Niven was a founding member of the indie band Everything Everything, with friends from Queen Elizabeth High School in Hexham, Northumberland. He played guitar with the band between 2007 and 2009 before leaving to study for a doctorate at St John's College, Oxford and pursue a writing career.
Niven's first work of criticism, Folk Opposition, was published by Zero Books in 2011. The book attempted to reclaim a variety of folk culture motifs for the political left, and excoriated the "Green Tory" zeitgeist that had accompanied the ascendancy of David Cameron's Conservative Party in Britain in 2009-10. Writing in the journal of the Institute for Public Policy Research, Niki Seth-Smith described it as a "rebuttal to ... knee jerk reactions [about folk culture] by way of careful historicisation and incisive cultural analysis", while Joe Kennedy of The Quietus described it as "one of 2011's most incisive polemics".
His second book, a study of the Oasis album Definitely Maybe, was published in Bloomsbury's 33⅓ series in 2014. The Times Literary Supplement praised its "convincing modulation between a discussion of the post-Thatcher north-west England that informed Oasis's early lyrics, and the finer points of pentatonic and mixolydian melody governing Noel Gallagher's early songwriting". LA Review of Books reviewer Rhian E. Jones also judged the book a success, concluding that "Niven displays a thorough appreciation of what made Oasis good while remaining aware of their shortcomings".
Formerly an editor-in-chief at The Oxonian Review, Niven has also written for The Guardian, The Independent, openDemocracy, Agenda, The Cambridge Quarterly, English Literary History, Oxford Poetry, Notes and Queries, The Quietus, and a number of collective blogs in addition to his own blog The Fantastic Hope. His first collection of poetry, The Last Tape, was published in 2014, and his poem "The Beehive" provided the epigraph to Owen Hatherley's 2012 architecture survey A New Kind of Bleak.
- Farrell, William. "Folk Opposition (interview and profile/caricature of Alex Niven)". Retrieved 30 October 2012.
- "Everything Everything's sounding great for Tynedale band". The Journal (Newcastle). 19 May 2009. Retrieved 25 October 2012.
- Seth-Smith, Niki (16 May 2012). "Review of Alex Niven's Folk Opposition". PPR (Public Policy Research). 19 (1): 78.
- Kennedy, Joe. "Big Society, Little Hope: False Folk Culture in 2011". The Quietus. Retrieved 25 October 2012.
- "Aphex Twin, Oasis, Bjork, J Dilla headline new series of 33 1/3 books". FACT Magazine. Retrieved 26 October 2012.
- Charlton, Joe (July 18, 2014). "Oasis' Definitely Maybe". Times Literary Supplement: 27.
- Jones, Rhian E. "Living Fast: Revisiting Oasis' Definitely Maybe". lareviewofbooks.org. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
- Hatherley, Owen (2012). A New Kind of Bleak. London: Verso. pp. (epigraph page). ISBN 9781844678570.
- "About". newleftreview.org. New Left Review. Retrieved 17 December 2014.