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Well, two forms of music. Three, if you count screamo, which is essentially emo with lots of screaming.
Emo itself (the music) is typically characterized by melodic musicianship and expressive, often confessional lyrics. It grew out of the Hardcore Punk and Post-hardcore scenes in Washington DC in the mid-eighties, with bands like Rites of Spring, Minor Threat, Fugazi, and Embrace rising in popularity as a response to the perceived violence in the punk movement. While the DC scene would fade out by the end of The Eighties, by then it had spread across the country, with bands like Seattle's Sunny Day Real Estate and San Francisco's Jawbreaker carrying the torch of emo through The Nineties. Thanks to the rise of Grunge and the boom in underground music in the early part of the decade, bands later labelled "emo" first got mainstream exposure during this period.
The name was originally made up by Thrasher magazine in the mid-'80s as a satire on [any word whatsoever]-core punk. Twenty years later, emerged under that name as an actual hardcore-punk-derived musical subculture.
It was in the later part of The Nineties when emo began to capitalize on its increased appeal. In 1996, Weezer released their sophomore album Pinkerton which, despite being initially bashed by critics and listeners alike, is now regarded as one of the greatest albums of the decade, and is viewed as having introduced emo to the mainstream (emo bands that had gotten famous before were, at the time, mostly associated with grunge) and influenced the genre. Emo firmly broke into the mainstream in 2001, when Jimmy Eat World released their hit album Bleed American, with its hit single "The Middle". Thanks to Jimmy, a whole new subculture evolved. The emo scene, once associated with underground music, developed and evolved as a result of mainstream exposure, and out of it grew the Emo Teens. For the exact definition of an emo, go see the article. We're describing the music, not the person who listens to it.
Now, for the "two forms of music" thing. The two are commonly just known as "emo". To avoid confusion, we'll name the two types: "classic emo" and "scene emo".
Classic emo is essentially Hardcore Punk. This is the form you're allowed to enjoy according to anti-emos. It's uncompromising and the bands weren't very mainstream. Some of it even predicates Post Rock.
Scene emo is pop-punk mixed with classic emo's lyrics. This style developed after Jimmy Eat World brought emo into the mainstream. Along with Metalcore and post-grunge, scene emo is a Love It or Hate It genre -- it is insanely popular with some groups, while the rest seem to hate it with a passion.
So, there you have it. The basic history of emo. It can't be described further without either upsetting someone or making the page overly long.
Right, the band list. Um... this may get a bit controversial, so refrain from making drastic edits. This topic's already likely to cause enough Internet Backdraft to destroy half the bandwidth.
"Classic" emo bands:
- AFI (became this on "Black sails in the sunset" but switched to Pop Punk on "Crash Love"
- Brand New (their later, more "mature"-sounding music could be considered this, but their earlier stuff, especially Your Favorite Weapon, leaned closer to "scene" emo or pop-punk)
- Cap'n Jazz
- Christie Front Drive
- Don Martin Three
- Fire Party
- The Get Up Kids
- Gray Matter
- The Hated (They started out playing just plain old punk, but this was the very early stuff which is mostly forgotten today.)
- Hüsker Dü
- Indian Summer
- Jimmy Eat World
- Moss Icon
- The Promise Ring
- Rainer Maria (early stuff only, they gradually transitioned to just straight melodic indie rock.)
- Rites of Spring
- Saves the Day
- Squirrel Bait
- Still Life
- Sunny Day Real Estate
- Texas is the Reason
- Turning Point
- Weezer (mostly a Power Pop band, but their first album and especially the self-produced Pinkerton were a large influence on later emo bands)
"Scene" emo bands (the controversial bit):
- 30 Seconds to Mars
- All-American Rejects
- Dashboard Confessional
- Fall Out Boy
- Hawthorne Heights
- Panic! at the Disco (arguably, but what we know for sure is that they left this category when they decided to be The Kinks.)
- Simple Plan
- Taking Back Sunday
- Tokio Hotel
Have we forgotten anything? Oh yeah, screamo. Screamo is a far more chaotic and screamier of emo. Be careful when you go searching for screamo, though - it's a lot more extreme than you'd expect. In fact, a lot of it is quite close to Grindcore.
Examples of Screamo bands:
- Battle of Wolf 359
- The Blood Brothers
- Circle Takes The Square
- City of Caterpillar
- From Autumn To Ashes
- Funeral Diner
- Hot Cross
- I Hate Myself
- Jeromes Dream
- Joshua Fit for Battle
- La Quiete
- Louise Cyphre
- Mesa Verde
- Neil Perry
- The Saddest Landscape
- The Spirit Of Versailles
- Ten Grand (Previously known as The Vidablue)
- Twelve Hour Turn
- Usurp Synapse
- You and I
The following earlier bands have a screamo sound and were huge influences on modern day bands, but predate the term. Most of them even rejected the "emo" label and preferred to describe their music only as screamy and chaotic hardcore:
- Angel Hair
- Antioch Arrow
- Portraits of Past (arguably the Trope Codifier for screamo in general, they pioneered many elements of the sound almost universally used afterwards)
- Swing Kids
A few things to consider:
- Emo purists tend to be an unsatisfiable bunch. Whether a band falls under emo or screamo or either category at all is rarely universally agreed upon. Some purists go so far as to reject the label of "screamo" altogether and argue that it's all just emo.
- As noted above, most bands, at least the earlier ones were not fond of the term. What Ian Mackaye had to say about it sums it up very well.
Emo and Screamo exhibit the following tropes:
- All Lowercase Letters: the standard format for lyrics and anything written on an insert with a record.
- Careful with That Axe: Blood curdingly screams during melodic interludes are quite common.
- Chewing the Scenery: Particularly in screamo bands. Check out this Saddest Landscape song.
- Long Title: Was a very popular trend for awhile. Neil Perry was perhaps the most notable band for this.
- Crack is Cheaper: Good luck collecting The Hated's entire original discography (can't even get a repress, it's all out of print.) Used to be the case with plenty of other bands, but represses and discography compilations have dropped the value quite a bit.
- Dead Horse Genre: The mainstream definition of "emo" is largely considered an entirely discredited genre at this point and most bands have tried to either move away from the sound (such as Panic at the Disco) or renounce any association with the term (such as My Chemical Romance).
- Similarly, even the "classic" emo and screamo sound has mostly faded in the US due to lack of originality and being played (though the "classic" bands are still very well regarded.) The style is still quite popular in Europe though, most notably France, Germany and Italy with increasing popularity in Eastern Europe.
- Downer Ending: Lyrical content is rarely uplifting or happy.
- Ensemble Darkhorse: Funeral for a Friend, due to their epic riffs and admitted thrash/nwobhm influence, tend to be this one to metalheads.
- Epic Rocking: Portraits of Past, City of Caterpillar and Moss Icon are all examples of bands that tried this approach.
- Fandom Rivalry: Referring to any "scene emo" bands as emo to a fan of "classic" emo is a surefire way to create an Internet Backdraft. Or end up with a black eye if done in real life. Even admitting those bands are not emo but admitting to liking them isn't going to get a good response.
- Similarly even "classic" emo bands tend to be disliked by fans of "traditional" or "tough guy" hardcore and metalheads, who mostly consider it unnecessarily sappy and often cheesy and full of Narm. In return the emo fans tend to attack "tough guy" bands as meatheaded idiocy and most metal as bland and unemotional (Most like much Grindcore, Powerviolence, Crust Punk and some Metalcore though.)
- Lostalgia: Early emo bands tended not to last long and rarely put out more than a single full length album, if they even put out one at all (it was not uncommon for a band just to release a bunch of compilation tracks, splits and single records.) It's not too hard to find a band you fall in love with but will never hear more than about a half hour of music from.
- Lyrical Dissonance: Unlike Grindcore, Powerviolence or Hardcore Punk, lyrics tend to be very personal and often sappy. Sometimes feel like they belong more in mainstream pop love songs even if the music is quite heavy and brutal.
- Manly Tears: Bands crying on stage used to be quite common....or so some think. While this is an often joked about and sometimes parodied aspect of it, good luck finding an account of a band actually non-jokingly doing this. There are some records though with tracks with over-emotional vocals often turning to sobs which might help spread this belief.
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: All over the place. Some of the mellowest bands usually lounge around 3, with some many songs going as low as 1. Some of the more extreme screamo bands meanwhile go as high as 9 or even 10.
- Non-Appearing Title: More often than not this is the case. Some bands even went so far as refuse to give titles to their songs at all (Don Martin Three infamously had a record with a track listing of "four or five songs. you make up the names.")
- Not Christian Rock: Mineral is a textbook example. They had many lyrics referencing The Bible and songs about Jesus, but never considered themselves a Christian band, never attempt to separate themselves from the secular scene and never spoke of religion at shows or in interviews.
- Also Moss Icon had some lyrics which were just plain WEIRD and could be interpreted as praising God, though just one of many possibilities. It's quite clear from the rest of their lyrics though that they were not a Christian band.
- Scary Musician, Harmless Music: VERY inverted. Bands often tried to avoid giving any type of image at all believing it would distract from their music and almost always dress very plainly. Such mild-mannered and looking individuals often produce music of extreme brutality and chaos.
- For example, note this video of Ampere, who look like they wouldn't be out of place lounging around a coffeehouse or library. Then they start playing.
- Soprano and Gravel: Usually from the same vocalist when present.
- Precision F-Strike: A common tactic of many lyricists.
- Three Chords and the Truth: Usually played straight but sometimes subverted as some bands have pretty complex song structures and can get technical (Hot Cross is one great example).
- True Art Is Angsty: Pretty much the whole reason the genre even exists.
- True Art Is Incomprehensible: Particularly during the 90s. Releases were usually vinyl-only, while they usually included lyrics these were in an often unintelligible font. Inserts also commonly included artsy usually black and white photos having little to do with the band (often of rusted or broken machinery, flowers, and old men or little girls), if any photos of the band were included they were usually in a similar artsy style, almost always in black and white. The rambling song titles often had little to do with the lyrics and as stated above bands frequently didn't even bother to name the songs. Often the only info given on the band was the members' first names.
- Many believe though that many of the more extreme examples of this were in fact Stealth Parodies.
- Viewers Are Geniuses: Unless you've taken several advanced philosophy courses, you probably won't be able to make heads or tails of many Orchid lyrics (they are often mistaken as Word Salad Lyrics for this reason).
- Vindicated by History: Rites of Spring were first termed "emocore" as a derogatory term and were considered by many the laughingstock of the DC hardcore scene. Today they are typically considered one of the best punk bands of all time.
- Wangst: A lot of later Emo bands' lyrics ahere to this trope so badly.
And... that's it. Oh, one more thing: if you plan to cause a sizable amount of Internet Backdraft, remember to clean it up afterwards, won't you? After all, Internet Backdraft is bad for the environment!