Music, like everything else, is cyclical. A genre will come out, get over saturated, bastardized, and generally turned into a joke. The real aspect of that scene will go underground, and the scene will thrive again. This happened with ska (rather, ska-punk). That scene blew the fuck up due to pop acts like No Doubt, Reel Big Fish, Goldfinger, and the like. Due to the commercial expansion, and later collapse, lots of things of the scene were lost. Moon Ska Records closed it’s doors. Ska became a punchline. Music for band geeks to cover cheesy 80’s songs. It became a joke. However, with bands like Streetlight Manifesto, The Chinkees, The Slackers, and The Toasters (holy fuck, those dudes have been around forever), the scene managed to stay active. If not more underground.
The same is true for emo music. Like many people my age, I was first exposed to the genre via the early/mid 2000’s explosion of popularity. Shit, Jimmy Eat World managed to get a hit record. I was exposed through bands like The Get Up Kids, Thursday, Taking Back Sunday, and At The Drive-In. Those bands put out some great records. In some cases, I do not consider them “emo,” but they were certainly influenced by it.
Meanwhile, there was another big thing happening in the scene. It was the Drive-Thru Records era. That label was putting out record after record of radio ready “pop-punk” that was constantly getting classified as emo. Bands like New Found Glory, The Starting Line, The Movielife, and Something Corporate (ugh), were all getting tagged as being emo bands. Those bands were to emo what Reel Big Fish and Save Ferris were to ska. Ok for what they were, but totally muddying the scene. From the Drive-Thru bands, you had the further bastardization of what was emo. Most notably with bands like My Chemical Romance and Fallout Boy. The genre tag was getting applied to things that had nothing to do with the genre, and in some cases nothing to do with the greater punk scene in general.
Well, as is wont to happen, the scene became a joke. It became more of a term to describe bands catering to kids with shitty haircuts, a penchant for self-harm, and day-glo shirts. Bands like Braid, Mineral, I Hate Myself, Heroin, and the extended family of bands stemming from Cap’n Jazz fell by the wayside. Now it was shit like “I wish my grass was emo, so it would cut itself” or “how many emo kids does it take to change a light bulb? None, they would rather cry in the dark.” What the fuck happened?
Well, the real scene went underground. The mainstream thought it understood what emo was, while being totally unaware. Through labels like Count Your Lucky Stars Records, Square Of Opposition Records, and Tiny Engines Records, we are finally seeing good records coming out to wide release. There is a bunch of talk about there being a “Midwest emo revival.” I disagree with the phrase because, for some of us, the scene never died. There were always bands we could stand behind. But, of the newer crop, there is Snowing, Castevet (now CSTVT), Grown Ups, Perfect Future, and Football, Etc. They are plenty more, but those are my personal favourites.
It seems unlikely that the mainstream definition will ever change to being realistic of what the scene historically was (and currently is), but I do not think anyone expects it to. But, at least we can take back what is ours.
See also: Article @ Chicago’s Newcity Music:
The New Emo: It’s back, living underground and thriving in Chicago
*the picture for this entry is of CSTVT. I do not know the source, but I got it from the band page for them on Punknews.org. Sorry.