Early emo artists crammed into Washington, D.C. basements, while punk rockers destroyed small California clubs. Grunge blew up in the Pacific Northwest, but it all spread across the world. Alternative rock, whatever form it comes in, isn’t just a staple of Western culture. It’s universal.
Visiting Seoul? Check out a local indie band in a hipster neighborhood. Catching an African safari? Surely the nearest city is home to at least one rock band. And there might not be a region of the world where the scene is faster growing than Latin America.
At risk of sounding anymore like a travel agent, let’s take a moment to pause and celebrate the global alternative talent. Here are some names you surely know and a few new ones that will enrich your music library.
BABYMETAL – Japan
Metal fans stateside are well aware of rock’s most unsuspecting duo. BABYMETAL capped a run of singles in 2020, including working with Bring Me The Horizon on the soaring “Kingslayer,” solidifying their place in the scene. The thrashing guitar work coupled with the unworldly vocals of Suzuka Nakamoto (Su-metal) and Moa Kikuchi (Moa-metal) creates a unique juxtaposition that’s tough to turn off. BABYMETAL always find a way to make their metal accessible.
Hyukoh – South Korea
The funky pop-rockers from South Korea might be most comparable to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But even that’s a stretch for a band that are uniquely their own. Hyukoh erupted in popularity after appearing on the Korean variety program Infinite Challenge. Poised for a breakout, their worldwide tour was postponed because of COVID-19. If the stage comes calling soon, expect Hyukoh to bring down the house.
Las Ligas Menores – Argentina
Strictly English speakers couldn’t guess what Las Ligas Menores sing about. Yet, there’s something so universal about the sound, even with the lyrics in a different language. The Argentinians jam like early 2000s indie rockers. Think Motion City Soundtrack. There’s a clear kick to their sound, but it’s on the soft edge of punk. The band clearly make the rounds, too, performing at Coachella in 2017. This crew are one of Argentina’s more popular young acts and continue to draw attention a decade into their run.
Tonight Alive – Australia
The Australian natives helped shape the 2010s scene in many ways. Their music regularly reflected what’s trendy, evolving from the pop-punk days of What Are You So Scared Of? to the more complex, heavier Underworld in 2018. Tonight Alive were regulars on the biggest tours, and their “Little Lion Man” cover remains one of the best Punk Goes tracks in existence. But it’s singer Jenna McDougall’s social activism that might stand out the most. A vocal advocate for many, she always seems a step ahead of even the most progressive movements.
The Flob – Vietnam
The band’s name sounds like something of out of a black-and-white horror movie. But the only thing scary about the Flob is how earwormy their track “Em Oii” is. The funky fivesome play with an obvious love for the craft. But it’s the vocals of Trần Gia Lộc that stand out, possessing an angst that makes some of the great American emo singers seem dull. You don’t need to understand Vietnamese to jam with the Flob.
Vale Of Amonition – Uganda
Vale Of Amonition blend heavy metal and spoken word, a combination that’s made them one of East Africa’s most popular rock acts. Their music is dark, both in its composition and its lyrics. But it’s a fair sound for a band formed at the end of Uganda’s violent period in 2009. They’ve stayed the course, providing an emotional outlet for a rapidly changing country.
Chunk! No, Captain Chunk! – France
The easycore giants fooled many with their 2016 track “Blame It On This Song” and subsequent hiatus. It felt like Chunk! No, Captain Chunk! were calling it quits—no more chunky guitar chords, jolly lyrics and the subtle French accent that made the band so enduring. Thankfully, during the pandemic, Chunk! No, Captain Chunk! found time to craft another album. Their new track “Bitter” is a sign of great things to come.
Dengue Dengue Dengue – Peru
It’s hard to find a band that celebrate their local culture more than Dengue Dengue Dengue. Their 2019 album, Zenit & Nadir, unwraps the gifts of Afro-Peruvian history, displaying all the treasures in a variety of songs unique unto themselves. The rhythms are catchy, with instrumentals so crisp and elevated. For Daft Punk fans still sad about their split, Dengue Dengue Dengue definitely fill a void.
Flamingods – Bahrain
From Bahrain and London, the four-piece rock band expertly reflect their diverse background. Old souls will appreciate the band’s psychedelic influence. But fans of edgier stuff will sense a dark undertone. Think of Flamingods’ sound as equal parts Flaming Lips and the Cure. There are layers to this seriously talented band.
Mashrou’ Leila – Lebanon
Master storytellers Mashrou’ Leila are the voice of the voiceless in a gorgeous country, rich in history and ripe for cultural rifts. Like Fugazi in D.C. basements or Nirvana in Tacoma clubs, the band make the world listen to the anger and angst of its people. But these people are caught in the crosshairs of gunfire, cultural wars and corrupt governments. The band don’t just perform—they makes you feel their pain.