Ten ’90s Rock Artists That Still Matter

*Written and published for AUX


As the new decade starts, a lot of focus has been put on the 2000s. Towards the end of last year, everyone seemed to be scrambling together their top 10 or 100 lists of best artists/songs of the decade. Works by Arcade Fire, The Strokes, Kanye West, Radiohead and Amy Winehouse were included in most and for the folks in the UK, anything that Pete Doherty played on…or used as a coaster.

But what about the decade that seems so long ago, at least for those who grew up during it. There are several forms of music that exploded during the 90s and many have influenced the music we hear today. From hip hop to a more experimental version of rock we now called alternative, this list will show how relevant music from the 90s still is and why it’s important to every now and then slip into those torn up jeans, not the store bought ones and pop a CD in to the old ghetto blaster.


In 1987 Alice in Chains did two things. They changed their name from Sleeze and started playing metal influenced alternative rock music. Last year Alice in Chains, minus former singer Layne Staley and including new singer William Duvall, released an album of metal influenced alternative rock songs. Why do they matter today? Despite losing one of their singers and prominent songwriter, the band has taken its time finding a new lead singer and have still delivered loud hard rocking tunes they were known for. It was relieving to thrown on an Alice record when you got fed up with some other alternative acts taking the pop sound route. It sill is today.


A sold out show a few weeks ago at The Phoenix and a room full of sweaty bodies at an in-store performance earlier in the evening is a testament to how much this band still matters. Despite having inner band turmoil, where at one point only singer/guitarist J Mascis remained, the band has re-united and put out records that have lost none of their early 90s guitar biting potency.


It’s pretty cool to play in bands like Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age and Them Crooked Vultures. But then again, Dave Grohl is a pretty cool guy. A multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, Grohl has been rocking since the 80s, but became known in the 90s with the success of Nirvana and Foo Fighters. Now linked up with Homme and Jonesy, Grohl still matters today because whether he is singing, playing the guitar or beating the crap out of the drum set, he is one of the most exciting musicians to see.

The Tragically Hip

In the mid-80s, fronted by a poetic madman named Gord Downie, Kingston, Ontario band The Tragically Hip caught a break after a show at the Horseshoe. From there they went on to release two albums later in the decade and six in the next. Their third album, 1993’s Fully Completely, was a huge success on both sides of the boarder. But up here is where the band’s roots are firmly planted, where they even named an album that was slang for frozen horse droppings, something folks in the Great White North may only get. The Hip still matter because they still make good music, We Are The Same came out last year, and like hockey or any other Canadian past time, they are something that was made in and for our country.


Trent Reznor’s introduction of great songwriting into the mix of synths, distorted guitars and various urban street sounds made sure industrial music was back on the map. The second full length NIN album, 1994’s The Downward Spiral, spawned the memorable chorus “I wanna fuck you like an animal,” and an epic song that years later the man in black would cover. The band has released eight albums and although Reznor has said they will not be touring anytime soon, we are expected to hear new material from the band or a solo project soon.


After the release of their first album Pablo Honey in 1993, people showed up at Radiohead gigs anxiously awaiting the band to play “Creep.” Besides the track with the bombastic chorus, it didn’t seem like Radiohead had it in them to release six more records, one of which being the best alternative album to come out of the last two decades. Radiohead matter today because they are still the five piece band who know no musical limits, care deeply about the place we call Earth and have a knack for putting out genre defining albums.


Pearl Jam are one of those bands to emerge from the alternative rock/grunge/whatever you want to call it era, but don’t always seem to be linked to it directly. Whatever type of music tickles your ears, Pearl Jam are simply a great band to listen to. Eddie Vedder is a great singer and Scott Stap is not. Since 1991’s Ten, the band have released eight albums including last years Backspacer and worldwide have sold an estimated sixty million records. With the exception of former Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron, all other members of the band since its inception are still present.


The members of Canadian punk band Propagandhi formed in the late 80s and decided to create DIY pro-gay, pro-feminist, pro-civil liberties, pro-vegan, anti-fascist music. Releasing two albums in the 90s, five overall, the band is still doing it today, albeit taking a heavier approach to the sound. Chris Hannah, vocals/guitar has said the band is hoping to get back into the studio and start recording again this year.


One of the pioneers of the genre the English press called trip-hop, Massive Attack have, including the upcoming, released five albums since 1991 and have created a fusion of hip-hop, soul, orchestral arrangements and sampling. Most notable is their influence on future bands to emerge throughout the decade such as Portishead and the Sneaker Pimps. Heligoland is set to come out next month and features vocal contributions by Damon Albarn from Gorillaz and Hope Sandoval from Mazzy Star.

pj harvey

Polly Jean Harvey is one of the most influential songwriters of 90s alternative rock. Her first three albums, Dry, Rid of Me and To Bring My Love, helped establish this fact as they explored themes of religion, sex and love. The two other members of the band she played with split after her second record and she was left to go at it alone. Harvey has released six albums since including her latest piano based album, White Chalk, in 2007.

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