Tag Archives: Rites of Spring

(Saudi) Arabian Nights

The Saudi Gazette‘s Khadija Mesh’al As-Sulaimi did a little write up on the “emo” culture that’s sprung up in the country:

Unlike the youthful rebellion of yesteryear, “Emo people” are much more difficult to define. Emo refers to a way of life which represents isolation and depression; Emo teenagers express their emotions through unusual – and in extreme cases, disturbing – means via the slogan: “Emotion is power, so do not be ashamed of it.”

True, the folks in Saudi Arabia appears to not go as bonkers over emo as the people in Egypt did a while back. Still, it’s a rather cut-and-paste piece, with snippets of paranoia of a youth-bred culture that “parents just don’t understand.”

Aside from the Rites of Spring reference (kuddos for putting that in the piece!), what is probably most alarming is the title of the article:

The Emo subculture invades Saudi society

What I’m harping on here is the word “invasion.” It promotes a certain fear-of-the-other, and isn’t that the kind of polarizing attitude that could potentially do more harm to kids with real depression versus those who dabble in the fashion of the day that’s merely perceived to be that of an individual who is depressed.

The rest is more of the usual… Still, it’s interesting to track the “spreading of emo” throughout the world. Or at least in the guise of the worldwide media.

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Origin Story

I came across this odd post entitled “The Origin of Emo” on an unusually blank WordPress blog (though the thing appears to be written by a Thom Lloyd, which is the gmail address at the bottom of the article). It’s the only post, and it’s written in a pseudo-term-paper light, with citations that don’t really say much of anything or connote to any one article/book/etc (though some of the names provided can be linked up via a quick search). It’s all very odd.

What’s even odder is Lloyd’s thesis statement on the origin of emo, which he sort of drops in at the end:

Rites of Spring and Sunny Day Real Estate did not start the emo genre.

Eh? Lloyd continues to throw out vague, inconsistencies, many of which I can agree with (genres are a culmination of the sounds that have influenced the bands), and some that are rife for contradiction. Namely the last point:

With all of these factors in place a band and or a label had to start the wheels in motion forming the emo genre.

Huh? Didn’t he just say Rites of Spring did not start emo? And Dischord doesn’t count because emo didn’t rise solely out of it?

This happens to be an ongoing problem with people seeking a solid definition for emo: the fact that the genre/sound exists as a fluid and evolving concept that many individuals ignore simply because of the condescending nature of the term makes it damn hard to tack a pin in it and call it a done day.

But, those irrelevancies aside. Rites are duly credited for starting emo: that’s where the term as a definition for a musical sound came from. Period. Not Husker Du, who Lloyd credits as an important factor. The fact is, Zen Arcade came out after Rites were a fully formed band with an entire pedigree of songs (1984 to be exact). Rites were listening to all sorts of hardcore (nothing I’ve read remotely mentions Husker Du though), and sought to challenge the trends within their own community by embracing a poppier sound. They took from many a British popper: The Buzzcocks are most credited as an influence there. But nothing about Husker Du.

And Lloyd’s idea of indie rock fusing the gap between Rites and Sunny Day is… well, a bit much. Lloyd also calls into play grunge as an important influence on emo and bridging these two bands: hardly. As far as grunge goes, the only role that played was its skyrocketing popularity behind Nirvana led to sale numbers that helped Sub Pop move out of the red zone and avoid bankruptcy so that they could go on and sign SDRE: grunge’s influence on emo is really relevant in a business capacity. Emo was a complete change from grunge, which is why Sunny Day startled so many people in Seattle: it was different. They were different. They took from hardcore, took from bands like Rites, Fugazi, Lungfish, Shudder To Think, and many of the DC bands that Lloyd overlooked. Yes, as Lloyd mentions, there are too many bands to name, and many of them he overlooked when trying to tie these two distinct bands (ROS + SDRE together). Since when do you need to fill in a time blank in terms of bands that came about that were important and led to another important band of the same sound anyway? How many of the new shitgaze (or whatever you want to call them) bands actually took other sounds and used them in their own songwriting? It’s always possible, and often an excellent appeal to change. But I can’t see Vivian Girls having taken lots of notes on IDM when they wrote their fuzzy, 60s surf garage rock sound. (It’s possible, but after the interview where they dissed bands that use a dancey drum beat, I doubt it.)

But there are plenty of bands that “filled in those years.” Just on Dischord there were a bunch (again, Embrace, Happy Go Licky, One Last Wish, Nation of Ulysses, Fugazi, Lungfish, Shudder To Think, Jawbox etc etc). And then there’s Jawbreaker’s take on the sound from DC. And then there’s Drive Like Jehu’s take on the DC sound and it’s impact on the San Diego scene: that whole arty-hardcore-meets-DC-emocore is indebted to the DC scene. Gravity Records, Heroin, Antioch Arrow, etc etc. And all of this in the years between 1984 (Rites of Spring) and 1994 (release of Diary).

That’s a lot of time, and many of these bands aren’t remembered because, in terms of folklore or the progression of a genre, only a few – those considered to be important for one reason or another – are consistently remembered and repeated to the next person, and the next person, and so on and so forth. That is an evolution of a genre, not some influential indie band that has nothing to do with these groups: no offense to The Pixies or Sonic Youth, but those bands hardly share anything with the first wave of emo. And because genres evolve, and many within different spheres and cultures (aka underground or mainstream), it may sound different at different points along the way. So, of course emo sounds different than it did before: it’s not static. Some things grew, other bands made their individual changes, and other bands made changes on other bands’ changes. Though the definition is rather fluid, a general line is fairly recognizable (one that doesn’t exactly include Sonic Youth, who were more no wave affiliated and who’s experimentation is mostly left out of many an “emo” act, or The Pixies, who tend to have a fairly basic pop sound that, as it’s well known, is more a grunge influence than an emo one) and observable.

List-less Once Again

Another day, another quizzical top ten list. This time it’s curtsey of Justin Jacbos at Paste magazine, with a piece entitled “10 Bands That Prove That Emo Wasn’t Always For The Hot Topic Tween Set.” The newsworthiness of the piece is due to the two fall reunion tours by emo 2nd wave forefathers Sunny Day Real Estate and 2nd wavers The Get Up Kids.

I do have to give Jacobs a solid round for putting The Promise Ring at the top: considering the type of emo-tive image Jacobs is shooting for, and the band’s impact on the future of the genre. Still, Jacobs does go for the condescending route while observing the genre in list form, even praising Andy Greenwald’s Nothing Feels Good (Jacobs’ perspective was revealed fairly clearly when he called the book a “must-read manifesto.”)

Still, a big odd spot of confusion: Fugazi. Or the lack thereof. Great to mention Rites of Spring (though as proto-emo? Come on, the term was first used to describe that very band!), but not even a hint at Fugazi? And instead name check Minor Threat when describing the band? Yes, they are the go-to hardcore band, but Rites were a post-hardcore act, evading many of the redundancies of hardcore and doing things dramatically different than Minor Threat.

But the real kicker with the lack of any Fugazi-inclusion is Cursive. Alright, I get that most people don’t like to include Fugazi into the whole emo arrangement because that either A) messes with their ideals of the band itself or B) invades their definition of emo with something more multidimensional. But to mention a band who’s entire first record literally sounds like a take on the early part of Fugazi’s discography – aka Cursive – without mentioning the inspirational band is just odd.

And no At The Drive-In? That’s just surprising.

The Promise Ring – “12 Sweaters Red”:

Bloody Buddy

I’d been bidding my time, putting off writing about the new musical, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.

Why?

I’m not sure really. The musical sounds interesting enough, and The New York Times gave it a sparkling review. And for such a mainstream interpretation of emo, it’s got the idea of the genre in its current form down-pat; glittery pop-punk, that layers the romantic angst on thick… it’s a shame to admit that emo’s transformed into that, but in many cases, one particular strain of that is true to that form.

 

Image taken from The New York Times article

Image taken from The New York Times article

And the music certainly reflects that and it’s page-to-stage kind of performance. As Emo! The Musical creator Joey Price said in an earlier interview:

…they [emo and musicals] also have a lot in common since they both involve this incredibly over-emotionality.

To each interpretation his (or her) own, as long as they can cop to their self-induced standard, I guess… though I tend to disagree whole-heartedly. It appears to work in these two cases, especially the former, as The Times’ Ben Brantley dished out the usual tropes and stereotypes for his take on emo in the musical realm:

Emo, for those of you who don’t download your songs, is a postpunk rock variant that wears its shattered heart on its tattered sleeve, throbbing with the narcissism, masochism and frustrated powerlessness that come with being a teenager. The closest Broadway has come to incorporating emo was in Duncan Sheik’s score for the late (and much missed) “Spring Awakening,” a show about the agony of young lust.

Funny side note is that Spring Awakening is based on Igor Stravinsky’s The Rites of Spring, which was the nomenclature inspiration (and intellectual to boot) for the first emo band, Rites of Spring.

And, though these interpretations of emo are currently-mainstream-streamlined and stereotyped at best, their definitions do conform to their forms; Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson takes a look at the American President in the perspective of the man as a confused, hormone-induced and angsty teenager. And with a song number entitled “Populism Yea Yea,” it provides a nice little double-induced defition that boosts composer and lyricist Michael Friedman’s interpretation of emo to a state of understanding its natural meaning; his musical work is emo as interpreted in its most populist form. After all, more kids today can name drop Coheed & Cambria than Christie Front Drive.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is playing at the Public Theater in New York until May 24th… so only a few days left to catch what sounds like a pretty entertaining and endearing show. And it’s only $10, which (especially these days) is cheap, and that, if anything, is a model of “emo culture” from it’s emocore days (Fugazi’s famous $5 door charge) to today (the insanely cheap $30 or so for the dozens upon dozens of bands on Warped Tour).

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson opening night preview:

The Revolution Will Be Produced

It’s always nice getting some sort of personal email, especially when it’s in the form of a musical reunion between David Byrne and Brian Eno. Well, “personal” isn’t quite the right word, but I certainly took the message as a sincere and direct one:

It’s with great pleasure we offer you a sneak peak by sharing an MP3 from the album. The song is called “Strange Overtones”.

The album in question is Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, and it’s the first collaboration from the two post-punk minds in decades. The duo last came together with the album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. However, that album was overshadowed (and probably will always be overshadowed) by Byrne’s main musical artery, Talking Heads. Yet, Eno was a central tenant to the Talking Head’s success, as his role in the producer’s seat for three of the Heads’ best albums (More Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear of Music, and Remain in Light) was as vital as any other performing member of the band. It was because of Eno’s previously-unforeseen creative control over the band – which according to the book Rip It Up And Start Again hit its tipping point when Eno and Byrne got writing credits for Remain in Light ahead of the other band members, who were simply written down under the umbrella of “Talking Heads” – that his relationship with the Talking Heads and Byrne deteriorated.

Talking Heads

Talking Heads

It took me quite a bit of time to realize what an impact certain producers have over the final musical product. I always assumed that the final version of a song and album was simply a record of what the musicians themselves had originally created. And in many cases, that is true, especially in the world of underground music (and on the flipside, with mainstream, conglomerate pop, there’s the tendency wherein the “musicians” have less control over the final sound – or even the original sound to begin with). But as I became more interested in music, its with the “behind the music” stories so to speak, that I realized what a fundamental role producers play. The most famous stories I can think of involving the influence of a producer are all about Rick Rubin, the man who transformed the Beastie Boys into a fully-fledged hip-hop act and brought guitars and turntables together with his idea to do a Run-DMC/Aerosmith collaboration.

Rick Rubin

Rick Rubin

Rick Rubin is the kind of guy who blends a musician’s sound with his own distinct style. His style is not quite overbearing, but you can hear distinct patterns and ideas in songs such as Jay-Z‘s “99 Problems”; with it’s big, chunky guitar riffs broken up by break-beats, its in the same ballpark as “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn” or “Walk This Way.” It’s something I tend to notice coming out of my favorite producer today – Danger Mouse. Despite the fact that DM works with a diverse number of genres and artists, there’s a certain reliance on futuristic-soul (a bit faster than old skool soul) with a twist that flows through most of his repertoire. Don’t believe it? Take a quick listen to the Black Keys‘ “Strange Times” and compare it to Gnarls Barkley‘s “Go-Go Gadget Gospel.” They’re both excellent songs, but they share a pop-friendly downbeat and have the same hand-clap filled start.

Strange Times:

Go-Go Gadget Gospel:

It is partially due to production that emo transformed from an obtuse and ambiguous umbrella term for DC based post-hardcore, into a tangible genre. In its infancy, many of the bands who were tagged as “emo” simply produced their own records, or had friends produce their records. Everyone from Rites of Spring to Beefeater (note – their friend “Gumbo” MacKaye is said to have produced their overture) to Fugazi to Lungfish to Jawbox had band members working on both sides of the soundtrack. Hell, Happy Go Licky, the post-Rites of Spring group in a slightly different formation, only has one album, and its a collection of live recordings. The first wave of emo’s lack of a singular mode of production allowed for each act to create their own sounds uninhibited by any outside forces.

Happy Go Lickys Will Play

Happy Go Licky's Will Play

Enter the second wave of emo and there are noticeable changes and formulations drawn out that inevitably impact the future of the genre. The 2nd wave basically has two distinct halves: the spread of the DC-inspired sound to particular parts of the country in a small number of bands (Sunny Day Real Estate, Jawbreaker, etc), and then the immediate spreading of “emo” under the influence of the previous 1st and 2nd wave bands (most notably throughout the Mid West). Of all of the groups in emo 2.1, Sunny Day Real Estate had the most influence, and yet, they themselves have two distinct parts in which their sound developed due in part to the band’s relationship to two producers: Brad Wood and Lou Giordano. Wood produced the first two Sunny Day albums (Diary and LP2), and the production value brought out a certain aural dissonance derived from the feedback of the band’s dual guitar-work. Considering the band found an instant fan base (albeit, rather small) isn’t unbelievable as their produced sound shared numerous qualities with grunge, which was still popular at the time (Wood worked his alterna-sweeping grunge sound into the work of other artists such as Red Red Meat, Hum, and Smashing Pumpkins). And yet, on LP2 you could sense that the band wanted to achieve something more powerful than the immediate gratification of sonic blasts, as songs such as “J’Nuh” delved into succinct, taught patterns. When they reformed, Sunny Day grabbed Giordano, who helped relieve the band of its excess dissonance in favor of sparse melodies, a concept which has carried on into the band members’ post-Sunny Day work (The Fire Theft, Enigk’s solo work). Sunny Day held their own individual sound throughout their career, but with the help of two different folks created two distinct portraits.

Sunny Days final form

Sunny Day's final form

As emo spread throughout the rest of America and bands began to share musical ideas, producers helped sift through the sounds to create something resembling a conglomerate creation. And the two people who had the most impact behind the bands themselves are Mark Trombino (former Drive Like Jehu drummer) and J Robbins (former Jawbox frontman). Trombino is best known for his production work with Jimmy Eat World, most notably on the album Clarity, a record which traded the band’s pop-punk leanings for ambient experimentation. Trombino’s relationship with Jimmy Eat World, Mineral, Knapsack, and Boys Life no doubt formed a core aesthetic for emo which mainly highlighted the band’s talents by simply teasing out the volume, focusing on the intertwined guitar flurries, and highlighting the singers’ vocals. It’s a style of down-tuned production that no-doubt has influenced countless pop-punk and emo bands today, many of whom Trombino has worked with.

J Robbins

J Robbins

As Trombino fiddled with certain bands’ sounds, J Robbins mostly covered the bases of bringing the bands to the studio. In the case of many J Robbins’ produced albums (most recently, his work on Ponytail’s Ice Cream Spiritual has gotten attention for bringing a notoriously hard-to-record-but-excellent-live band into the world of recorded sound), Robbins leaves much of the musicianship up to the band, but makes sure to twist the production knobs in a way that it gives each group the kind of pop-friendly gloss they were hoping to achieve. Even in the case of Texas Is The Reason (Do You Know Who You Are?), Robbins has been able to flesh out the noise-fetish in order to create approachable pop. In fact, Robbins’ work with one band in particular helped drive emo into the bubblegum chew of pop perfection: The Promise Ring. After TPR were upset with the sonic outcome of their debut, 30 Degrees Everywhere, they turned to Robbins for a little quality control. And that’s exactly what Robbins did, delivering the band’s two poppiest records; Nothing Feels Good and Very Emergency. It’s with Robbins that certain aspects of the emo “sound” manage to stand out, because he managed to make the sounds all stand out; rather than bands being lost in a caterwaul of noise, Robbins’ produced material (from the Dismemberment Plan to Jets to Brazil to Braid to mewithoutyou) sounds clear and conscience, making the band stand out. And in music production, that’s what counts.

Brian Eno and David Byrne – Strange Overtones (fan video):

A Spring in Your Step!

Last night I caught a great performance of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring for the Landmarks Festival at the Hatch Shell. Although the show was an abbreviated, symphony-only version of Stravinsky’s opera, it was still a wonderful opportunity to hear the music played by a full symphony (and one filled with the best high school-aged talent from around the world at that).

Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky

With it’s jarring, discordant bursts of noise juxtaposed against graceful melodies, it’s a little easy to see how The Rite of Spring caused a riot when it was premiered in Paris in 1913. The structures certainly are abrasive and revolutionary for the world of classical music. But what was probably more outrageous than the music itself was the storyline of the opera, which concerned pagan Russia and ended with the sacrifice of a young girl. Staged at a time when Europe was on the brink of World War I and tensions were high across the continent, The Rite of Spring must have been thought of as blasphemous in Paris, where art is still a part of the bloodline.

A little over seven decades later, a revolutionary musical entity was set upon the bloodline of the DC punk community. Named after Stravinsky’s piece, Rites of Spring fully intended to re-energize the punk scene in the nation’s capital as harDCore was heading into a tailspin. Although the band started up in 1984, their narrative is synonymous with the summer of 1985, known as Revolution Summer; Rites were a fixture in the re-energized DC punk scene, fueling a brand new energy through their cathartic live sets, perplexing and introverted lyrics, and power-pop-meets-hardcore instrumentation. And in a scene that was dubbed with the term “emocore,” Rites of Spring are known as the first emo band.

Rites of Spring

Rites of Spring

Twenty four years on and the affects of Rites of Spring’s revolutionary evolution from hardcore continues to be felt across the world. They may have only played slightly over a dozen shows, released only one full album, existed for only a couple of years, and their name may only cause tremors in the hearts of those they personally touched and the average music nerd, but their ideas have clearly transcended time and place. Although their name may not cause a panic among a gaggle of fourteen year old girls the way that Fall Out Boy does, Rites of Spring are the provincial Velvet Underground of emo; they may not have sold millions of records, but everyone who picked up a Rites of Spring album or saw them live were certainly inspired to pick up an instrument. Now that’s revolutionary.

Rites of Spring – Hain’s Point (live):

A Word on Words

Hey folks,

Gonna make this one quick and then I’m going to take the weekend off. I recently recieved a comment for my Coheed & Cambria post that was not only in poor taste, but horribly written, argued and against the entire point of this blog. This blog is about an openness towards the entire idea of emo in general, and is made in response to the close-minded view of emo. Calling someone an “emo bitch” is basically reiterating all of the negative stereotypes of our society in general, and are a simple sign of frustration at an inability to create any arguable concept. I’m all for creating a conversation about the topic (that’s the point of this blog), but outside of that, attacking me as an individual and not my argument is just poor. So a few thoughts here…

1) The comment attacked me for my supposed sole love of emo. For anyone who knows me or has read even a hint of this blog, I’m a lover of any and all genres. In fact, most of the music that I discuss that is made within the recent past is in fact not emo. Hip-hop, art-punk, indie… it’s a mish-mash of genres.

2) On Coheed & Cambria being emo: to me, emo is of relatively loose definition. If you want a straight up definition, here it is: a subgenre of post-hardcore originating from the mid-80s DC punk scene, where musicians subverted the rule-based notions that plagued hardcore by imbuing it with ambiguous and outside notions of music and lyrics. Much like post-punk, the definition of post-hardcore relies on reliving the original concepts of hardcore (ie punk to its outer extremes), and the what separates emo from other post-hardcore genres is a strong focus on multi-dimensional lyrics that are meant to connect to all who are welcome to the ideas present (ie building a community) and are based in the personal predicaments of the maturation of the lyrics’ writers (everything from politics to yes, love).

So when I hear that Coheed & Cambria are not emo, I have to laugh. They do confine to the flexibility of the genre’s essence. The infamous commenter noted that they are prog and metal, which is true, they do make use of that. But somehow that makes Coheed not emo? False. Clearly this person only has a close-minded interpretation of emo overall, which was why I established this blog in the first place – to combat that. Clearly this person has never opened their mind up to the mind-numbing emo-cum-art-punk of Happy Go Licky (featuring all four members of Rites of Spring, the originators of emo), the exhilirating combination of funk, metal, go-go, emo, classic rock, and a touch of hip-hop of Fugazi, never thought to pick up the later work by Sunny Day Real Estate (or their follow-up, side project, The Fire Theft) which drenches the sound of early 90s emo in a great lake of progressive rock. These acts and individuals made emo such a vibrant, creative, and ambiguous force against the tyranny of definition that has carried the genre/culture/whatever to its current state. And Coheed’s combination of third wave emo (the aesthetics that mark Thursday, Taking Back Sunday, Brand New, and tons of others – cathartic punk-based musics derived from the original DC aesthetic) with progressive and metal is no different. They just provide a different musical melenge from their peers, which set them apart in their community; Coheed toured with these bands (on various treks and the usual Warped Tour) and particiapted in the community forum of the record label (Equal Vision is one of the largest independent labels supporting emo in its third wave, releasing albums by artists from Alexisonfire, Saves The Day, Armor For Sleep, and a host of others). To say that Coheed is not emo would break the very ideas that continue to make emo so hard to define in the typical concept of a musical genre.

3) So how come I can enjoy Coheed’s earlier work and not their later work? Because if I only supposedly don’t listen to anything but emo, according to the infamous comment, I shouldn’t be able to stand to any of Coheed’s music at all. Period. What a fallacy of an argument. Seriously. The reason I can barely listen to the newest Coheed album isn’t because it isn’t emo, it’s because it just isn’t that great.

Finally, this is meant to be a forum for positive reaction about one of the most negatively associated genres in music/cultural movements today. So, if you would like to provide a fluid and well-thought argument, be my guest. But if you walk in with close-minded assumptions about emo and can only take out your frustrations on the author, well you’ve obviously come to the wrong place.

So, excuse me for that, but I made this blog in an attempt to create positive change – please take your negative concepts elsewhere.

Have a great weekend! I promise more cultural insights and how they relate to emo quite soon. Until then, goodbye!