Over the last few days you may have seen Breaking More Waves skulking around the internet trying to stir up some debate about what exactly alternative music is these days. Is it a sound? Or is it an ideology attached to the songs? Or tunes that challenge the status quo? Or just music that presents a different choice to something else that is available? Are bands that are described as alt. rock for example actually that alternative if they are selling vast quantities of records and playing huge concerts? Is it possible to have a mainstream alternative band? Are for example Arcade Fire alternative? What about Radiohead? Is heavy metal ‘alt.’ because it doesn’t break through to the singles charts even although many of the songs from the genre use the same templates and clichés over and over again with not one iota of originality.
Or does it actually matter? Because ultimately whatever tag we put on music (and we’ve seen some good new ones recently – LOLpop and The New Boring being our two favourites) the bottom line is do you like it or not?
There's a danger for music fans with genre tags; it’s too easy to define your tastes by a simple genre description. “I like folk music,” or “I only listen to alternative music,” and then get stuck in a rut of complacency, missing out on the new, the different, the music that really does challenge the status quo or creates great art.
Maybe ‘alt.’ isn’t a style or sound of music at all. Maybe it’s a mindset of its audience – those who are able to embrace sounds that they haven’t heard before without preconceived or blinkered ideals - to consider new ideas without rejection.
Or maybe ‘alt.’ is just a symbol on a computer keyboard. One that when pressed with a J on an Apple computer gives a symbol that looks like this ∆ .
This new group, alt-j or ∆, (we’re still not sure which to call them) are by virtue of their keyboard and name truly alternative. It’s probably just as well Jessie J didn’t think of this symbol idea though – that would have been very confusing. Thankfully, to our mind ∆ (who we understand used to be called Films and hail from the Leeds area) are pretty alternative whatever definition you choose and not just because of their silly / clever / pretentious name (delete as appropriate – using delete not the alt key). Their music is an amalgamation of loose limbed cool experimental frisky folk gently spat out the groove machine with skittering and clattering percussion. It’s all underlined with a charming free-form layered approach to songwriting and structure. Vocally there’s a hint of the nasal whine of Alec Ounsworth from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and a hint of Devendra Banheart. It works well. It’s not instant, but there’s an organic charm there that draws you in. It won’t be for everyone, it’s hardly likely to battling with the LOLpopsters or The New Boring for chart supremacy, but we can’t imagine that anyone enjoying them is going to be bothered by that.
∆ released their debut single yesterday, a double A side with the tracks Bloodflood and Tessellate through Loud and Quiet Recordings. You can hear Tessellate below together with another song. They play a whole host of gigs in the next few weeks, including Oxford’s tasty looking Leylines festival on October 15. Hurrah for the alt key. One of the most interesting bands we've heard in a while.Tessellate (demo) by alt-j
Breezeblocks (demo) by alt-j