Tag Archives: Thursday

Hey! What?! No, Really… What?

I wish I could blame this sort of thing on April Fools Day, and perhaps the timing is all-out irony, but it’s stuff like this that reminds you how everyone lives under their own rock at times. What am I talking about specifically?

Scrunk.

That’s screamo-crunk.

The Guardian already “discovered” scrunk a year ago. That same time, the genre was added to the definitive online dictionary for pop culture, Urban Dictionary:

picture-1

(It’s important to note that, the number 1 spot for scrunk on urban dictionary is “the act of being stupidly crunk,” a definition that I have heard, making me feel not quite as old-for-my-age as the above definition.)

And glancing at the myspace pages for scrunk acts BrokeNCYDE and I Set My Friends On Fire and seeing the millions of listens that have occurred in these groups’ short life spans, you have to wonder… sometimes it’s a little hard keeping up with the speed of information and culture dissemination these days. This does, however, explain the presence of a number of headlining bands on Warped Tour that I’ve never heard of… they’re in the scrunk scene.

 

BrokeNCYDE

BrokeNCYDE

Then again, there doesn’t appear to be much of a “scrunk scene” as the term scene would indicate… just a couple of bands from different parts of (most likely suburban) America combining two seemingly disparate genres. In many ways, this sound is something that can be traced back to a number of influences, many having cropped up within the past few years. Scrunk can be seen as the screamo extension of the infusion of electronics in emo and pop-punk, a sound glorified in the music by bands such as Panic! at the Disco, The Higher, and Hellogoodbye.

The mass popularity of these acts could conceivably trace their way up to the scrunk sound; the combination of different genres with an emo subgenre isn’t that hard to conceive. In many ways, it’s a monument to the power of technology, the dissemination of information, and the high speed with which our culture travels. In that, it’s not inconceivable to consider groups of suburban kids picking up a hip-hop genre from Atlanta and other southern urban areas, and fusing it with another popular genre that they listen to extensively. In many ways, crunk is no more foreign than anything else when you consider its pairing with screamo. With the exception of notable acts such as Thursday, screamo has been susceptible to many of the pains (no connection to actual content by emo/screamo acts) that emo is criticized for adhering to. Shallow music about romance, sure thing. Sometimes taken to extremes with strong hints of misogyny that Jessica Hopper so eloquently pointed out in a 2004 Punk Planet article entitled “Emo: Where The Girls Aren’t?” Set that level to “scream” and you’ve got that tenfold. The violence and oft-stereotyped images of hatred towards women that can be evoked in some emo songs can be taken to extremes in screamo. So, when you’ve got a hip-hop sub-genre that’s known for misogyny, repetitive and stereotyped beats, and an extreme version of its former electronic essence (“electro” or “Miami bass” – take your pick) and post-hardcore sub-genre that’s equally extreme, musically stereotyped, and known for romanticizing the problems in romantic longing, all while it’s original part (emo) is making waves by moving in the direction of using electronic instruments… well, the math adds up pretty clearly.

Don’t believe that crunk and screamo can be equal? Well, BrokeNCYDE have had no problem adapting the two in a matter of time… 

Perhaps someday scrunk may change, but if it doesn’t, it just may just fade away… and probably for the better.

Still, you have to marvel at just how quickly these bands have managed to crop up, generate a sound, and gain millions of fans and hits… it’s quite mind-numbing…

 

BrokeNCYDE – “Get Crunk”:

I Set My Friends On Fire – “Crank Dat” (Dora the Explorer-themed video):

Too Lazy To Right Write

Michael Moore is the newest guy to pull a Radiohead, but not with music (though if it were, I’m sure it’d be somewhere in the general stereotype for emo these days – whiny and overly-dramatic). Moore released his newest piece, Slacker Uprising, on the net for a free download yesterday, perfectly timed with the upcoming elections. I was as moved by Bowling for Columbine as any other kid my age who saw that movie must have been. But this? Well, see the trailer for yourself:

True, it’s only the trailer, and I may have had some ideologically perplexing opinions about first-impressions in my last post, but it’s clear that’s just as far as Michael Moore will go to approach a subject. I never took Moore’s words at face value; he’s always been relatively upfront about not wanting to be called a documentary filmmaker, as that would imply seeking to find some indefinite fact. Moore’s work is the kind that seeks to persuade first, inform later. But that’s even harder to swallow when the subject he’s attempting to cover – rousing young Americans into voting – is given the finishing polish of a stereotype.

With the trailer, Moore paints himself as the patron saint of liberalism – the youth the lost in a dark and depressing world without his kindness. They are the “slackers” of the title, whom he rallied to vote for John Kerry in a supposedly unprecedented landslide in that demographic. What is this, the early 90s? The slacker is the prototype for Gen Xers and could hardly describe individuals of my generation who first voted in the 2004 election. Growing up, I remember reading and watching countless news stories about how overworked, over-committed, and over-stressed my generation is. Not only that, I’ve lived it (although to a lesser degree of other individuals); I carried book-bags that weighed more than me to school, spent hour after frustrating hour doing seven classes worth of homework an evening, and (most recently) drove myself towards sleep deprivation with extra-curricular activities.

Michael Moore

Michael Moore

Moore seems to forget an important point that I’d like to kindly lift from Thursday’s Geoff Rickly; every action you do is inherently political. The idea that voting is absolutely revolutionary – while true centuries ago and in some respects today – is a little old. And its dis-empowering. If this country was built on the idea of the people governing themselves, than any action one does can have some positive (or negative) end result. Punching some ballot (or pressing some images on a computer screen) every two years is hardly revolutionary. The work people of my generation have done – from volunteering, to community building, to simply creating and implementing whatever creative idea they have, is just as powerfully political as single vote.

Moore’s assertion that young people today are “slackers” is the kind of crap that has had an affect on low-voter turnouts in the youngest voting age demographics. It may not be a singular cause, but the fact that most politicians completely ignore this demographic certainly has a large impact. And Moore is simply feeding into that idea. As an icon for liberalism, he’s doing a pretty terrible job as well, merely reiterating stereotypes about liberals and negatively affecting the left side of the American political divide even more. As Thomas Frank asserts in What’s The Matter With Kansas? , the image that a large number of Mid-Western Americans have of liberals is that they are leeches on society, merely doing and producing nothing of value or sustenance. Sounds a little like the definition of a slacker. With that portrait of the most liberal voting demographic, is it any wonder why certain portions of American society have moved to the right. (I realize this is a massive generalization, just on piece of a very complicated puzzle that Frank addresses quite thoroughly and provocatively in his book, but it is still a part of the picture, and an important one at that).

Still, I might watch the movie. It’s hard to tell though, being a slacker and all. I just don’t know if I have the energy or motivation to watch a documentary.

Briefs:

*The New York Timescoverage of My Bloody Valentine’s performance at ATP ends with the following quote:

“You can’t do anything with sound,” Mr. Shields had said, “unless there is emotion.”

And again, there is a case against the idea of “emo” as a viable term for a genre of music.

*The MacArthur “Genius” Awards were announced, with Alex Ross being one of the notable recipients; his book, The Rest Is Noise is a tremendous work on classical music in the 20th Century. I’m part-way through and can’t wait to pick up some Richard Strauss. One of the more interesting narratives for the winners is that of Walter Kitundu, who combines turntables and stringed instruments into some pretty intense works of art (and great instruments in and of themselves):

*TV on the Radio’s Dear Science, is out everywhere. Expect something resembling a review soon…

The Politics of Fashion

Naomi pointed me the way to this excellent piece by Thursday/United Nations’ Geoff Rickly on the MTV Headbanger’s Blog site on my previous post, and it got me thinking about the impact of fashion on culture. Rickly astutely notes the power of the image, and in doing so recalls Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message.” Rickly is quite correct in his assertion to use McLuhan as an intellectual pinpoint to the decline of political action – or simply plain action – in punk and underground culture. But McLuhan doesn’t sum up the concept of said decline like Daniel Boorstin managed to with his book on American culture – The Image. In the book, Boorstin points towards not only the great power that images have over us, but how they can sometimes distract from the real events and meaning behind said image. In our ability to reproduce certain images, the reproduction often overshadows the thing that made the original such an endearing event in human existence in the first place. You can buy a postcard of the Mona Lisa or download it online just about anywhere, but it doesn’t compare to seeing the lightly-cracked brush-strokes in real life. But, more importantly, when an image is so readily available through commerce, the idea of flying to a foreign country, waiting in massive lines, and paying out of your rear end to see a painting you might not even care for (especially if you aren’t into art) may actually end up diminishing any positive experience with the original image – forget events that went into making it such an emotionally arresting work. The same can be said for folks who enjoy wearing Che Guevara t-shirts; the image is well known, arresting, and connected to connotations of rebellion, and the $15 for the shirt and look of cool is immediately accessible versus the time one would spend in researching Guevara’s political ideas and the true concepts behind his face. It’s a very concept that is rooted in American culture; the democracy of information versus the time and effort needed to be fully aware of the information you are ingesting.

Daniel Boorstin

Daniel Boorstin

These concepts are fully drawn into the world of music and its revolutionary/underground/political backgrounds. Rickly points towards Fugazi as a beacon of light in the music-as-action argument; what Rickly fails to mention in the article is that Fugazi never submitted themselves to any easily-replicable image. Among the many ideas that are thrown into Instrument – the excellent Jem Cohen documentary on Fugazi – is their consistent battle with trying to portray an accurate portrait of themselves. The media have such a way of forcing individuals into boxes that there’s no wonder the members of Fugazi did away with the mainstream press; providing an easy-to-swallow image makes the important messages that Fugazi was creating, well, lost in the medium. Most folks may not know a lick about the band, but those individuals who have the forthright to find out about their music and enjoy it will get the full-blast (aurally and idealistically) of the band’s concept.

Fugazi in action… literally (from Instrument):

In music, nothing makes or breaks a band like fashion. It’s the easiest thing to digest when learning about new bands – it takes minutes to listen to a song, but a handful of seconds to stare at a picture and determine if its aesthetically pleasing and cool. Fashion has made certain acts desirable and its also driven cultures and bands to the bitter ground. Take a look at grunge; all it took was for one word – “flannel” – to encompass an entire lifestyle of poor-as-hell artists in the Northwests and a handful of years later grunge was “played out.” As Rickly mentioned, hipsterdom is on the brink of destruction, and that’s mostly because of the easy-to-replicate image of cool. The reasoning behind the wears that artists involved in the indie scene is completely lost on all those who use clothing as a cache for cool – likewise, the need to separate oneself from the mainstream through fashion gets blurred in the culture of consumerism. How non-conformist is something purchased from Urban Outfitters? How neo-conformists is it when you can’t even recognize why an item of clothing is “revolutionary”? The easiest example of this widespread impact of the image of cool and how its deteriorated true subversion of the norm is the newfound fashion statement in the indie world; the kafia. Sure it looks cool, trendy, and yes, different. But how many American teens and twenty-somethings can actually connect with the Palestinian plight that the kafia represents? Moreover, how many people can actually recognize that as the antecedent?

hipster cool

hipster cool

Fashion is not lost in the realm of emo; not a day goes by that the idea of black-clad teens with weird haircuts boxes emo into a seemingly inescapable definition. And it seems like something new and more-or-less negative gets added to the mix; makeup was nowhere to be found five years ago when emo was first getting popular. And yet, despite all the doom and gloom that fashion can force on a once-forceful, active underground culture, I still have faith in some, if not all, of emo and indie (especially when the two are still so hard for people to define). And it has nothing to do with fashion. It has to do with history. Although America is still known as a “young” country, seemingly without a past, certain aspects of our culture go against those stereotypes, and in America, we love our home-brewed history (sometimes too much in the guise of nostalgia). But it’s always good to look back in an attempt to move forward. Geoff Rickly does just that with his piece for Headbanger’s Blog; he takes a concept of revolution and forces it right in the face of the individuals he is more or less critiquing, and using a major source of information (MTV) to do so. And while a movement becomes mainstream, images no doubt takeover, and certain ideas may be lost in translation, I come with the belief that making certain information available to those who normally wouldn’t be aware of its existence is a good thing. Rickly has always managed to articulately and effectively state why it was good that Thursday signed to a major label despite being so independent-minded, and opening up their audience to new people who may not have been aware of the importance of action is certainly a positive choice and change in my book. While one can assume that a large portion of today’s sub-standard pop-punk may not heed Rickly’s advice, I’d prefer to think positively. Because somewhere out there, some earnest fan of Rickly’s has always been a fan of taking some form of action in their everyday life, and they’ll read Rickly’s article and be inspired. Because you can’t always wait for change to happen – you have to enact it yourself.

A little bit of (music) news:

*The New York Times has a great piece on the crossover success of Gym Class Heroes.

*The Beastie Boys’ MCA is working in his own independent film company.

*iTunes Version 8 has a program called Genius which supposedly links one song to others like it in your library, as well as ones that may be purchased from the iTunes music store. Sounds like iTunes merely links songs other listeners have purchased online rather than songs that share similar compositions/aesthetics.

The Other Chinese Democracy

Beijing 2008

Beijing 2008

Nope, this isn’t about the still-unreleased Guns N Roses album. In honor of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and of my roommate’s documentary work in the city, I decided to hunt down some Chinese emo. In my hunt, I immediately stumbled upon John Thompson’s intriguing story. Thompson, who recently graduated from the University of Chicago, wrote his senior honor’s thesis on China’s emo scene after experiencing the scene there firsthand.

Thompson’s thesis, entitled “Tears That Flutter and Fade,” is as much an observation of a cultural and musical movement as it is a critique of cultural observations. As many academic pieces on the meaning of music on a global scale concern scales of “authenticity,” Thompson is often most critical of the interpretation of authenticity itself. “Authenticity,” as Thompson strongly argues, is as much a tool for conforming to Westernized standards of the type of creative product from which the music is derived (often rock music) as it is a method of observing cultural productions in other countries. In that, many cultural critics have often made their interpretation of American rock the standard to which every international music is weighed against. As Thompson notes, this has often painted a slightly-inaccurate portrait of Chinese rock music in general.

Most music and cultural writers are quick to paint Chinese rock in a political light, as rock is inherently rebellious in its American creation. And yet – especially in the guise of emo – the music is not overtly political. True, the fact that rock is often associated with the capitalist system of America, any rock act in China is inherently slightly political simply in its existence, but that is more of a muddled existence than an attack against the country’s political beliefs. Politics isn’t the biggest battleground in Chinese popular music – English is. As “authenticity” and even originality is often prescribed to how bands reinterpret cultural forms imported from other countries, singing in Chinese or English often comes up as a heated topic of debate.

The Raving Radio

The Raving Radio

In that sense, emo in China is really no different than other rock genres – at least, on the surface. Thompson marks 2005 as the year that China produced numerous bands who self-described themselves as emo. Many of these groups take off of numerous third wave American emo and screamo bands ranging from Underoath to Finch to Thursday. Thompson’s descriptions of the 10 or so self-labeled emo bands operating in China tend to reflect many of the stereotypes held about the genre in America today. The members wear black clothing and ironic t-shirts, the music offers a mix of heavy guitars, a cathartic release, and a dynamic shift between quiet and loud, and the songs are often overtly sad in order to convey the truth of the song’s emotional meanings. Thompson does note a major difference in the style of lyrics; whereas Chinese emo acts take certain aesthetic elements from American bands (such as a strong connection to location), the lyrics are often less-violent than current emo groups when discussing themes of love and are more sexually pervasive.

Tookoo

Tookoo

It’s an interesting and slightly conflicting scene in and of itself. The music is very much a subcultural mark – it isn’t quite that popular, and the delineations of its history are a bit muddled; one band, Tookoo, is generally thought of as being the first emo band in China, but do not label themselves thus and have been around since 1999 (well before the 2005 mark that Thompson set). As music originating in one place is then transported and recombined in a new setting, its interpretation is often a reflection of the values that stand out the most from the original cultural form. And in a sense, what is on the surface of emo in China offers a lot of aesthetic similarities with the stereotypes of emo… though once you scratch the surface, there is a much deeper element there as well. As Thompson remarks at one point in his thesis on the case of being an authentic emo band in China, “they claim their music is true to their inner emotional lives, regardless of its popularity or glamorous mien.”

Thompson was especially helpful in pointing out some of the key emo groups operating in China at the moment. He pointed me towards FZTH Records, the record label that most of the groups that label themselves emo are on. Thompson also singled out bands such as The Raving Radio (screamo in the guise of Underoath), Flip Side (a noticeably lighter take on the pop-friendly sound that Finch often dabbles in and also sing in English), and Surprise (who’s stuff reminds me a little of a softer My Chemical Romance, though with much less aggravating vocals) as stalwarts in the small scene. I owe John Thompson a big thank you for the abundance of information he sent me – without it, this post surely would have been doomed. Below are some songs, generously provided by John, highlighting Chinese emo. Take a listen…

The Raving Radio – Wei Xiao

Surprise – Tells Me The Truth

Surprise – Our Sky

Tookoo – Take Me Home (video):

PS; Looks like this will be the only post for the week. I’ve got job training all week and will not have any access or time to update for the next handful of days. But don’t fret – there is plenty more to write about right afterwards! Take care.

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!

Bastards of Pop

By now most music-loving folk are aware of the pay-what-you-want, online release of Girl Talk’s latest album, Feed The Animals. But this isn’t about that… well, it’s almost not about that. As any other savy internet users are concerned, a trio of folks hailing from the greater Baltimore/DC area new about this all to well. Funny thing is, the title of Girl Talk’s new album is startlingly similar to a certain activity that these three individuals do to fulfill their creative impulses. And darn it if the members of Food For Animals didn’t do something about it. The savvy members of one of the top experimental hip-hop troupes in the country put their imagination to the test and came out with a remix of Feed The Animals that is as hilarious as it is genuinely well-crafted. The inversion of the Girl Talk record cover didn’t hurt either.

Girl Talk\'s Feed The Animals

Food For Animals\' remix

Sure, this may sound like another attempt by an under-appreciated musical act trying to grab some limelight off of the backs of pop sensations. Actually, pop sensations may be the key word to why this isn’t a case of bandwagon-ing popularity. That same realm where Girl Talk has become such a heroic image is one where Food For Animals have gotten their fare and deserved share of praise and following as well; from Spin to Pitchfork, numerous well-regarded places of music criticism have praised FFA for their latest album – Belly.

No, this is not a case of scraping for some 15 minutes of fame. This isn’t even about fame. This is a great case of that simple keyword… community. The FFA remix is more a work of humorous camaraderie than anything negative or self-serving. For Gregg Gillis and FFA, it is another mark of a shared aesthetic dedicated to the opposite of pop-sanctuary; underground artistry. Their physical hometowns may be separate (Pittsburgh for GT, and Baltimore/DC for FFA), but their ideal one is a special place known as Wham City.

Brooklyn\'s Matt & Kim at Whartscape 2007

Wham City is a collective of artists and musicians who’ve made a hometown in Baltimore. More than that, they’ve made a scene-worthy presence out of Baltimore. Although Wham City is a close-knit crew (headed by electronics wunderkid Dan Deacon) and is not the entire community of Baltimore’s diverse art-punk scene, they have nevertheless become the center and face of the creativity bubbling out of the once-forgotten town. While institutions as high on the music-critiquing food chain as Rolling Stone have come a-calling, it has yet to diminish the creative culmination of the relatively anti-establishment scene. If anything, it’s simply drawn other like-minded individuals to the area and those who have made themselves an important part of building an artistically-challenging community. The connections within the scene are more personal than musically-similar. This year’s Whartscape Festival features, along side Gregg Gillis (playing with his side project Trey Told ‘Em) and Food For Animals, a number of musicians from across the country who are more dedicated to pushing the bounds of music than they are to carving a universal pop niche. There’s The Mae Shi (from LA), Black Dice (NYC), Parts & Labor (Brooklyn), and a ton of local Baltimore acts. What they lack in definite sound they make up for in their shared passion for underground music, ingenuity, and community.

Emo was birthed out of a very similar thesis of community as seen through performance. Music was the cache, but it wasn’t the only distinct quality of those communities. The places friends within the scene would interact and think of as home bases, the venues that bands practiced and played, the ideas that individuals shared and used to challenge one another – not just musically, but in life – were as integral to the scene as the tag placed on the original scene’s existence.

The Revolution Summer scene, the first community to be burdened with the label “emo” was a particular exemplary of the feat of flexibility. Some ideological and musical characteristics were shared, but the common bond over strengthening the community beyond the rigidity that defeated DC’s hardcore scene was stronger than any detrimentally-inclined tag. The acts that followed in the footsteps of the broken-up Revolution Summer acts continued to build on the ideas of community, welcoming other individual-thinkers into their world, and emiting a new crop of bands that did little to conform to any standards. Groups like Fugazi, Nation of Ulysses, Shudder To Think, Jawbox, and a host of others opened up the interpretations of the local “emo” sound to distinctly new possibilities. And others flocked to their community. Bikini Kill, though not emo, left the West Coast for DC, while Dischord welcomed Baltimore’s Lungfish in with open arms (quite a feat considering that Dischord was meant to be a forum for only DC acts).

With the breakthrough of alternative music into the mainstream, the emo acts of DC formed connections with others across America through correspondence, touring, and even producing; Jawbox’s J Robbins was a primary producer of many well-known 2nd wave emo acts. As the ideological, aesthetic, and musical aspects of emo spread around the country, tight bonds were formed by dis-separate acts throughout the Mid West. Those who form the core of 2nd wave emo acts  – The Promise Ring, Jimmy Eat World, Mineral, Christie Front Drive, etc – were all connected through friendship rather than sharing three chords.

Even today, when emo has lost a lot of its elasticity of definition due to stereotypes, community is as an important aspect as ever. Acts bond through touring (such as playing together on Warped Tour), shared record labels (Vagrant, Fueled By Ramen), a communal upbringing (such as Thursday and numerous other acts who honed their sound in New Jersey basements), and friendship (be it Thursday and My Chemical Romance or Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco). Community is the strongest bond of the most-creative (and often times, successful) emo acts. Those bands looking to take advantage of a currently-popular, commercially-consumed genre tend to bring out the worst in emo. But it’s community that has allowed emo to continue to thrive and survive to this day, and it’s community that will continue to drive some of the most ingenious and forward-thinking musical movements.

Food For Animals – Girl Talk

Baltimore’s Double Dagger at Whartscape 2007:

Taboo And Alphabets Too

Last night a bunch of my friends threw a show in their house… a comedy show that is. Whereas most young towns have a thriving music scene, the comedy community in Boston is everything that most insular scenes hope they can be; diverse, thriving, widespread, intimate, creative, and a network of people who are friends first and competitors never. And funny. Man are they funny. Everything from the quick-and-fast rules of delivery to hip-hop rhymes and beats about taekwondo to odd-ball rants by folks featured on Comedy Central, it was all enhanced by the intimacy of the tiny Allston-based house.

I capped off the night with what must have been an hour dedicated to playing the wordsmith worthy game Taboo. After some quick, catch-and-release trials, a group of us decided to play “hardcore,” where you could only give one clue in order for others to get the word in question in one guess. It’s a lot more challenging than the usual method of playing the game, but it sure is fun. In retrospect, the cap-off of Taboo featuring performers from the night’s previous comedy collaboration was odder than I had imagined at the time. Well, odder in recollection than experience; as most of us were all friends, it really wasn’t all that weird. But the boundaries that individuals often place on society with labels such as “performer” would elevate members of the community above others, when really it just provided for an interesting initial introduction for everyone present in the house. The atmosphere lacked any pretension associated with elevating members of the community, the intimacy of the event, the intelligence of the performance, and the humor involved made it all seem like any other night hanging out with friends… just some of those friends had the incentive to stand up and talk to a crowd for ten minutes.

Combining a general lack of pretension with musical intelligence, creativity, communal intimacy, and a warmth of humor is Chicago’s Cap’n Jazz. Though they broke up by the mid-90s, their impact has been felt throughout the emo world, most immediately in the then-growing presence of the Mid-Western underground emo scene that was about to reach a tipping point. Their influence had immediate impact with the culmination of post-Cap’n Jazz projects, most notably with 2nd guitarist Davey Von Bohlen’s side project The Promise Ring coming to the focal point of the national emo community. However, brethren Mike and Tim Kinsella have also had their fare share of impact with acts such as Joan of Arc and Owls (as well as American Football and Owen), two highly experimental groups that aren’t as well known as The Promise Ring, but certainly have their fare share of influence. Still getting shout-outs in magazines such as Alternative Press (last month’s cover story on the 23 most influential punk bands of the last 23 years had a great spread on band), the Cap’n Jazz legacy was compacted into a singular double-album release in 1998, Analphabetapolothology (now there’s the Taboo-worthy word).

Cap\'n Jazz

Brimming from end to end with unmeasurable catharsis, Analphabetapolothology takes some getting used to before you can grab those nuggets of mid-90s emo gold. Then again, Cap’n Jazz were never shooting for pop gold, just music that challenged themselves, made the band members satisfied with their own creation, and had a particular subcultural connotation. It’s a bit of a continuation of the hardcore punk tradition (and hardcore can readily be seen as a starting point for the members of Cap’n Jazz, not to mention countless of other alternative bands that continues on to today), where the band wanted to make something profoundly different then what was being pushed out on the mainstream and have it mean something to their particular community. But, while hardcore became uniform in all senses of the word, Cap’n Jazz’s hold on emo was as angular as the guitar-work involved in it. They called in the horns, lyrics that weren’t all there (at least, upon first glance), gritty dynamic changes that recall Sunny Day Real Estate played by a garage band, pop-worthy harmonies, and song structures that subverted all forms of the norm.

The best and brightest of emo today have Cap’n Jazz to thank for the fuel of creativity that somehow manages to bubble up, as if untapped, while the rest of the world thinks of emo as simply shallow. Musically, you can hear Cap’n Jazz’s influence on a vast array of emo artists. Tim’s almost-whispered, rant-singing at the start of “Puddle Splashers” recalls a more musically ambiguous version of what Taking Back Sunday vocalist Adam Lazzara attempts to create, while “Que Suerte!” sounds like a messier, more cathartic mix of what makes Thursday’s work so captivating.

Yet beyond later influence was Cap’n Jazz’s immediate impact on the community around them. The band appeared at a time just before emo began to solidify its main aesthetic elements, and Cap’n Jazz challenged every idea of singular aesthetic until its end. The biggest acts of mid-90s, Mid-Western emo not only came from disparate places on the map, but had disparate ideas in their musical take on the sound that originally had been birthed in DC. But under the musical heretofore of bands like Cap’n Jazz, they helped open the community to anyone with any original and challenging idea of emo, not simply to those who had pretensions to how to run a scene. It was more about the people involved in the community rather than following a guidebook, and for Cap’n Jazz’s musical and personal role in the national scene, it’s much greater than the first listen of Analphabetapolothology might lead you to believe. In a world where a post-hardcore sound could share space with bands who brought hardcore, pop-punk, pop, and whatever rule-based genre to the table, it was Cap’n Jazz’s original blending of ideas that helped emo form so many different strands and creative impulses for years to come.

Cap\’n Jazz – Little League

Different Perspectives on the 4th

The Washington Post featured an odd article on the header of its website yesterday. Kevin Connolly is 22, won a silver medal at the X Games, and is a photographer who’s work is currently on display at the Kennedy Center in DC. Here’s a picture of Connolly:

Kevin Connolly

Connolly was born without legs. His work is on display under the name “The Rolling Exhibition,” and it features photos he took while traversing the globe on a skateboard. The photos are all taken at ground level and offer a completely different perspective on the realm of every day life.

The best photographers are made by their instinctive eye for what people consider aesthetically pleasing. You can lead hundreds to a beautiful landscape, but it’s the individuals who can get a sense of how to capture and retain that beauty on film (or on pixels) that are the true artists in photography. Photography is all about perspective; it’s being able to create something tangible in a fraction of a second that only you can see and being skilled enough to convince others of the beauty or importance of that perspective – that shot – simply by putting it on display. Connolly’s work is a basic expression of that intrinsic element of art in photography. Almost everyone who will view Connolly’s photos have absolutely no idea what it’s like to live without legs. And yet, with a quick, in-motion photo of passing strangers, Connolly manages to sum up book-loads of personal experience in an aesthetic light that can make anyone with a degree of imagination find resonance and the human experience in his art.

Perspective is a driving force behind emo. True, all art expresses some general form of perspective, but emo is the form of music where many artists seek to make individual perspectives a tangible reality for people who haven’t had the experiences that formulated the driving force of the music and culture. It’s not an empathetic form of art, but it’s not far off. The reason emo was such a force within the underground for over two decades was the fact that the music sought to connect individuals of different backgrounds through positive, personal music that created an omniscient perspective. It created communities, which are the foundations of the underground in America. And underground communities in America are the breeding grounds for underground cultures.

And with such a vast opportunity of perspectives that can be tossed in the heap, and with the vast amount of different perspectives across the United States, emo became a mutated force of underground culture in different parts of this vast union. It will always be tied to post-hardcore, it will always be tied to its DC roots, and it will always be tied to a sense of yearning towards a goal. And that sense of yearning is mostly where the lineages of emo differentiate. With the Revolution Summer of 1985 (otherwise known as the birth of emo) the various acts that constituted for emo wrote about a multitude of ideas in blanketed terms in order to reach out to all sorts of individuals; from the staunch politics of Beefeater, to the introverted anguish of Embrace, to the general struggle with the individual of Rites of Spring, emo at its beginnings covered the ideological bases. Let’s not forget Fugazi, who took the aesthetic elements of the Revolution Summer acts and blasted them off in profound new directions; their work made the most plight-filled perspectives seem like a reality by addressing taboo subjects with an empathetic sense of humanity. Everything from AIDS (“Give Me The Cure”) to gentrification (“Cashout”) to gun violence (“Repeater”) was addressed with a profound and omniscient voice that opened listeners to near-alien perspectives and experiences and made them as important issues as ones personally affecting the individual.

So how did emo go from there to here? How did politics diverge into puppy-love? Well, it’s not that simple; to say that politics doesn’t exist in emo anymore is a bold-faced lie. Hell, Fugazi kept churning out records well into the new millennium, and you can’t forget Billboard chart-toppers Thursday when discussing politics and emo in the same breath. And aspects of love and romance were well a part of emo from the beginning; Rites of Spring’s music, though perpetually vague in context and up to the listener to discern the meaning for themselves, did sometimes concern aspects of romantic love.

But, as far as the songs about love, or lost love, or as some would go as far to say (and in some cases, correctly) near-hatred towards the opposite sex, the answer is simple: it’s all about perspective. Love is a concept that every human being on the planet can relate to. Outside of the survival needs for shelter and sustenance, love is a concept that is basically universal. Everyone has experienced it in some capacity, be it romantically or otherwise. And it’s fair to say everyone has experienced their fare share of rejection. And it’s all about how we deal with it. The most perplexing thing about the projection of emo in recent years isn’t the obsession with love. It’s the obsession with negativity broiled in rejection. From its beginning, emo was created with the idea to make something constructive, build something new and positive after the wreckage of the hardcore community that those who became involved in the “emo” scene had experienced (their rejection, in some capacity, involved in punk).

Yet, today, so many emo acts revel in dread. Again, not a new concept or perspective; if there’s anything as old as love, it’s depression (or a mild form of it). But why the fascination with such negativity? It’s impossible to pinpoint one thing, but it is representative of something fairly circular within pop music; every so often, the mood of pop music flows from positivity to negativity. With so many sub-genres and categories of pop pushed onto consumers at any one point, its interesting to see different musics produce different emotional output at the same time. You can’t forget the brooding darkness of the 80s when post-punk and goth were all the rage and hardcore bristled with anger in the underground; then again, happy-sounding music dominated the pop-charts, with everything from Madonna to Bobby Mcferrin (“Don’t Worry Be Happy”) supported Regan’s 50s style American dream image.

Whatever the case may be, be it the fact that loss of romantic love is the only ailment and perspective that can incite anything aside from apathy in well-to-do teenagers anymore, or the fact that modern music is a circular and uncontrollable beast, it is interesting to note the vast expanse of, well, emotions that fill the map of pop music today.

And so, on our nation’s birthday, I ask to keep perspective in mind. It’s our individual perspectives that make us unique, that attract us to other like-minded souls, and that separate us along various ideological lines. But we’re all human, no matter what perspective we may have. Happy Birthday America!

Here’s a present, courtesy of one of the many emo acts to come out of the Kinsella collective:

American Football – Honestly?