Cheer up, kids.
February 13, 2011 8:00 PM   Subscribe

[Subculture Filter] What is emo all about anyway?

I'm looking for good sources that can help explain the emo phenomena to someone just a bit too old to be in the target market. A lot of what I see online seems like subjective cheerleading from fans. Ideally, I'd like some critical/sociological perspective on the topic. Big bonus points for academic sources. I am working on an ongoing project concerning the gothic subculture and I'd like to be knowledgeable enough about emo to compare and contrast these movements.
posted by Kitty Stardust to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Feeling different, disliking "normal people" and finding somewhere to belong.

My impression is that goth is more "dislikey" toward normal culture, they feel it is hypocritical and they choose not to participate. Partially by dressing as opposite as they can.

Emo is, on the other hand, more of a commiseration with people who have had their hearts broken by society. They dress more as a sign of their ennui rather than as a rejection of the normals.

Far as I can tell. I'm neither.
posted by gjc at 8:14 PM on February 13, 2011

Encyclopedia Dramatica on Emo. (Not exactly what you were hoping for, but don't dismiss it without a careful reading of all its many levels. Sometimes ED is high art social satire; cutting-edge street sociology, if you will)
posted by kmennie at 8:32 PM on February 13, 2011

I can't help you with any scholarly articles, but I can tell you that some of the best bands to start the subculture (before it was even a subculture) were jawbreaker and rites of spring. Wikipedia's article on rites of spring is really good as well. Hell, wikipedia's article on emo is pretty good.
posted by TheBones at 8:34 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is a classic resource on emo but I think it might be an earlier incarnation than what you're interested in. If you're not just looking for info on it in the U.S., here are some news stories on its export to mexico, which i think is pretty cool. The beatings are obvious not cool, though.
posted by anthropophagous at 9:26 PM on February 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

Emo starts in the late 80's as an off shoot of DC Hardcore Punk. Whereas Hardcore tends to be very loud, very agressive and very political, Emo tends to be a little more introspective. It is by no means 'quiet', but it's a seperate thing from hardcore for sure.

In the 90's it kind of sees a lot of weird transformations, as does much of the indie landscape. Notably, Emo gets kind of mixed up in a lot of Mid-West indie rock and is sometimes labeled as 'post-hardcore'. Anyone who was really interested in that music will fight you to the death about the label 'post-hardcore' vs the label 'emo'. At this point Emo is slightly less abrasive, but it also gets very intense. A lot of the songs are about broken hearts or feelings of isolation. It starts to attract a kind of young crowd. Notable bands from this era include The Get Up Kids, The Promise Ring, Cap'n Jazz, Mineral, The Apple Seed Cast. The list goes on forever.

What's you're talking is kind of a 4th generation Emo- It's a lot poppier and lot more popular, to boot. Where older Emo records had kind of lousy production and happily fuzzy, gnarly guitars, Emo started to take lessons from pop-punk which had become really popular (Think Blink 182, Green Day, Fallout Boy). Around this time Emo starts to act as an adjective, meaning someone really morose, kind of morbid. Not as weird as goth kids, but just kind of purposefully sad and wimpy.

Emo is an interesting genre because for much of it's lifespan it had very little interaction with other genres of indie rock. It always kind of attracted a young crowd, maybe because of its lyrical bend, and it's stayed that way over time.

It's worth noting that Emo now has plenty of baby genres, notably 'screamo' which is much closer to that kind of thing that started after DC Hardcore and less like the more melodic stuff in the 90's.
posted by GilloD at 9:27 PM on February 13, 2011 [18 favorites]

Apparently I posted too soon. Since you were looking for some academic sources, I found these on google scholar. YMMV.
posted by anthropophagous at 9:30 PM on February 13, 2011

"Emo" is one of those words like "hipster" that frequently is taken to mean anything the speaker is pointing at when they're talking. I've always thought of what GilloD is talking about in the second paragraph of their post-- Get Up Kids, Saves The Day, and (at the tail end of that), Dashboard Confessional and Bright Eyes, but these days people are talking more about Fallout Boy and their ilk when they use the term.

Progressive Boink has a silly article about punk vs emo from that era. It might be helpful but it also might just seem in-joke-y, I'm not sure.
posted by NoraReed at 10:11 PM on February 13, 2011

This is a pretty good book on the subject. It could have gone into the early days a bit more and Dashboard Confessional a bit less, but it's not a bad book.

And GilloD has it.
posted by bibliogrrl at 10:13 PM on February 13, 2011

GilloD is right. Rites of Spring were sort of the godfathers by most reckonings.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 10:40 PM on February 13, 2011

Sunny Day Real Estate's first album "Diary" is widely recognized as the first "emo" record, except it isn't anything like what people think emo is. It is sooo much better. They're basically a grung-y rock band with lyrics that can be emotional. They were on Subpop Records and are from Seattle. Nate Mendel, their bass player, has played bass for the Foo Fighters ever since that band formed back in 1995. William Goldsmith, their drummer, was the first drummer for the Foos, but left during the recording of The Colour and the Shape to rejoin SDRE. It was the right move. Nate has since re-united with SDRE on a recent tour, but he remains loyal to the Foos. Nate, William, and Jeremy Enigk (guitarist/singer) recorded an album together under the moniker The Fire Theft(my_) and it's a lot like SDRE, but without their other guitarist Dan. Dan joined up with Dashboard Confessional after SDRE parted ways. That didn't last long and it sucked, IMO. (I did see them live, and I made sure to stand front row in front of Dan with my SDRE shirt on. I know, I'm a dick.) The only other thing I've heard about him was that he was part of the SDRE re-union. Ok, I'm done here.
posted by XhaustedProphet at 12:04 AM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Far as I've been able to tell, the progression sort of started off with Disco, which became Punk, split off to Goth, and merged again with Emo.

As a die-hard old bat, I find emo kids way too whiny.

Emo's disturbed little child is 'Scene', which just makes me shudder.

(Disclaimer: This is MY observation of the progression. It may or may not be accurate.)
posted by Heretical at 1:39 AM on February 14, 2011

I have no idea how you just connected Disco --> Punk.
posted by XhaustedProphet at 1:57 AM on February 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

You may enojoy a series of compilation albums called The Emo Diaries. They came out in the mid-late 90's, early 00's and are a great snapshot of the sound in that era. Notable inclusions: Jimmy Eat World (They released 2 or 3 very 'emo' records before finding some major label fame with 'Bleed American')
posted by GilloD at 2:52 AM on February 14, 2011

Also (Geez. The first time in my life I could use an 'Edit' button), that label, Deep Elm, was a big label for Emo along with Doghouse Records, Vagrant Records, Polyvinyl Records (Responsible for supporting a lot of mid-western Emo bands) and Subpop. You might want to poke around their archives for a taste.

Since then a lot of emo labels have either folded or made a transition to signing a much broader genre of bands. Vagrant, for example, release several Paul Westerberg albums as well as at least two Hold Steady records. Polyvinyl makes a good buck (Maybe?) in a wide variety of indie pop- They just signed dream poppers Asobi Seksu and lady punks Vivian Girls. They still have a few of the old 'emo' bands on their roster, notably Tim Kinsella's "Joan of Arc", although he started making gonzo, noisy, difficult records well before emo got old.

Point being: A lot of the independent support for emo, at least at a national level, has dissapeared. It's either a local "scene" thing or you're on a major label.
posted by GilloD at 2:59 AM on February 14, 2011

Emo Oranges always gives me a bit of a chuckle. It's a relevant photo on how internet forum culture has responded to the emo brand of self loathing. While you're looking into the gothic culture, be sure to take a quick detour to study the notable goth subsection of vampire "enthusiasts" (They seemed to spring up around the movie "Interview with a Vampire" and have been around since...somewhat resurgent on the Twilight saga)
posted by samsara at 5:13 AM on February 14, 2011

OK, I though you were talking about the subcultures, not music.

My impression is that the subculture happens, some percentage of the subculture are musicians, and make music pleasing to the subculture. Rinse and repeat a couple of times until the music becomes a static artform.

(Emo == hipsters? Not necessarily. Hipsters lack their own identity. Some will affect the outward appearances of Emo because it seems cool or ironic to them. Then they will move on to Punk or Disco or (prediction alert!) Jimmy Buffet. Hipsters are tourists, moving from cultural place to place, consuming anything that is special about, and then moving on because that "place" has become gentrified. The tragedy is that that gentrification is caused by themselves.

Hipsters are like participatory anthropologists. You know that concept, where observing a culture changes it? They do this but don't know it. They will see people streaming into a Disco. Those people go there because it has a good beat and you can dance to it. Hipsters go because it is hip to do so. They observe the various alpha members of the society, and ape their behavior and manner of dress. Eventually, the people who want to dance move on to something else, and all you have is a bunch of identically dressed people wondering why nobody is dancing.

They are cargo cultists, I think.)
posted by gjc at 7:06 AM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ah, yes. The page anthropophagous linked to was pretty popular in explaining emo circa 2001, when the kids were wearing skinny pants and all had romulan haircuts.
posted by vivid postcard at 8:12 AM on February 14, 2011

I, too, would cite elements of the DC scene specifically Embrace / One Last Wish / Rites of Spring as a starting point same as GilloD.

I'm sure the academic conversation on subcultures, fashion and music has moved further than it was when Hebdige's Subculture: The Meaning of Style first appeared, but if you haven't checked it out yet it might help with your larger, ongoing project. It's a short and fun read.
posted by safetyfork at 10:58 AM on February 14, 2011

I think the emo ---> hipsters thing might be more emo ---> indie kids. This isn't because the music's evolved, just that a lot of the emo kids who were in high school in the mid 00s are now college/post-college indie rock nerds; emo was a gateway drug to non-mainstream music for us (since at the time there was little of it on the radio).
posted by NoraReed at 2:06 AM on February 16, 2011

« Older I need to find sources for my Croatian roots.   |   black-eyed peas and fried stuff Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.