The Emo Story

If you're confused about what Emo rock is, your not alone. Although it's immensely popular, no one seems to know what it is! The following is a synopsis of the genre called Emo....U Guys Suck! *What Is It? The short and simple answer is that Emo is Hardcore Punk music with sensitive and emotional lyrics. The music is epitomized by post-Grunge, edgy rock with explosive energy mixed with sensitivity. Emotional lyrics about sadness, love and even anger are common lyrical themes. There is also a subculture of young people that are considered Emo. The casual Emo garb is faded blue jeans or slightly oversized work pants accompanied by a secondhand T-shirt Distro with an out of place logo, bad Heavy Metal tees work well too. Good shoes would be Converse Chuck Taylor low-tops or old skool low-top Vans. The more extreme clothes of choice would include horn-rimmed glasses, cardigan sweaters, dorky polo shirts, pants that are a bit too short and hair that is spiky or messy in the back with straight cut bangs. *Where It Started? Emo was born out of the ashes of the Hardcore punk band Minor Threat. They were a Straight Edge Punk band, meaning that they promoted clean living (no drugs, alcohol or sex combined with antiestablishment politics). When Minor Threat broke up in 1984, members formed other bands like Embrace, Rites Of Spring and later Fugazi, which were the first Emo bands. They still played hardcore punk music, but the lyrics were more expressive and emotional instead of being focused on politics and disenchanted youth (like most punk). Other early influences came from Husker Du and The Descendants and All. *How It Progressed? As time went on, bands began toning down the Hardcore aspect of the music, making it much more appealing to the average listener. Christie Front Drive infused pop sensibilities like catchy melodies and hooks into the music and kept the Emo style lyrics. This formula would prove to be very successful and influential. After the hype of Grunge died down in the mid 90s, artists like Sunny Day Real Estate burst from obscurity into the spotlight and became a blueprint for the style. Weezer took it a step further and created a Pop-Punk / Emo hybrid.

*Today...? Emo is one of the most widespread and hottest genres. Although it's moved far away from it's Hardcore beginnings, it still has it's independent spirit intact. That said, major record labels have taken notice and released albums by Jimmy Eat World, At The Drive-In and Weezer just to name a few, and many more are surely in the works. However, many newer bands are coming dangerously close to losing credibility by taking the music too far into the Pop/Punk realm of bands like Yellowcard, Story Of The Year,Taking Back Sunday,Save The Day,Further Seem Forever, Dashboard Confessional and Your Bands? Most people have a horribly limited idea of what emo is, simply because the most important records in the development of emo were largely released on on vinyl, in small numbers, and with limited distribution. These were however very influential, so nowadays you have the situation that a lot of kids listen to third- and fourth-generation emo styles without even knowing it. I hope to expose such people to a wealth of great preceding music that's getting easier to find all the time... I'm going to split up the mass of "emo" bands into a few distinct genres. Like any categorization effort, there will be exceptions, crossovers, and tangential relations. That's fine. The intent is only to lay out some general trends, general notes on sounds, musical and lyrical themes, and how to listen for them. Some notes on nomenclature. There isn't a real consensus on what "emo" and "emocore" are, or if they are even different. It's pretty clear these days what you're talking about with terms like "punk," "postpunk," "no-wave," "hardcore punk," "old-school/new-school," etc (although the difference between "hardcore punk" and "hardcore" is lost on a lot of people - "hardcore punk" is punk rock made heavier, faster, louder; "hardcore" is what happened after the hardcore punks realized they didn't have to sound like punk rock anymore - still heavy, fast, loud, but with a different foundation.) I hope to draw clear distinctions between my categories, assign them names, and use them consistently. That's all that language is.
Phase one: "emocore." Rites of Spring, Embrace, Gray Matter, Ignition, Dag Nasty, Monsula, Fugazi kind of, Fuel, Samiam, Jawbreaker, Hot Water Music, Elliot, Friction, Soulside, early Lifetime, Split Lip/Chamberlain, Kerosene 454. Starts in DC in 1984/85 and goes strong, spreads to the SF Bay in 1989, then explodes all over the Midwest, Florida, and Northeast shortly thereafter. The "emocore" style has become broader over the years. In the beginning, these bands consisted mostly of people who played in hardcore punk bands, got burned out its limited forms, and moved to a guitar-oriented, midtempo rock-based sound with emotional punk vocals (i.e., no posed soulful crooning like pop music). The central aspect here is the guitars - distorted, strummed mostly in duo unison, with occasional catchy riff highlights. This becomes known as the classic "D.C. sound," along with the octave chords that show up in later "emo" music. Later bands bring in more pop elements, like catchy-riff based songs, pop song structures (listen to Jawbreaker's "Chesterfield King" to illustrate this), and less-punk, more-smoothly-sung high-register singing (less yelling, straining, throatiness). Listen to Elliot or Chamberlain for an example of how alternative-pop this music has become. Yet those bands are undeniably still emocore. Also note most emocore bands play Gibson Les Paul guitars, with a few SGs, and use mostly Marshall JCM-800 amps. Phase two: "emo." Moss Icon, the Hated, Silver Bearings, Native Nod, Merel, Hoover, Current, Indian Summer, Evergreen, Navio Forge, Still Life, Shotmaker, Policy of Three, Clikatat Ikatowi, Maximillian Colby, Sleepytime Trio, Noneleftstanding, Embassy, Ordination of Aaron, Floodgate, Four Hundred Years, Frail, Lincoln, Julia, Shroomunion, some early Unwound, etc. Started in the DC area in 1987/88 with bands inspired by that area's post-hardcore acceptance of new, diverse sounds within the punk scene. Moves onward to New Jersey and California, then onward to Philly, Richmond VA, a bit in Canada, a bit in Illinois, and not much else. Musically there's a lot dynamics between ultra-soft / whispered vocals / twinkly guitar bits and full-bore crashing / twin Gibson SG guitar roaring / screaming vocals. One of the most recognizable and universal elements of emo shows up in the guitar sound of this style: the octave chord. Octave chords give this style a high-pitched, driving urgency and a very rich texture. The Gibson SG / Marshall JCM-800 guitar combo and Ampeg 400 bass amp is the classic emo gear. Solid-state amps are unheard of. The vocal style is usually much more intense than emocore, ranging from normal singing in the quiet parts to a kind of pleading howl to gut-wrenching screams to actual sobbing and crying. Straight-edge boys tend to hate that part, and much derision is levelled at emo bands on this point. Most emo bands tend to have some epic-length songs that build up very slowly to a climax where someone cries. If you're receptive to this kind of thing, it can be extremely powerful and moving, since it's very hard to fake that kind of pure emotion convincingly. Lyrics tend toward somewhat abstract poetry, and are usually low in the mix and hard to decipher. Record inserts have lyrics, but often so disorganized and haphazard that they're very difficult to read [unless the record was released on Ebullition Records, in which case there are many inserts on small, brightly-colored papers containing poetic writing from the label owner and all his friends about disillusionment, anger, and things that happened when the writer was four. Such writing is known as emo writing, and there are many, many zines just like that]. Said inserts are almost always done with antique typewriters or miniscule hand-lettering, containing no punctuation or capitalization. Often the only information about the band listed is the band members' first names. Another trait of really emo records is to have no information whatsoever about song titles. Artwork, too, tends toward abstract black-and-white photographs of rusted/broken things (especially machinery), drawings of flowers, and pictures of old men, little boys, and little girls. Lots of live photos indicates the band is probably from the East Coast, and probably listened to straight-edge at some point. Live emo bands tend to play with backs to the audience during the quiet parts. During the loud exploding parts, the musicans have a tendancy to jump and shake unpredicatable and knock things over - especially mike stands. Combine this with the fact that the singers often fail to make it to the mike in time to sing, and decide just to scream at the absolute top of their lungs wherever they are when the time comes, means that often entire shows will pass without the audience being able to hear the vocals. If, however, the band has a lot of screaming during the quiet parts, this can be an extremely powerful tactic. The is a particular emo dance sometimes seen in the audience at emo shows. It's known as "the emo tremble." The trembler clasps his/her hands together (wringing them from time to time), leans forward, bounces quickly on the balls of the feet, and shakes the upper torso in time to the music. Once in a while the trembler will grab the back of the head and rock back and forth. The more the person likes the band, the more he or she will double over. Also, a reader submits: "i think you forgot the "emo chest tap" or just "the chest tap". this goes on a lot in the northeast...i particularly remember lots of chest tapping occuring at shotmaker shows." Commercialism is very much repressed in this emo scene. Few bands make t-shirts. Most records are put out on very small, home-run labels or on the band's private label. Records are sold cheap (the classic pricing scheme was $3 7"s, $5 LPs, and $8 CDs. Inflation has driven these prices up in recent years). Shows are univerally $5 or less, and touring bands often are lucky to get gas money (despite the promoter usually not paying local bands). There is also a bias against digital technology within most bands. Emo recordings tend to be analog only, cheaply done, with a tendency toward mostly live tracking with few overdubs. Equipment is heavily weighted toward tube gear. Until recently, most emo records were made on vinyl only. CD reissues of broken-up bands' discographies are becoming common, though. Lastly, emo bands tend not to last long. It was not uncommon an emo band's only recording to come out posthumously and much delayed. Obviously, this puts a damper on the distribution of the records since no one in the band puts much effort into promotion. A modern perspective: the term "screamo" is used a lot nowadays to describe bands that are based most heavily on this kind of music. Hinted at in New Jersey in 1990 (Merel, Iconoclast). Starts for real in San Diego in 1991 with Heroin, comes to SF Bay in 1992 (Reach Out, Mohinder, Honeywell, Portraits of Past, John Henry West), hits Philly, Florida, New York, and the rest of the East Coast a little bit. Similar to punk vs. hardcore punk - faster, louder, harder, much more intense and single-minded. Most of these bands play extremely fast, and introduce the "chaos" concept to hardcore. This is extremely abrasive music, with vocals screamed at the physical limit of the vocal chords. The guitars are distorted to the point that notes and chords are hard to recognize - although often the guitarists don't even play notes, instead making piercing, staccato bursts of noise, squeals of deafening feedback, or a wash of strummed dissonance. The bass often has quite a bit of distortion as well, unlike straight emo. This is everything emo done more so - sometimes so totally over the top that the band 's songs are not even recognizable when performing live. Antioch Arrow, for instance, thrashed about so much on stage that they sounded less like a band than a giant amplified blender. After each song, they had to retune every string, and usually had knocked over a good fraction of their equipment. These shows tended also to be quite short for reasons of the band's physical endurance. All the other notes about emo records, shows, economics, etc. apply to hardcore emo too. It's very much simply a subset of emo. In my eyes, this was the ultimate expression of the form. There was a frantic, primal quality to a band like Heroin that could just reach through your ribcage and squeeze your heart like in the Temple of Doom. I never found that in any of the other types. Phase four: "post-emo indie rock" and post-emo post-hardcore. Sunny Day Real Estate, Christie Front Drive, Promise Ring, Mineral, Boys Life, Sideshow, Get-Up Kids, Braid, Cap'n Jazz, then later Joan of Arc, Jets To Brazil, etc. Lots of Caulfield and Crank! Records bands, more lately a lot of stuff on Jade Tree for instance. Anyone that claims to like both straight-edge and emo is probably talking about this kind of emo. Starts out near Colorado and Seattle, explodes all over the Midwest, then onward to New York, etc. In fact an early term for this kind of music was "midwest emo," as these bands seemed to come out of nowhere towns in Missouri, Kansas, Colorado... Musically, tends toward a lot of loud/soft interation, but a lot of softly-sung vocals and very little screaming or harshness. Lots of catchy, poppy guitar riffs, happiness or at least melancholy, and a particular fascination with off-key, cutesy boy vocals. This is where the phrase "twinkly guitar parts" comes from - lots of pretty major-key arpeggios, light drumming, and some amount of crooning. It sounds like a recipe for cheeze, and sometimes is. I remember reading a review of the early Christie Front Drive 12" that said, "this is what emo kids listen to when they make love." It was a nice alternative to a steady diet of hardcore. There is a valid element of emo in the vocals here (along with occasional octave chord). It's not as easy to identify as the mournful screaming in the original emo style, tending to consist more of greatly drawn-out phrases detailing very emotional lyrics with ironically light and poppy singing. Sunny Day Real Estate came up with a very original post-hardcore meets emocore at an indie rock show sound. This inspired a spawn of imitators even more shameless than the Fugazi and Quicksand clones. Which leads one to observe: post-hardcore emerged when the hardcore scene tired of the same seven-year-old sounds inspired by a few innovative hardcore bands. A few innovative post-hardcore bands come out with a totally new sound out of nowhere (Fugazi, Quicksand, SDRE, Drive Like Jehu), and spawn legions of imitators. Basically straight out of Thomas Kuhn's theories... By 1999, this type of music had achieved a fan base far larger than any of the original emo stuff. In fact, that's what prompted me to write this website in the first place - the glut of info on the web about this and the lack of a historical perspective. Statistically, you the reader are most likely to be familiar with this type of emo. In the years since then, it's only grown far, far bigger. Jimmy Eat World and Thursday are in regular rotation on MTV and many corporate alternative radio stations, and sappy music like this Dashboard Confessional fellow is pulling in a whole new audience. This is well on its way to becoming a major demographic market, soon after which we'll see a lot of new bands with zero real connection to the original underground scene (unlike for instance Jimmy Eat World, who used to open at every emo show in Phoenix way back in 1994). Phase five: post-emo hardcore? The "emo" style detailed above has been dead since around 1995, when new emo bands stopped forming and the old ones broke up. Most people in bands nowadays seem to regard pure emo to be overstated and quite cheezy (of course, this opinion has had its adherents all along...). The "emo scene" since has taken a few different directions. One is the ultra-heavy, ultra-fast wall-of-noise attack blending elements of grindcore and Neurosis-style apocalyptic chaos with bleeding-vocal-chords screaming: Jenny Piccolo, Union of Uranus, One Eyed God Prophecy, Makara, Living War Room, Orchid, Reversal of Man, Usurp Synapse, To Dream Of Autumn, etc. Another trend has been to explore analog synthesizers and mod/goth/new wave sounds - post-emo style-rock? Das Audience / The Vue, VSS, Slaves, Crimson Curse, etc. Mostly a California thing originally, this has ballooned and is one of the vibrant growing scenes in indie music as I write this. The Faint, The Hives, The White Stripes, Milemarker, and even some mainstream music like The Strokes are reviving late 60s/early 70s rock and roll (Lou Reed and Velvets style, maybe a bit of Rolling Stones) with the emo fashion sense and a cynical underground sneer. The vocal intensity of emo has been very influential on non-emo styles, as well. It has crept into new-school metallic hardcore quite a bit: Downcast, Struggle, Groundwork (AZ), Converge, Threadbare, Unbroken, Guilt, Botch, Fall Silent, Cable, Time in Malta. The chaos, power, and bleeding vocals of hardcore emo have similarly influenced non-emo ultra-hardcore bands: Jihad, Coalesce, Dillenger Escape Plan, etc. Traditional East Coast hardcore and straight-edge has always been the most derisive critic of emo, befitting the male-oriented macho reputation of that scene. However, a few harcore/sXe bands have integrated emotional lyrics, octave chords, and a softer vocal delivery into their music. For example, listen to the later Turning Point, Endpoint, and early Lifetime records, as well as newer groups like Falling Forward, Split Lip, Shai Hulud. Many people with only a hardcore/sXe background consider these emo-inflected HC/sXe bands to be "emo" bands, but recognize the "emocore" category as detailed above as poppier and more rock versions of hardcore. They also tend to classify straight emo and hardcore emo as simply punk (based mostly on the low production values and the lack of heavy rhythms present in all HC/sXe). "Emo" is a catchall category for this scene - they classify almost all indie rock (Seam, June of '44, Codeine, etc.) and post-hardcore (Quicksand, Shift, Texas Is The Reason, Sensefield) as emo as well! Screamo - I mentioned this under the "emo" section, however in recent years some bands have sort of re-integrated some diverse emo influences. With the band Saetia, for instance, you'll hear heavy fast screamed hardcore parts, with abrupt starts and stops and guitar focus more from the classic emo side, and quiet, twinkly melodic parts in between. "Screamo" has become sort of a catchall modern category for all of this for the few new bands playing this style, often used by younger fans who weren't around when the screaming vocal thing was new and unique

The Emo Story The Emo Story Reviewed by AddictedArea on 01:39 Rating: 5

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