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The recent “war on emo” is something that every listener of decent music in the new rock scene has had to deal with at one point in time or another. But while labels for all sorts of music-listeners are as common as grass (metal-heads, Goth-rockers, Indie-hipsters etc) the world in general seems to have a problem, and a serious misconception regarding Emo and the people that identify with it. Most are shuffled into a misfit category and stereotyped as easily depressed, semi-suicidal and heavily in to self-harm as a pastime. How that came about, I honestly have no idea, but what the media as a whole is missing, is what Emo actually is – where it came from, how it grew, and why it exploded so suddenly across the sound-waves of the world.
The Emo music scene descends directly from the hardcore Punk scene, and was, at first, considered to be simply “emotional Punk music.” Most music historians would place the birth of Emotional-punk in the hands of a Minneapolis band by the name of Husker Du. Husker Du, originally a Punk band in the underground scene, decided that melody, harmony and meaningful emotional lyrics that dealt with personal life and feelings had a place in music. Their Album Zen Arcade debuted the single “Pink turns to Blue” – a song considered by many as the debut of Emotional-punk. But the official birth of Emotional-punk is credited to the Washington-based band Rights of Spring. Their debut album End on End (1984) was considered to be the first Emotional-punk album ever released. This band chose to turn from what they thought were the limitations of the Punk scene. These artists, and the artists that eventually followed, felt that the rigid and somewhat unbendable rules of the Punk scene boxed them in, and placed restrictions on their ability to grow as musicians; hence Emotional-hardcore-punk rock was born – now-a-days we call this Emo.
By 1986, this new “Emotional-hardcore” was considered as an entirely new subgenre in the underground music scene, and it birthed its own set of characteristics. Guitars became louder and their sounds more distorted, while the rhythm of the songs transitioned from fast to slow to fast again. This new sound-type evolved and the genre title Emotional-hardcore was shortened to Emo-core. But the most influential Emo-core band of all was a little band called Fugazi.
Fugazi has been (and is still) considered to be one of the most important groups of the American underground. Their songs were all about raw emotion, and despite them calling themselves Emo, this band eventually set the standards for all rock and roll bands to come. The music that Fugazi wrote was considered great and intelligent post-hardcore music. They were highly into social and community activism, and in the grandest of all anti-commercialism acts, created their own record label (Discord Records) which would eventually become the spiritual home for all Emo bands on the East coast.
(download and listen to Fugazi – Waiting Room, 1988)

Emo, however, was not destined to remain ensconced in the East coast underground scene, and slowly began to spread through San Francisco, Florida and New Jersey before it hit New York. With this slow crawl into the West, the characteristics of the genre began to expand a little and eventually loud and hard screaming bits were interspersed with the slower, melodic parts (this would later be identified as “Screamo”). With the emergence of Emo as a musical genre of its own, Emo as fashion began to emerge as well. Suddenly the scene was flooded by bands and scenesters in horn-rimmed glasses, bead necklaces, sweater-vests over jumpers paired with dress pants and white socks and the color black could be found everywhere. Of course, as time and fashion developed, things changed. Now the Emo scene is flooded with fishnet stockings, girl-jeans and boys wearing eyeliner.
Emo-core grew steadily more popular in the underground scene, but remained more-or-less the same until 1998, when a Seattle-based band by the name of Sunny Day Real-Estate (built and bred through the Grunge scene) began to propel Emo one step further. This band understood the need for a more dynamic range in melody and played slower, more melodic songs.
(download and listen to Sunny Day Real-Estate – How it Feels to be Something On, 1998)
The Sunny Day Real-Estate “version” of Emo eventually spawned imitators who began to change the face of Emo-core music. Bands like Weezer and Jimmy Eat World eventually took center-stage and led the new Emo-scene into the newly evolved Post-Emo-Core-Indie-Rock (also later shortened to simply Emo).
Towards the end of the 1990s, Emo saw a transformation from “punky” to more “poppy.” Overall, the music and the general sound delivered by Emo bands became less dire, while still maintaining the tradition of intelligent and introspective lyrics backed by some seriously great music. This change opened up the new and quickly growing Emo fan base. While Weezer was busy leading the growing Emo scene up and out of the underground, bands like Jimmy Eat World were swept away and propelled to success by the new hoards of Emo fans.
(download and listen to Jimmy Eat World – Sweetness)
By the early 21st century, the new music identified as Emo had burst out of the underground and was taken up by fans who felt that they could not only hear great music pumped out by talented artists, but that they could connect with the head-spaces of the artists (and other fans) in the scene. Now that the genre has opened up and become so diverse, bands like The Smiths, The Cure, The Pixies and the Smashing Pumpkins are being considered (or labeled with the term) Emo, simply because of their use of the loud/soft musical trademark pioneered by the earlier Emo scene.

But more recently, the word (or term) Emo has been taken up by the media and pinned on the youths of the scene as something intensely negative. Newscast stations are broadcasting headlines like “The War on Emo” and “How Dangerous is Your Child’s Music?” What these “highly intelligent and well-researched” broadcasters don’t understand is that they are not only cheapening the serious problems of some teens and young adults, but they are throwing an entire scene backed by legitimate musical history into one stereotype-able lot, further alienating any struggling (or non-struggling) youth who turns to Emo fashion and/or music to help them discover themselves. By denying Emo its musical (and fashion) history, “they” are denying music a slice of itself. And by out-casting the scenesters who listen to, and/or dress Emo, they are quite successfully out-casting a very large percentage of the world’s population of youths. By broadcasting Emo music as pro-suicide and self-harm, the media is opening up all sorts of unpleasant doors for the youth of tomorrow. It may as well begin a censorship movement against this rather large genre of music, or simply institutionalize both artist and fan alike.
What they have called “negative and dangerous” to the teenagers and young adults of the world, has actually helped liberate and drive not only individuals in the fan-base, but has aided in the shaping and changing of today’s music scene (as Punk and Grunge have done before it). Really, mainstreamed media simply needs to educate itself regarding its more modern and young society, rather than preaching hell and damnation.

This article has been made possible through “The History of New Music” as broadcasted on 102.1 The Edge.
All musical suggestions are credited to Alan Cross.

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