The Alternative Scene– Blasting Back to the Past or Making a Mark on the Present?

Ask up-and-coming artists Grandson and FUR and you'll get entirely different answers.

With the seemingly interminable controversy surrounding the success of modern rock sensation Greta Van Fleet, all of us are left to wonder, is the classic rock genre set for a comeback in 2019?

Between the rising popularity of Greta’s Led Zeppelin-reminiscent sound and the success of classic-rock centered biopics like Bohemian Rhapsody and the upcoming Elton John musical movie, Rocketman, 20th-century rock is making a resurgence across generations.

The era of world-dominating rockstars may have passed, but there’s clearly an appetite for 60s/70s/80s nostalgia in today’s music market. Plenty of articles have been written about what Greta’s critical buzz means for modern artists, so today, I want to focus on two other musical acts; each of whom seeks to push rock in an entirely different direction– 60’s throwback rockers FUR and politically-charged, guitar-driven rapper Grandson.

About a month ago, I was lucky enough to see Grandson (Jordan Benjamin) live at Rover’s Holiday Hangover in Rochester, NY where I got to meet him briefly before the concert.

"I’ll put it this way– on stage, the dude is insane, but insane in the best possible way."

Backstage, he’s a perfectly polite, casual, and grateful person, but the minute the strobe lights kick to life, Grandson lets loose every single ounce of political frustration and activist passion he’s got. I’ve been really into his stuff since the Summer when his fiery single, Blood // Water, hit the Alt-Nation radio waves, but Grandson live is Grandson at his best. He has absolutely no filter, and it’s great.

After the concert, high on Grandson fever and eager to learn more about the way he makes his music, I listened to an episode of, Inside the Album, a podcast produced by Atlantic Records to promote new signings. The episode centered around Grandson’s mission to keep his music grounded in contemporary discourse. He wants his music to relate to issues that are relevant NOW while experimenting with the new technology that typically finds its home more in modern hip-hop and trap music than rock.  When it comes to where he wants his music to stand within the current rock scene, Grandson says,

"I don’t wanna just be a cover band… I don’t wanna do this nostalgia kick because if my whole thing is sounding like Led Zeppelin or Rage or whatever, like, just go listen to those iconic bands that we grew up on… I had no interest in just contributing to something that already existed, I wanted to actively push [rock] forward… One of my reasonings was, who’s to say that John Lennon or Kurt Cobain or whoever would have approached music the way they did if they had access to the music technology available now…."

I remember listening to this particular quote and thinking, "well, he certainly called some people out", and as a Greta Van Fleet and FUR fan, that kind of hurt.

Nevertheless, I see Grandson’s point. There’s clearly space for songs that remind of us of the classics. Classics are remembered for a reason… they’re amazing artists whose songs have withstood the test of time, but there’s nothing new or revolutionary about a song produced today that feels like it fits right into the 60s. As today's top 100 proves, just like the great guitar solos of the past punched a hole in the soul of the listener, a killer beat drop born entirely of electronic sounds can have the same effect. Grandson’s music perfectly melts the two worlds together.

Take the song Best Friends, one of my personal favorites. The guitar riff that rides under the first chorus makes the song feel frantic and chaotic, but when the chorus drops and the beat adopts a more trippy, trap-leaning tilt, you can really sink your teeth in and settle into the vibe. It’s a common sensation within Grandson's music, and it matches the aggravated, passionate lyrical content perfectly. His production cleverly teeters on brink of chaos, and it’s that looming sense of an impending beat drop that feels so great. Jordan knows how to find the sweet spot where trap and rock meet, drawing in fans of both genres and boldly asserting his ideas along the way. Grandson is the path I’ve used to move a lot of my hip-hop loving fans into the rock scene.

I’ll leave this discussion of Grandson with a final quote from his “Inside the Artist” interview that I think sums up his hope for the future of the genre perfectly,

"It’s never that cool to listen to the music that your parents listened to… it’s whatever it is that your parents roll their eyes at that feels fucking good"

Our second band, FUR, disagree.

Take one look at a portrait of the band, and you can immediately guess where they find their influences.

FUR can probably credit their growing popularity to the music video for "If You Know That I'm Lonely", a soothing ear-warmer seemingly drawn right from the 60s. I stumbled across this music video a few months ago and the song has made its way onto nearly every playlist I've created since. I fell in love with the video's lighthearted, warm aesthetic and I immediately sent it to everyone I knew. The consensus is clear, FUR is great and a welcome throwback to a musical time period that holds a particular nostalgia for so many people.

Band member William Murray puts it best in an interview with BBC music,

"We’re not trying to be a pastiche, obviously that’s happened and it’s good to look back on but I feel like we’ve got to a nice point where it feels fresh for people who weren’t there first time around... It is quite a timeless sound"

Where Grandson promotes his brand with a sort of "shock and awe" campaign, FUR are perfectly content to pursue the music that makes them feel good and share a style of music that many people today never got to experience. From songs like "What Would I Do" that gain momentum as they go to a sorrowful, quiet number like the newly released "Love Song for No One", there's always a FUR song to carry you throughout your day as you muse about relationships past and present.

With short, non-confrontational, non-controversial songs that will probably sound great on vinyl, FUR openly embraces their 60s vibes and they're a refreshing addition to a very (and appropriately) aggravated rock scene. Murray says,

"Nowadays in the singles age, it's about catching people’s attention with lyrics, but it was quite carefree in those days and hopefully that’s something that resonates in our music."

Grandson understands and embraces the fact that an army of "grandkids" (me included) are more than ready to throw our frustrations out into world, but we can't survive solely off angry music. After long hard day at work, I want nothing more than to throw on some FUR and "think 'bout the raindrops on my window pane at night" (a particularly aesthetic lyric from What Would I Do).

"What the alt-rock scene really needs to do in 2019 is embrace variety."

There's a place for ephemerality in modern music just as there's a place for nostalgia. Both are equally valid and both Grandson and FUR are worth a listen.

Check out Grandson's debut EP a modern tragedy vol. 1, or his new release, a modern tragedy vol. 2 if you're looking to get rowdy, but if you're looking to chill with a calmer vibe, give FUR's self titled EP a listen.

They're both gonna be big, get in early 😀