Khalil’s Virtual Venue: Alternative Rock Subgenres

Diving deeper into some of the lesser known genres of rock


Tara Gnewikow

Illustration concept by Khalil Bourgoub

Khalil Bourgoub

The other day I was going through some of my State Hornet playlists on Spotify for inspiration on what to write about next and noticed that in the Grammy playlist we collectively released, there was a glaring issue: the complete lack of great rock music. As the 2010s progressed, rap and electronic music really took over, and it felt like rock and its plethora of subgenres fell out of favor and influence in the pop music scene. 

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In lieu of this, I wanted to put together a playlist of alternative subgenres of rock music that existed outside of the popular gaze to give people a look at what the genre has been doing in recent years. This playlist is a small collection of rock subgenres that I suggest could reignite and reinvigorate a possible lost interest in a genre that has been pretty stagnant in innovative sounds since the late 2000s. 

‘Strongthany’ – Delta Sleep 


I decided to open up the playlist with a personal favorite subgenre of mine, math rock (and the answer is no to the already stupid question going through your head right now, the songs are not about math).This technical and relatively fast paced subgenre of rock took all the twinkly indie rock kids who were way too obsessed with their guitars and moody lyrics and stuck it into one place. A place where each song has an intricately structured guitar riff, quick handed drummer and interesting vocal patterns. The subgenre’s namesake is hinting at the possibility that you might need a calculator to count the time signature the riffs are in and not what the songs are about. Math rock can range from lighthearted bops to moody emo-inspired concept albums; it’s flexible and is still being innovated currently. 

Suggested listening if you liked Delta Sleep: TTNG, Yvette Young and her band Covet, Tangled Hair, Tiny Moving Parts. 

‘Perfect Pillow’ – CHON


The next song I went with is “Perfect Pillow” by CHON, a progressive rock band from San Diego. I wanted to make a distinction between what modern prog rock music sounds like versus something like math rock, and I think CHON makes music that demonstrates that perfectly. Prog rock hasn’t been in the spotlight since artists like Rush, Yngwie Malmsteen and other flavors of hair metal were writing face-melting guitar solos and swinging their long hair on stages everywhere. CHON is another band still making music and innovating modern prog rock sounds in this post-Tool era style of prog. This song is special to me because I still remember crowd surfing to this song in the final breakdown of an encore at a small show they were playing in Santa Cruz. They are such a fun band to see live; I would highly recommend one of their sets when shows come back. 

Suggested listening if you liked CHON: Plini, Intervals, Vasudeva, Elephant Gym, Totorro.

‘We Own The Night’ – Dance Gavin Dance


It would be impossible for me to make a playlist of interesting rock subgenres and not put a song in here for the mosh monkeys like myself, so I went with a post hardcore song by Dance Gavin Dance. Even though Post Hardcore is more of a metal subgenre than rock, I felt like there is an overlap between those genres that still kept songs like this relevant to the playlist. I found that this song, and Dance Gavin Dance specifically, kept up the dance-y energy that keeps me blasting them in my car. I don’t know if I’m just getting old, but going back to music like this reminds me of things like Warped Tour, a series of festivals I’m going to miss going to, and my middle school phase where I had just started skateboarding. 

Suggested listening if you liked Dance Gavin Dance: Closure In Moscow, Circa Survive, The Fall of Troy, Hail The Sun. 

‘Reflection’ – Balance And Composure


After the crescendo of songs in the first half of the playlist, I thought it would be appropriate to slow things down. Balance and Composure’s subgenre of rock is the emo music that started gaining traction after some of the grunge and punk movements fell out of style in the late 90s to early 2000s. This is a subgenre I never really tire of listening to because I always feel like I find something new to like about it. The connections I’ve made with this subgenre make a lot of sense as well, the music is supposed to be emotional, and you’re supposed to relate to the lyrics. The overall atmosphere of the music and the connections to the bands can help express something to you that you didn’t know how to express before. I know emo is a loaded term when it comes to music because of many stereotypes that come along with it, but it was a genre that I gave a chance and was very happy with my decision. 

Suggested listening if you liked Balance And Composure: Foxing, TWIABP, Citizen, Touché Amoré.

‘Sea Legs’ – The Shins


The next genre of rock I wanted to bring into the playlist was indie rock, specifically the sound of the mid 2000s to mid 2010s. Personally, indie rock fell out of my taste when the bands with eight people all playing a random instrument trying to be super folk inspired and yelling ‘HEY’ after every line rose to prominence. I’d like to highlight the songs that were coming out before  because they are the reason that sound even got popular in the first place. The Shins have been one of my favorite bands for over a decade, and their album ‘’Chutes Too Narrow’’ was the first album I bought with my own money. It was between that and ‘’Toxicity’’ by System Of A Down, so it was a tough decision for 11-year-old me in that Barnes And Noble music section. With an amorphous style of music, indie draws inspiration from genres that go deeper than just subgenres of rock from the past and what pushed it to commercial success in the era it was popular in. 

Suggested listening if you liked The Shins: Broken Bells, Band of Horses, The Morning Benders, The Dodos.

‘Oshakashama’ – RADWIMPS 


To finish off the playlist, I’m throwing in quite the curveball. I’m not just stopping at trying to expose people to more subgenres of rock due to how boring current rock sounds are; I’m encouraging people to go international with it. A country’s music that I’ve noticed has been really easy to get into, without knowing a single word of the language, has been Japan. There really isn’t a way to describe this song other than it’s just bonkers. The riffs are bouncy, the melodies are super catchy and the inspiration from other genres in this song is all over the place but in the best way possible. Something I’ve really grown to appreciate about Japanese music is how the rhythm of the language molds very fluidly with the music they make. There is always something interesting going on with the words and a sort of push and pull of rhythm between the vocals and instruments. I cannot wait to travel to Japan one day and see some of the bands I follow live because I just know it’s going to be a good time. 

Suggested listening if you liked RADWIMPS: tricot, toe, KANA-BOON, Gesu No Kiwami Otome, SHISHAMO.