Genres and labels have become a necessary yet arbitrary force in the music industry. A band is analyzed by their sound and then grouped with similar acts in order to forever place them in a cube of adjectives to help describe just what they sound like. It can be both good and bad, with the good being certain people who browse through these labels might find that specific artist, but bad if a band just wants to make music and all of a sudden they are labeled as something they didn’t even know they were or want to be associated with. That being said, an authority figure has to police the authenticity of certain genres, right? Welcome to Genre Benders, a fun and inventive column that uses wit and research to tackle just what it is that makes a genre well, a genre.
Oh boy, where do I even begin? Currently, so many bands are riding the tidal waves of the “emo revival” movement that is become hard to dissect what the genre emo means anymore. Any band that possesses a bit of intellectually emotional lyrics are thrown into this label — even more so if the guitar lines are light and possess a bit of ambience. For many people roughly the same age as me (think middle 20s), emo was quote-unquote redefined in the early 2000s when Dashboard Confessional, Jimmy Eat World, and Taking Back Sunday rose to topple the alternative 90s rock scene. Me being the cool and trendy metal head I was back then, would listen to those bands only in my room when I was certain no one was around. I couldn’t let myself fall for the trendy scene at the time, until I called that one girl and played her the chords of “Helena” by My Chemical Romance like the little depressed kid I was. I kissed her on the cheek in the city public library, I guess that’s something?
Tracing the roots back to the first wave of emo is rather difficult. My paid (in knowledge, not cents) research has lead me to find there have been four different waves, as they are called, of emo music. My apparent start into the genre was smack at the beginning of the third wave, in which in became radio friendly thanks to the aforementioned bands I discussed earlier. This third wave sported big hooks with dark, emotionally cutting lyrics that unleashed many people’s inner thoughts and forced them out to the world. Couple this with that Thirteen movie about being an angst driven teenager certain the world doesn’t understand oneself, and there was a weird clash of worry and confusion among parents.
The literary beginnings of emo are directed at Rites Of Spring, a band formed by Minor Threat fan, Guy Picciotto. Apparently his performances were worthy enough to cause audience members to weep. Imagine that, all these 80s hardcore kids who were used to throwing their arms and voices out to politically charged lyrics were now being swept off their feet by the inward reflective stances of a guy who changed the lyrical style. The band has tried to not be shoe boxed into that particular genre — rightfully so, as they still possess the frantic chaos of post-hardcore, just with a different lyrical topic.
So now what. We have the first wave that did not want to be part of the genre, so what about the next group of bands? Well, they are more prevalent to my definition of where emo took off as an actual genre rather than a certain frame of lyrics, possessing the more calming tones of music that have become associated to the genre today. In 1994 — me still being a toddler, probably being quiet in my room awaiting for my thoughts to be written in personal notebooks to continue wondering why she doesn’t love me — Diary was released to the world by Sunny Day Real Estate. The whine, the lighter distortion tones, the gripping lyrics, the spastic drumming, the hummable guitar lines. Ugh, 13 year old me would be ashamed of my secret, in my dark room love for the third, poppy wave of the early 2000s. Instead of the poster boy mall pop hair cut thing, they looked like average people among the rest of the world. Not that there is anything wrong with that, I mean I spiked the back of my hair at one point as well, so that’s cool. I remember sitting in the shower — with my butt on the ground — and just sulking in whatever sadness I had to be involved with at my age. If only I had been pointed in the direction of band alike this style, or Lifetime, or even American Football. I kick myself in the head for falling for the trendy near pseudo emo of the 2000s and not picking up on the bedroom suffocating beauty that is American Football in its suburban lifestyle mess. That, my friends, is a reason to be sad.
Which now that sadness has transformed into coherent emotions that are attached to the real world continuation of my life, blending into the fourth wave of emo. With bands contributing rather eclectic performances rather than the pop centric attributes of the pseudo stuff, the industry has yet again become capitvated. Listen to “In Circles” by Sunny Day Real Estate, and then listen to “Regional Dialect” by You Blew It! and you can begin to hear the similarities of the genre. While the more modern genre has split between a punk chord progression or crafty, twinkly instrumentals — think “Scud Running” by Prawn. This has lead to a wild term as the emo revival, sparking from the deepest of undergrounds across America’s sad, sad landscape. Or there is the essence of Henrietta, bursting through with powerful melodies, intricate drums and a high ranged voice that cuts through the listener with passionate deliveries.
What was the point in all of this? Well besides the actual revival being all these old emo bands getting back together to continue touring, did the emo genre actually ever die? If so, what the hell made it ‘revive?’ Is it that the pop heavy 2000s bands all disintegrated into shells of themselves and ditched their emotions into the cellar, or did some graceful meeting happen where bands decided to bring back the original genre? If anything, the later 90s (with the help of Blink – 182) shifted the scope of mainstream music to be more friendly towards alternative groups, thus allowing for the distressed lyrics to bleed into kids ears, and now they have matured beyond that stage of their life and into the wonderful soundscape of the current emo genre. If anything, maybe we should start calling it the ‘emo maturing’ or ‘emo nurturing’ scene. Who’s with me? Anyone? No? Okay, I’m going to blast that new Pentimento record and color in my room.
P.S. The new Henrietta record is going to be fucking good.