Sunday, August 02, 2015

1995: The Year the Underground Explosion Died

The AV Club recently posted an article by Jason Heller titled 1995 marked the end of the major-label explosion of weird.  The article talked about how 1995 was the last year that major record labels really dipped into the well of the underground music scene that had birthed acts such as Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr., Pearl Jam, and Green Day.  Sure there was the minor ska phase a year or so later but after that mainstream music really went back to being a product created by major corporations and spoon fed to the masses through top 40 and rock radio and MTV.  The article's final thoughts perfectly illustrate the state of the musical world 20 years ago.
Ultimately, that’s what the last major-label spasm of weirdness in 1995 signaled: The freaks that the ’90s had touted to champion finally ran their course. The losers’ day in the sun was over. The victors came home to roost.
I remember 1995 being a year that I found myself gravitating away from the acts that I had loved during the first part of the decade, in favor of acts on smaller labels buried deep under the surface, far away from the prying eyes of the mainstream.  (That sounded way more pretentious than I intended it to.)  Some of this had to do with my growing and changing taste and some had to do with the fact that I was (and still am) a die-hard underground music fan.  I was part of this scene that had made a big splash and now our 15 minutes of fame was winding down and so I happily headed right back down into the underground where this music truly belonged.  And I say this not as a snob but as a fan that understand the reality of the world.  There are great things that the masses just don't get and to me, this kind of music--punk, indie rock, alt country, etc.--is just that.  Every once in a while someone will come around that breaks through those barriers and is able to connect with a wide, crossover, mainstream appeal but those artists are few and far between.  In fact, we may never see another Nirvana again.

Steve Albini was right when he surmised that the major label explosion of the early 90s would be financially bad for a lot of the bands swept up in the aftermath of Nirvana's success.  A lot of bands and labels went broke but there has been a silver lining to this insanity.  In the years leading up to Nevermind taking over the world, an infrastructure was built for underground artists, labels, clubs, record stores, and so on.  With the great influx of cash, exposure, and audience in those post-Nirvana years, that infrastructure was able to grow and solidify to the point that a form of it exists today, used by countless bands and labels.  Music that had once been nearly impossible to find was now much easier to procure, and the internet hadn't even made its mark yet.

In the annals of music history, 1995 will most likely be forgotten.  It was a transitional year for music both for me personally and for the masses.  Within a few short years, the influence of the underground would be all but gone on mainstream radio, replaced by nu metal and boy bands making the landscape not all that different from the one that Nirvana affected so drastically years before.  The underground would go on having survived the onslaught on corporate America, a bit bruised and battered but far more seasoned and ready to face the coming of the new century.

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