Meet the bands bringing the buzz back to alt-rock. Lollapalooza may be dead, but new left-of-the-dial bands like Franz Ferdinand and Modest Mouse are getting the mainstream's attention

By Brian Hiatt and Michael Endelman
July 01, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT
Franz Ferdinand: Wattie Cheung/Camera Press/Retna

After dozens of frenzied, sweat-on-the-walls club shows, Glasgow rockers Franz Ferdinand were used to warm receptions. Even so, when the then-obscure indie quartet touched down in an iced-over Manhattan this February, they were baffled to find comfy new scarves, hats, and gloves waiting at their hotel — gifts from the largest record company in the world. ”We said, ‘Is this for us? Why?”’ recalls Franz’s lead guitarist, Nick McCarthy. ”We couldn’t quite grasp it.”

The late Christmas present from Universal was just the beginning. The band and its tiny label, Domino, soon found themselves besieged by major-label offers. Later that month, Franz signed a million-dollar deal with Epic.

A few years ago, Franz Ferdinand might have been a small cult phenomenon, selling a few thousand records to in-the-know hipsters via word of mouth. Now, they’re rock stars. Franz’s pogo-inspiring single ”Take Me Out” has bounced to No. 11 on modern-rock radio, while sales of their self-titled album have skyrocketed since it was released March 9. The CD has even cracked the top 30 of Billboard’s album chart.

Take off your red baseball cap, dude: After almost a decade of domination by rap-rock and nü-metal bands, mainstream alt-rock is finally good again. Modern-rock radio is embracing a new generation of talented, artistically inclined bands — acts like Modest Mouse, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Interpol — that sound nothing like Creed or Limp Bizkit. Even more surprisingly, young fans are buying these albums in impressive quantities. ”A generational shift is taking place,” says Sub Pop Records cofounder Jonathan Poneman. ”People want smart, thoughtful, passion-filled music again.”

The bands of Alternative Nation, Version 2.0 don’t share a city or a sound (although many evince a fondness for post-punk and new-wave bands like the Cure and the Smiths). Instead, they embody a sensibility, a yearning to return alt-rock to its creative roots. Of course, high-quality alternative bands never went away. They’re now just connecting with an increasingly large audience of young, sensitive music fans who are more interested in songcraft than stage diving. ”There’s definitely something happening,” says Franz Ferdinand’s McCarthy. ”Some kind of movement.”