Highlights: Alternative darlings of the 21st century

Potential cult bands for the everyday listener
Modern day shoegaze inspired by My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless.
Modern day shoegaze inspired by My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless.
Christine Park

In December 2023, a Youtube duo known for their vast music content under the channel name NEOPUNKFM coined the phrase “zoomergaze”. This helped to categorically manage a specific style of the countless present-day artists generally shoehorned into the umbrella term of “alternative rock”. Alternative and indie music have encountered a sudden rise in mainstream media under the subjective direction of the pandemic. However, zoomergaze music has been around for years. The genre is mostly considered by enjoyers as revival grunge sometimes mixed in with hyperpop, and the hidden antecedents of this new style deserve their acknowledgement as the kings and queens of an even dreamier, grungier, and more innovative era. And of course, experimental music is nothing without the concept of cult bands.

Coldplay, Nickelback, and Green Day are all bands with billions of streams each. Their biggest hits are unknown by few, but ironically they always seem to appear in the conversation for the most hated bands of all time. On the other hand, My Bloody Valentine, The Smiths, and The Velvet Underground are adored by their respective listeners. For music snobs, naming Imagine Dragons as your favorite band equals your music taste being trash, and Deftones is respectable. The latter is what’s known as a “cult band”.

Mainstream artists operate under a formula provided under the objective of mass appeal – “Commercial pop”, as they call it. However, bands such as My Bloody Valentine pioneered the roaring ’90s tide of alternative music, and are considered compositional revolutions amongst shoegazers. Shoegaze is a subgenre of alternative music characterized by dreamy vocals and guitar distortion. While the term may be open to subjective interpretation, in my opinion, what makes a band “cult” and a critical darling (not necessarily popular, but highly rated by critics) is the specific niche of their music; a preference for inventism and an uncompromising vision of true art over profit. The creation of a small but loyal fanbase is not always the objective of all bands but is almost always the result. The emotional investment for cult fanbases is unmatched by the skimmed interest of established pop.

Hundreds of artists come together to try their hand at a bit of success. Here are a few bands from the 21st century that deserve to be considered in the array.

Title Fight
Title Fight

Hyperview, the most recent album released by Title Fight in 2015, performs for a specific demographic of listeners. The general consensus amongst critics split into two factions: either you think it’s genius, or view it as an underwhelming attempt at the band’s segue from midwest emo to shoegaze. The initial commonality of this revived sound is what gives it the nostalgic magnetism that grips my heart in tracks such as “Rose of Sharon” or “Mrahc”. Hate it or love it, you can’t deny the rawness of their sound, the same four chords apparent throughout their discography, the drive is cranked clockwise simply for the chaos of it all. To hear “avant-garde” is not their goal; the shift in their sound merely seems akin to a natural evolution of their collective character. Growing up is good. Change is good. Title Fight is good.

100 gecs
100 gecs

100 gecs is an obvious duo to mention in the conversation about new music. They easily demonstrate innovation in the latest decade and are the epitome of glitchcore. The face of a genre should be as apparent as 100 Gecs is to hyperpop. Their central characteristic of transparently heavy formant shifting is a newer concept in the world of music. An earlier example of similar technicalities is Vocaloid, a computer-synthesized voice software that birthed the most successful virtual idol in history, Hatsune Miku.

*Formant shifting: Formants (different from pitch) the extremities in the frequency spectrum of a sound that give it a unique timbre.

Additionally, the 2010s were heavily influenced by social media influencers on the popular app Musical.ly, a platform that hosted 15-second to 1-minute lip-syncing videos to any song. Because of the short time limit, Musical.ly creators often brought upon “sped-up” versions of popular songs, relabeling the Nordic-originated internet subgenre of “Nightcore”. 

100 gecs debuted their first extended play (EP) in 2017. While they continue to rise with the release of their intensely popular studio albums 1000 gecs (2019) and the newest 10,000 gecs (2024), the future of the group is still uncharted territory as they begin to evolve as artists for better or for worse. Though the pandemoniac pitches seem off-putting to many, the niche of hyperpop is worth checking out. Maybe it can be your newest intrigue.

The Buttertones
The Buttertones

Formed in 2012 in Los Angeles, California, this band is one of the most consistent new artists out there in the latest decade. To use a single word to describe their music would be a crime. The instrumentals are a sort of garage surf-rock with a hint of jazz and everything in between, while the distinct vocals from lead singer Richard Araiza introduce a gothic tone, bringing everything together in harmony. A characteristic about this group I believe gives it such a charm is the dense inclusion of both saxophone and bass guitar in their songs, a rare but beautiful occurrence in popular music I personally believe should be widespread. I definitely recommend listening to their self-titled album, a record that perfectly captures the essence of the band as a proper establishment of their identity as musicians, just as a self-titled should.

While The Buttertones aren’t particularly under a singular definition of a genre, nobody can deny their sound is truly “alternative”, and this band is undoubtedly something worth becoming a cult follower of. I look forward to their future discography.

Modern cult bands represent a vital and vibrant force within the contemporary music landscape, pushing the boundaries of experimentation and innovation while captivating audiences with their singular visions. As the appetite for unconventional sounds continues to grow, these bands serve as beacons of creativity, inspiring listeners to embrace the limitless possibilities of sonic exploration.

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