90s Indie Rock Essentials
Nirvana’s game-changing success in the early ‘90s was more than just a boon to the Seattle grunge scene: It brought untold media exposure to the entire American indie-rock ecosystem that nurtured the group in their early days, transforming ‘80s trailblazers like Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth into Letterman-approved ‘90s icons in the process. Before long, similarly off-kilter fuzz-pop acts like Pavement and The Flaming Lips found themselves on MTV, while lo-fi auteurs like Beck and Guided by Voices proved you could make masterpieces at home on a four-track. But as much as the era was defined by a certain ramshackle, slacker-dude whimsy, the ‘90s also saw a wave of iconic women—Bikini Kill, Liz Phair, Sleater-Kinney, PJ Harvey—bringing unfiltered feminist perspectives to largely male scenes, portending indie rock’s exile from guyville. And as the decade drew to a close, singer/songwriters like Elliott Smith and Cat Power exuded a rawness that had less to do with noisy guitars than messy emotions.