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Alternative Youth: Alternative Music in the 1980s

There’s an old Irish joke: “The Irish all have something in common – they all hate each other.” I guess that’s true of many groups. It’s definitely true of alternative youth, at least of the 1980s. By the 1990s, FM radio had repackaged and repurposed alternative music into a mainstream medium and the term “alternative youth,” or “alterna-teen,” became a catch-all classification that anyone could co-opt. But in the 1980s, the music of these youth was obscure demimonde stuff that major radio stations wouldn’t touch, with some exceptions like New Order or Cure hits that uber-territorial alternative kids just couldn’t keep from bursting out of music-snob captivity. 

This made them angry, as if they could have been any angrier – or, in retrospect, snottier, especially toward each other. This is a recurring theme in my novel, 85A. To call someone a poser in alternative youth circles was the ultimate insult, and everyone – everyone – was deathly scared of the label because everyone – everyone – knew they themselves were posing, if only a little bit. In fortifying a subculture, the alternative youth scene of the 1980s (I don’t know about today) put image maintenance high above music appreciation. You had to know all the right bands, have all the right clothes, go to all the right stores and clubs, do all the right shit to your hair. And even if you did all those things right, the people keeping score, whom you so desperately wanted to be your friends, weren’t nice people. But that didn’t seem to matter at the time.

What were alternative youth in the 1980s listening to? Read 85A to learn more about this style of music.