McKennitt, two of the most conceptual musicians of their time, until Alanis Morissette emerged as a leader of the female folksinger movement. Ireland had two of the most unique voices, Sinead O'Connor and Enya, soon joined by Iceland's Bjork. In England, only Polly Jean Harvey ranked with these masters.
"Foxcore" was a brief fad propelled by West Coast all-girl punk bands such as Hole, Babes In Toyland, L7 and Seven Year Bitch.
Industrial music staged a dramatic comeback in Chicago with two of the most visible acts of the decade: Ministry and Nine Inch Nails, inspired by older European bands like KMFDM. New York followed suit with Cop Shoot Cop and Type O Negative, San Francisco with Neurosis, Steel Pole Bath Tub, Thinking Fellers Union. Texas with a florid industrial/psychedelic school that included the Pain Teensm Bedhead, and the Vas Deferens Organization.
Gothic rock came from the sun belt (Lycia, Black Tape For A Blue Girl) and was never as popular as the northern variant of industrial music.
Hard sounds still ruled in the aftermath of grunge, and New York (Unsane, Helmet, Surgery, Monster Magnet) and Los Angeles (Tool, Stone Temple Pilots, Kyuss, Korn) had their share of the pie.
Techno was the new trend in dance music. Invented in the Eighties in Detroit by the triad of disc jockeys Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May, techno crossed the Atlantic and established itself in England and in the continent (Front 242), marching hand in hand with the rave scene. America was left behind (Moby and not much else).
Britain was the place for psychedelic music. It started with the Liverpool revival of Echo And The Bunnymen and Julian Cope, then it picked up speed with dream-pop (Cocteau Twins, the Australian Dead Can Dance, the Norwegian Bel Canto, and later the formidable triad of Slowdive, Bark Psychosis and Tindersticks) and with the Scottish noise-pop bands (Jesus And Mary Chain and Primal Scream ) and finally reached a climax with the shoegazers (My Bloody Valentine, Spacemen 3, Loop, Spiritualized, Catherine Wheel), before folding into a new form of ambient music.
By the end of the decade, Britain was awash in Brit-pop, a media-induced trance of super-melodic pop that spawned countless "next big things", from Verve to Oasis to Blur to Suede to Radiohead, the band that finally disposed of it. But the best in the melodic genre came from humbler groups, led by girls, like Primitives and Heavenly.
The 1990s were also the decade of heavy metal, that peaked in Los Angeles with Metallica, Jane's Addiction, Guns And Roses, and that soon split into a myriad subgenres (doom metal, grind-core, death metal, etc) and funk-metal (Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against The Machine in Los Angeles, Primus and Faith No More in San Francisco). Marilyn Manson was the late phenomenon that recharged the genre.
Punk-pop was born in Los Angeles in the Eighties, but somehow peaked in the Nineties elsewhere (Green Day in San Francisco, Screeching Weasel and Pegboy in Chicago).
The Nineties were the decade of intellectual rock, when no song could be just a melody and a rhythm but had to be all twisted and deranged. New York leaned towards rhythm and blues (Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Soul Coughing, Royal Trux) and psychedelia (Yo La Tengo ), Boston towards psychedelia (Galaxie 500, Morphine) and pop (Breeders, Belly), Seattle towards psychedelia (Sky Cries Mary, Built To Spill), Los Angeles towards psychedelia (Mazzy Star, Red Temple Spirits, Medicine, Grant Lee Buffalo), San Francisco towards folk and country (American Music Club, Red House Painters), Washington towards punk-rock (Unrest, Girls Against Boys), Chicago towards punk-rock (Jesus Lizard) psychedelia (Codeine, Eleventh Dream Day), pop (Green, Smashing Pumpkins) and country (Uncle Tupelo). All of them owed something to the humble school of Kentucky, led by Slint and peaked with Tortoise.
Remnants of punk-rock in Texas (Ed Hall), Minneapolis (Cows), Tennessee (Today Is The Day) kept sending shock-waves around the nation.
San Francisco started the vogue for lo-fi pop with Pavement, which then begat Sebadoh, Guided By Voices, etc.
The Southeastern states came up strong with more and more intelligent sounds (Bitch Magnet, Blind Idiot God, Don Caballero, Grifters) that eventually peaked in the North Carolina school (Polvo, Seam).
Analog synthesizers staged a comeback with Jessamine, Magnog, Labradford.
But new styles kept coming literally from everywhere: Rhode Island (Six Finger Satellite), Arizona ( Calexico), Ohio ( Brainiac), Montana (Silkworm), Michigan (Windy & Carl).
England kept mutating its variant of psychedelia, that now began bordering on dissonant avantgarde (Stereolab, Ozric Tentacles, Pram, Flying Saucer Attack, Porcupine Tree).
The Nineties were the age of electronic music, whether in dance, ambient or noise format. Electronic musicians and ensembles spread to Belgium (Vidna Obmana), France (Air, Deep Forest, Lightwave), Germany (Sven Vath, Mo Boma, Oval, Mouse On Mars, Air Liquide), Canada (Skinny Puppy, Front Line Assembly, Delerium, Vampire Rodents, Trance Mission), Scandinavia, and especially Japan (Zeni Geva, Boredoms, Merzbow, the triad of noise). Britain's revitalized ambient scene yielded Orb, Main, Rapoon, Autechre.
Britain's dance music was far more successful (creatively speaking) than its rock bands: Madchester (Stone Roses), rave (Saint Etienne), transglobal dance (Banco De Gaia, Loop Guru, Transglobal Underground, TUU) ambient house (Orbital, Future Sound Of London, Aphex Twins, Mu-ziq), jungle (Goldie, Squarepusher, Propellerheads), trip-hop (Portishead, Tricky), and plain techno (Meat Beat Manifesto, Prodigy, Chemical Brothers) artists redefined compositional processes and cross-bred countless genres.
Industrial music and grindcore somehow merged and spawned terrifying sounds in the albums of Techno Animal and Godflesh.
The Irish Cranberries and the Scottish Belle And Sebastian are among the revelations of the end of the decade.
Australia still boasts impressive ensembles, and in particular one of the most important instrumental bands, Dirty 3.
The 1990s' boom of singer songwriters will continue throughout the decade. Among the leaders of influential bands, several will continue offering serious music on their own: Natalie Merchant, Kristin Hersh, Bob Mould, Frank Black, Paul Westerberg, Mark Eitzel, Scott Weiland, Chris Cornell, and, greatest of them all, Mark Lanegan.
continues... | back...
Surf and garage music
The second coming of Industrial music
Dance-music in the age of Techno
Brit and non-Brit pop
Rap of the 1990s
Roots-rock in the age of Alt-country
Hardcore in the age of Punk-pop
From grindcore to stoner-rock
Ambient and glitch music
Industial-trash: Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Cop Shoot Cop, Type O Negative
Post-rock: Blind Idiot God, Slint
Washington hardcore: Fugazi, Unrest, Nation Of Ulysses, Girls Against Boys
Chicago hardcore: Jesus Lizard
Foxcore: Babes In Toyland
North Carolina: Fetchin Bones, Polvo
Grunge: Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nirvana
Gothic: Lycia, Sam Rosenthal
Slo-core: Codeine, Bedhead
Post-grunge: Morphine, Built To Spill, Cows, Smashing Pumpkins
Songwriters: Magnetic Fields, Lisa Germano, Tori Amos, Beck, Mark Lanegan
Funk-rock: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against The Machine, Primus, Faith No More
Roots-rock: Del-Lords, American Music Club, Red House Painters, Walkabouts
Lo-fi pop: Pavement
Avant-rock: Thinking Fellers Union
New Zealand: Roy Montgomery
British industrial-punk: Godflesh, Kevin Martin
Grindcore: Napalm Death
New British folk: Polly Jean Harvey, Belle And Sebastian
Canada songwriter: Loreena McKennitt
British retro-pop: Stereolab, Primal Scream, Spiritualized, Radiohead
Australia: Lubricated Goat, Dirty Three
Scandinavia: Bjork, Bel Canto
Germany: Mo Boma, Mouse On Mars
Techno/rave: Meat Beat Manifesto, Stone Roses, Chemical Brothers
Canada avantgarde: Delerium, Vampire Rodents, Trance Mission
Ambient: Orb, Aphex Twin, Autechre, Mu-ziq
Japan noise: Boredoms
Trip-hop: Portishead, Laika
Transglobal: Loop Guru, Banco De Gaia, TUU