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Tracing emo culture’s fiery resurgence in 2017

The youth subculture that swept up an entire generation of outcasts, triggered moral panics and rocked the popular music landscape is enjoying a renaissance

Where were you in 2007? I spent most of it in a basement or a sticky venue somewhere, drunk and screaming along to Fall Out Boy; the same place I spend most of my better weekends in 2017. This could just be a symbol of my own struggle to grow up and leave my emo past behind, but the fact that there are places I can go to to indulge it is another indication that 10 years after the scene died, we are living in an emo renaissance.

Back in the mid-2000s when emo was everywhere, it was more a scene than it was ever any kind of official genre; the bands involved were only tenuously linked, and many of them had little in common musically. You can attribute the birth of emo to 90s bands like Jimmy Eat World and Weezer, but there isn’t much to connect Weezer to My Chemical Romance; besides an honest admission of feelings from grown men. But while emo was an entire way of living for those of us entrenched in the scene, it was at best at punchline and at worst a moral panic for those on the outside.

Emo kids were a mystery to those not invested, which is what made the scene so appealing; even if it was ultimately shallow, any involvement in the scene made kids who were already bullied feel a part of something. This sparked outrage and fear from parents who thought their kids were wrapped up in a cult that encouraged self-harm; and it’s true, while no emo bands explicitly advocated for it, lyrics like cut my wrists and black my eyes didn’t exactly put off kids who already had issues. The scene was a lot of fun, but with the vaguely pro-self harm lyrics and its pervasive misogyny, the scene wasn’t without its problems.

There are any number of factors that attributed to the death of the scene: the decline of Myspace, which was so integral to emo, for one. Maybe we all grew up and got a bit bored with the melodrama, especially as bands like Fall Out Boy and Panic! At the Disco became self-aware. Of course many clung on, but emo as we knew it, the last true subculture, was over. It was so fleeting and faddish, so cloaked in melodrama and irony that it hardly seemed like a proper subculture or genre to begin with, and it wasn’t much of a surprise that such an immediate fire burned itself out. Perhaps emo’s short shelf life is what led to such a deep nostalgia, or it could be due to the fact that we were all emotional and sentimental to begin with. Regardless: emo is back, baby.

The evidence is everywhere. From First to Last released Make War earlier this year and recently played their first show with lapsed emo Sonny Moore aka Skrillex since 2007. Taking Back Sunday and Brand New still release music and play; after ten years of Riot!, Paramore have a new album and tour in 2017; Cute is What We Aim For toured their first record in full last year. There are emo nights popping up everywhere, and even in my small city of Brighton there are at least three separate throwback events. People attend not ironically but out of a genuine love of screaming to My Chemical Romance; they do just that, weekly or monthly, and they give it everything they’ve fucking got. I know this, because I am usually there. It isn’t just those who were there the first time getting involved: mid-2000s emo videos are decorated with comments from 14 year olds saying they were born in the wrong era.

“It was so fleeting and faddish, so cloaked in melodrama and irony that it hardly seemed like a proper subculture or genre to begin with”

But the truest sign of emo’s comeback is not in the success of band comebacks or in our own nostalgia, but in the prevalence of new emo movements; American artist Lil Peep has been hailed as the new face of emo, promising a rebirth for the genre. Emo Nite LA, who put on events across America and are hoping to go worldwide, started two years ago and are now globally recognised. They’ve had guests DJs including Mark Hoppus, and a turnout of over 40,000 across two years; they are at the helm of arguably one of the most successful nights in the world. Not only that, but they’re the masterminds responsible for bringing together Sonny Moore and From First to Last for their first show together since 2007. They started the night when T.J. and Babs, “did Dashboard Confessional karaoke at a friend’s birthday party and realised how fun it would be if we could go out and listen to music we actually liked”.

Their work is hugely successful and it’ll only get more so as, unshackled by shame, many of us fall into both emo nostalgia and a present-day love of the scene. I spoke to the team – Babs Szabo, Morgan Freed, and T.J. Petracca – to find out not only why they love emo so much, but why, in their professional opinion, they think we are seeing an emo renaissance.

When asked whether or not they believe that emo is back, Morgan said, “I think that it’s something that never went away. People listen to music for a certain feeling whether that’s happiness, sadness, or anger. The funny thing is, as sad as some of these songs are, I think people are searching for the feeling of what their lives were like when they first heard these tunes and I’m sure, most of that was love and happiness”. Babs added, “for me it never died down in the first place. I've never stopped listening to emo and pop punk, going to shows, celebrating this culture”.

While all of the Emo Nite team agreed with one another that for them, emo never went away to begin with, they do see the resurgence in emo’s popularity in recent years. I asked why, and Morgan said, “The way that bellbottoms will continuously go away and come back, the same thing will happen with music. As younger generations form their own style of what emo is, they’ll also look for what started it all”. T.J. added, “personally it never went away for me, but I think there is a lot more attention on the genre again because people are remembering how much they love music with real instruments again. These songs and this genre and this style of music and songwriting is honest and real... we connected with it when we were 15 and we connect with them at 25. and I don't think that will ever go away”.

“Nostalgia is always at play but it’s more prevalent now. Given the current state of the world, nostalgia is pretty much a psychological resource that we use to fight against feelings of invalidation or despair”

I asked the team what their favourite emo memories were. Morgan said, “playing shows and recording when everything was a blur. Underage drinking and house parties after shows before social media was so prevalent”. Babs added, “one of my favorite memories was being an extra in the +44 music video "When Your Heart Stops Beating." You can't even see me in the video, I'm in the background dancing, but it was such a cool experience. More recently, I was so excited when The Used came to Emo Nite and played an acoustic song. They were so incredibly nice – truly a night I will never forget”.

And if we are living in an emo renaissance, what bands would they like to see have a big comeback? T.J. said, “My Chemical Romance”, Morgan said, “I’d really like to see Saves the Day blow the fuck up in a big way”, and Babs added, “PLEASE MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE GET BACK TOGETHER!”. So, MCR, if you’re reading this, get it together and make a load of 20-somethings very happy. Although of course, if anyone is capable of getting My Chem back playing together or in the same recording studio, it’s going to be Emo Nite - the team that put Skrillex back onstage with From First to Last.

The popularity of things like Emo Nite make it okay again, even cool, to enjoy emo in 2017. But I wanted to speak to a real-life emo kid who hasn’t made it their job, so I spoke to Rachel, who grew up emo in Florida. I asked her why she thinks we’re so nostalgic for it, and she said, “I think we’re in a general cultural renaissance rather than just an exclusively emo one. People are definitely embracing their true interests more now”.

She added, “nostalgia is always at play but it’s more prevalent now. Given the current state of the world, nostalgia is pretty much a psychological resource that we use to fight against feelings of invalidation or despair, so I’m not surprised we keep looking back at times when things weren’t so seemingly bad. Art always looks back, but I think now more than ever, looking forward is pretty fucking bleak”. I asked Rachel what’s so great about being emo now as opposed to then, and she said, “the difference is that I get to enjoy emo, but I’m not as ugly as I was then. Emo kids get the biggest glo-ups of them all”.

We all speak more openly about loving emo than we have since Myspace died. When I rediscovered my old diaries, written between the ages of 11 and 16 - when emo was at its beautiful peak and I wore eyeliner below my eyes - I got very invested in a world where I thought it was appropriate to scrawl the lyrics to Bright Eyes songs across the front of notebooks. The diaries were filled with pictures of band members, accounts of gigs I went to, and my own melodramatic whining about whoever had wronged me at the time.

I thought they were funny, so I started to tweet snippets from them on @emodiary05. While not amassing a huge following, something in Emo Diary struck a chord with people, so I made a zine of the diaries. After receiving an overwhelmingly positive response from people who #related to my experiences as a yung British emo, I realised that maybe emo is back and here to stay; which is good, because I never found anywhere else I fit in quite as well.

“The hole on the right side of my lip may have almost-healed, and we might not start WrItInG lIkE tHiS or drawing on our Vans anytime soon, but many of us who were invested in emo in 2005 will never truly get over it”

Our love of emo will always be linked to an easier time, but it’s not as simple as straightforward nostalgia: the joy I feel when I scream to Brand New in 2017 doesn’t come only from a connection to the past, but from actually enjoying it in the here and now. With distance from an era when we would plaster our hair to our foreheads and wear red and black stripes unrepentantly, we’ve learned to stop being embarrassed and to really find joy in emo. There are any number of theories as to why it has resurfaced now; perhaps it’s because of the political climate that we want to curl up in a simpler past, or perhaps it’s been long enough that we aren’t embarrassed anymore.

Or perhaps emo never really died at all. The hole on the right side of my lip may have almost-healed, and we might not start WrItInG lIkE tHiS or drawing on our Vans anytime soon, but many of us who were invested in emo in 2005 will never truly get over it. I still go to shows, still sink into a bit of Fall Out Boy when times get hard. Emo is back because it never left; but the more of us confess to our all-enduring, honest-to-god love of a good bit of dual vocals and melodramatic lyrics, the more of us will feel comfortable to confess. Welcome to the club. Maybe I’ll give you a spot in my top 8.