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Where were you when i was crying so loud? I've been walking trough these roads, so many times Where do i go, when you aren't here for me? Imprisoned, by As Life Fades Away

Emo Music - Past & Present Including Screamo

Emo Scene Intro | Emo Music | Emo Fashion & Style | Emo Lifestyle & Culture | Scene Kids

The most important part of the emo lifestyle is the MUSIC!

Emo music has been around for years but only in the last decade has it really made a dent in the popular music culture. In the last ten or so years, Emo music has branched out from its post-hardcore roots into the wide variety of genres it has to offer today. Most of today's 'emo kids' don't know emo's roots lie in hardcore music. Read on and learn...

Emo music is best characterized by its heartfelt take on life and how to live it. It mostly consists of bands that sing, or scream, about relationships, breakups and other emotional and personal events in every young adult's life. This vocal styling is usually backed by aggressive rock guitars and heavy drum beats, reminiscent of its post-hardcore background. Emo as a music genre has broadened over the years and now is loosely defined as rock music with emotion-based lyrics and effect.

Rites of Spring
Rites of Spring

Moss Icon
Moss Icon

Indian Summer
Indian Summer

Swing Kids
Swing Kids


Sunny Day Real Estate
Sunny Day Real Estate

Early Emo & Description of the General Emo Sound / Style

The history of emo is somewhat less ambiguous than its current meaning. Emo music's history is still highly debatable though.

Emo was born in the mid 1980s, long before alleged-emo group Fall Out Boy hit MTV (or its members were even born) as an outgrowth of the hardcore punk movement in Washington, D.C. The term "emo" itself was derived from "emotional hardcore." Most mark the emergence of the emo genre as being in 1984, when the band Rites of Spring began playing in Washington, D.C formed from members of renowned hardcore bands.

This band and other early emo bands like Embrace (Ian MacKaye, Minor Threat) retained the intense punk-based sounds of Minor Threat, but distinguished themselves from their hardcore punk rock peers by adding an intuitive extreme emphasis on raw emotion. Along with racing punk drum beats and heavily distorted guitars, vocals grew melodic, lyrics became self-questioning and the dynamics alternated between loud/soft extremes. Vocals were dramatic and at climaxes of a song, it was not unusual for a singer to break down into a passionate scream, growl or moan. These emo bands moved away from angry songs of rebellion to more heart-felt introspective reflections, dealing with sadness, love and angst in their lyrics.

The music is designed to be highly dramatic, taking the listener through a series of powerful ups and downs with constant lyrical reminders of the heartbreak and pain the music is meant to reflect. It was a surprising contrast from hardcore punk of the time for bands like RoS producing heavily emotional lyrics, exposing themselves and their personal feelings.

The repeated use of loud-soft contrasts, reflective of the singer's mood changes between heartbreak, anger and confusion are perhaps the most distinct difference between emo and traditional punk music. Before emo, almost all punk music held a steady volume perpetuated by rhythm guitar. Emo often cuts the rhythm guitar suddenly, opting for a more intimate and contemplation-provoking type of sound.

With the introduction of Rites of Spring into the Washington, D.C. underground scene, emo became acceptable and copycats followed. The summer of 1985 becomes known as "Revolution Summer" when a new wave of rock-tempo, melody based bands formed out of the DC punk scene with diverse rock sounds.

Following RoS, the next notable band to make a big impact through emo was Moss Icon who combined Rites of Spring's lyrical heartbreak with traditional punk's energy. Moss Icon strips the "emo" element down to the core, and adds a great deal of intricate guitar melody with a strong focus on loud/soft dynamics. The vocals, too, break new ground by building up to actual top-of-the-lungs screaming at songs' climaxes.

Some consider Moss Icon the starting point for the emo movement rather than Rites Of Spring. Other big names of this early period in emo music's history include One Last Wish, Beefeater, Gray Matter, Still Life, Indian Summer, etc

Early Screamo

Eventually, emo allowed some bands to be wildly experimental in their song writing and intricate, sometimes even delicate guitar-work became a part of the emo sound. As the movement spread outside D.C., many hardcore and punk scenes adopted the aesthetic and emotional focus of emo.

As well as Saetia from New York, bands such as Drive Like Jehu, Heroin and the Swing Kids in San Diego developed their own, more aggressive (even chaotic) version of emo, known as "screamo." However all emo had one thing in common: a guttural, driven approach to self-expression.

Emo's Second Wave (Indie-Emo) Upto Present Day Emo

In 1987, MacKaye and Rites frontman Guy Picciotto formed Fugazi. As meticulous to the art-over-commerce ideal as it was with its cerebral-yet-visceral sound, Fugazi inspired emo's second wave.

The first wave of emo began to fade after the breakups of most of the involved bands and the emo movement turned away from its hardcore roots. By the early '90s, a new crop of melodic punk bands like Jawbreaker and Samiam began to incorporate the heaviness of emo into their pop punk sound.

In the mid '90s, 'emo' began to reflect the indie scene that followed the influences of Fugazi. Bands like 'Texas is the Reason' and Seattle's 'Sunny Day Real Estate' introduced a more indie rock style of emo, less violent than its predecessor. These "indie emo" bands added the introspective lyrical focus and trademark loud/soft dynamic structure to their heterogeneous indie music.

Somewhere along the way the major record industries took notice. It's around this time that emo started collecting multiple definitions adding gaping contradictions and much confusion. The press of course got a hold of the emo term and bastardised it. Emo developed into a space of tension between independent authenticity and corporate mass media.

Like many other aspects of youth culture though, the music and its associated practices and themes were appropriated for profit and turned into a product for mass consumption. Before long, catchy emo bands such as Dashboard Confessional, Jimmy Eat World and Weezer entered the mainstream and were on regular rotation on MTV and national radio stations.

Dashboard Confessional especially is the site of separation for many in the rift in Emo culture. The original classic emos see Dashboard Confessional as an insincere bastardization of their subculture and its sentiments due to their mainstream, corporate status, whereas Emo "mainstreamers" of today see Dashboard Confessional as a talented band that provides enjoyment and addresses a difficult time in life.

Dashboard Confessional Jimmy Eat World Weezer
Dashboard Confessional | Jimmy Eat World | Weezer

As new groups sounding like these groups were born, they too became labeled emo; regardless of the fact that their music was far removed from the origins of the term. These bands emulated the softer indie emo/emotional pop punk sound rather than the earlier more dynamic emo. This style of music is what emo is best known for in today's society leaving an entire category of music fans unaware of the hardcore roots. Examples following Dashboard include Taking Back Sunday, Brand New, Death Cab For Cutie, Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, Panic! At the Disco, Hawthorne Heights, etc...

My Chemical Romance Brand New Hawthorne Heights
My Chemical Romance | Brand New | Hawthorne Heights

The original emo fans obviously feel that emo, which was once pure, has been subsequently ruined by the corporate music industry, and is now dead.

Screamo of Today

However, "Emo" is not all based on this softer variation. There are many new bands that have retained the heavier more dynamic classic emo sound to some extent, with a strong focus on loud/soft dynamics and dramatic vocals. These bands are frequently referred to as "screamo". Screamo is a sub genre of emo, which is mainly used by younger fans who weren't around when the screaming vocal thing was new and unique. Screamo is the music of choice for the new subculture known as "scene". It's all very confusing!

Many of the newer bands actually combine the dynamic screamo sound with the softer post emo indie rock style and add further elements to the mix. These could include Thursday, Underoath, Silverstein, Alexisonfire, Atreyu, Bring Me The Horizon, Bullet For My Valentine, Aiden, Chiodos, From First To Last, Funeral For A Friend, Story Of The Year, etc...

Thursday Funeral For a Friend Aiden
Thursday | Funeral For a Friend | Aiden

Underoath Silverstein Bring Me The Horizon
Underoath | Silverstein | Bring Me The Horizon

Emo music as a form is dominating music now days. No rock scene has been co-opted as fast or as madly as emo. Whereas, even in the past, the term emo was used to identify a wide variety of bands, the breadth of bands listed under today's emo is crazy! The term "emo" has been left as more of a loose identifier than as a specific genre of music. Skramz is new term for the screamo/emo bands of the 90s, or anything that is considered 'real' screamo/emo.


As with the overall emo culture/movement the music has been subject to a considerable amount of criticism. This is like any music genre that enters the mainstream though such as nu-metal.

Firstly as previously mentioned the original emo fans are annoyed that the emo of their time has been ruined by the corporate music industry, and the emo scene they once knew is practically dead now. In their opinion real Emo was manly and hard. It was fast and thrashy sung in a way that wasn't pretentious and whiney.

Fans of other genres such as punk and metal dislike the emo of today as well describing it as half assed wannabe punk bands, which just didn't quite make it for example. Some feel that it should not be associated with punk at all because punk is all about attitude, and emo has none according to them. Emo is rotting away at American rock music is another popular criticism.

There are of course many other negative views on the music such as its supposed lack of originality and blandness. Furthermore, nowadays emo music is stereotypically seen as being suicidal, angst-ridden, wrist slitting, label-defying tripe. Some people feel that it's the emo music which is too largely blame for self harm because the bands sing about it and they inform a fragile audience that this is a way of life. A few bands do occasionally mention self harm but the main theme of most emo bands is heartbreak, not suicide or self harm. What about other genres of music where the lyrics are about guns and drugs... So many things can be seen as a bad influence to people. It's a never-ending circle.

MCR (My Chemical Romance) / Emo Fans even staged a protest against The Daily Mail's false "suicide cult" claims in London, UK.

A lot of criticism is down to the gaping contradictions and confusion that exists within the genre. Everyone has his or her own idea of just what emo encompasses. One of the most notable debates concerns the question "Is My Chemical Romance emo?" Many people feel that a vast amount of bands are wrongly put into the emo genre. Stereotyping and confusion exists within all music genres though and isn't the fact that the music is good more important that whether or not it's emo?

Really people should stop whining because if someone listens to it, that doesn't affect them at all! However everyone is entitled to their own opinion at the end of the day...

Wrapping Things Up...at Last!

You have to admire emo's ability to remain raw and risk being made fun of. When people are devoting themselves to soulless pop, it's refreshing to see something relating to kids on a gut level. Everyone who is serious about music would love to see the public embrace intelligent, heartfelt music rather than manufactured, dumbed-down tripe. A lot of Emo music' sense of urgency, sincerity and melody are exactly what is missing from a lot of modern music.

The emo of today is clearly different to the original emo sound invented over two decades ago and both are loved by many worldwide. Try to put up with all the genre confusion and if you are into new "emo" bands like Fall Out Boy please educate yourself by listening to the bands that kicked off the whole movement. The influence on the modern emo sound should be obvious so you'll probably enjoy these bands as well.

Finally take note of these basic points:

  • Do not fall for stereotypes; Emo music isn't about being "depressed" or "suicidal". It is about expressing emotion, whatever that emotion may be.
  • Once you find some emo bands that you like, go to their shows. You'll be able to meet other fans and discover new bands through them too.
  • If this type of music isn't your thing, don't force it and be a "fake". You may develop an appreciation for it in the future.

The Emo Song by Adam and Andrew, has cult status on the Internet.

Although this song is meant to be witty, like a lot of things 'emo' some consider it to be alarming and a bad influence... This is because of lyrics like "Stop my breathing and slit my throat, I must be an Emo."
(The entire lyrics to the song)


Last revision 05.01.2024

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soEmo.co.uk Nov 07 2023, 12:36 PM

Emo music is making some sort of comeback in the last 6 months it seems. 

The When We Were Young music festival with awesome bands such as Greenday, Blink-182, Thirty Seconds To Mars, Good Charlotte, All Time Low, Pierce The Veil, Thrice, Yellowcard, Finch, Sum41, Rise Against, Simple Plan, New Found Glory was a fantastic thing for the emo scene this year. See more details here: https://www.whenwewereyoungfestival.com/

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