How alt-J Came To Be One Of The Biggest Indie Bands Of The Last Decade

20 April 2023 | 9:43 am | Melissa Griffin

In celebration of the upcoming Aus leg of The Dream tour, we've delved into the long history of alt-J and how they came to be one of the most influential indie bands of the last decade.

Pic by George Muncey

Pic by George Muncey

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Bursting onto the indie scene with the song of 2012, UK trio alt-J became immediate favourites with their hooky, macabre single Breezeblocks from their debut album, An Awesome Wave. Over a decade later, alt-J have remained steadfast in their approach to eclectic, folk-rock-inspired music.

Releasing their fourth studio album, The Dream, in 2022, alt-J continue to sell-out tours across the globe, landing festival slots the likes of Glastonbury and POGUELANDIA (a beach festival celebrating Netflix’s teen drama hit Outer Banks, which features alt-J’s Left Hand Free). The group have proven their longevity with a loyal fanbase that returns time and time again for heartfelt lyricism, layered, atmospheric vocals and heady guitar.

Ahead of their rescheduled AU & NZ headline tour and Groovin the Moo debut, we look back at alt-J’s most iconic moments over the last decade.

Debut album wins Mercury Prize (2012)

Forming at Leeds University in 2007, the uni hall mates’ biggest aspiration at the time was to make an album and get played on local radio. With the release of their debut album, An Awesome Wave, five years later, the band achieved far greater than their original modest goals. Quickly dubbed the “new Radiohead”, alt-J proved to be more than just another carbon copy indie band with single, Breezeblocks. Coming in at #3 in Triple J’s Hottest 100 in 2012, the hit single and standout debut propelled the group into the spotlight as they took out the UK’s coveted Mercury Prize and were named BBC Radio 6 Music’s Album of the Year. 

Capturing audiences with vocalist Joe Newman’s distinct voice, familiar indie guitar and slow-tempo drumbeats, alt-J became a household name in just 12 months.

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This Is All Yours receives Grammy nomination (2014)

After original bassist Gwil Sainsbury departed from the group in 2014, alt-J released their sophomore album, This Is All Yours, as a three-piece. Featuring hits Left Hand Free and Every Other Freckle, the album earned the band their first Grammy Nomination for Best Alternative Music Album and shot to Number 1 in the UK’s Official Album Charts.

How to Write an alt-J Song YouTube parody (2015)

Of course, we can’t mention notable moments in alt-J history without this iconic parody video from two young musicians playing with loop pedals and eating rice crackers. In 2015, Matt Rogers and Ethan Soil of the indie-pop band Fleece uploaded a YouTube video of the pair taking a light-hearted crack at creating an alt-J song. Layering vocals and percussion shakers on a loop station, the two friends went viral (the video now has over 13 million views) for their spot-on impression while giggling on a basement floor jam session.

Slagged off by Noel Gallagher (2015)

Marking a career milestone for many UK musicians who grew up on the music of Britpop stars Oasis, alt-J took criticism from the former Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher as a “rite of passage”. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2015, Gallagher, despite admitting to liking their music, said that he’s in “no way a fan” of the band. The reason? Facial hair apparently, “One of them’s got a moustache, and that’s unacceptable.” The band took the criticism on the chin and only saw the insult as a sign that they’d “made it” as a group.

Tom Holland’s Spiderman is introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Left Hand Free (2016)

Making his debut as Peter Parker in the 2016 Marvel blockbuster Captain America: Civil War, English actor Tom Holland is introduced to the world as the new Spiderman to the soundtrack of alt-J’s upbeat Left Hand Free. Although it exposed the band to a whole new audience, the UK group are no strangers to the lucrative world of music synchronisation. Despite their alternative label, alt-J tracks often find their way into hit TV series, big-budget movies and even video games. Appearing in Netflix shows such as Outer Banks, Lovesick and Daybreak, just to name a few.

NME Best British Band (2018)

Alt-J have managed to sustain their success throughout the years with a loyal fanbase and consistent sound. After 2017’s Relaxer album, the band continued selling out venues as big as Madison Square Garden and the Hollywood Bowl across the US and London’s O2 in the UK. In 2018 NME acknowledged alt-J’s success with the Best British Band award, cementing the group as an act here to stay.

All of 2022 

With the release of their fourth album, The Dream, in 2022, alt-J once again proved a force to be reckoned with. Showcasing deeply human lyricism, soulful vocals and driving beats, The Dream exhibits a band genuinely comfortable within themselves and sees alt-J at their best yet. With four albums under their belt and songs pushing hundreds of millions of streams on Spotify, the band hit the road once again in 2022, selling out venues and making festival appearances worldwide. 

2022 also marked the 10-year anniversary of their debut album, which the band celebrated with a limited-edition vinyl repress, a global streaming event and special gigs. Despite the time that’s passed, alt-J continue to appreciate their back catalogue as much as their fans, “Seeing the reception songs like Matilda, Something Good, Dissolve Me, Fitzpleasure and Breezeblocks get every night makes this album feel as fresh to us as it did when we recorded it.”

As for 2023, the Leeds band will be heading back to Glastonbury this June after their extensive Australian tour, ticking off a number of European festivals along the way. 

Purchase tickets to their upcoming aus tour here


Thursday 27 April - Riverstage | Brisbane, QLD

Wednesday 3 May 2023 - Margaret Court Arena | Melbourne, VIC

Wednesday 26 April 2023 - Hordern Pavilion | Sydney, NSW (SOLD OUT)

Sunday May 7 - HBF Stadium | Perth, WA