The Return of... EMO
Thnks Fr Th Mmrs: Emo's Come Back
Co-Written by Ward Hughey and Tristan Komorny
August of 2000 was the start of my (Ward’s) senior year of high school, and it was also my introduction to underground music. I became friends with a student named Nick Roccanti. Only a junior, Nick was already an active part of the Tallahassee, FL music scene. Through this friendship I was introduced to independent metal, hardcore and punk. More than anything though I started hearing the terms 'emo' and 'emo-core' thrown around.
At the start I was not a fan of what was described as “emotional heavy music.” Naysayers knocked it as “really good music with terrible vocals,” and at first I agreed. Over time though, I started becoming a fan. Something about the music and passionate, at times whiny, singing was getting under my skin. I was often driving to Tallahassee for club and house shows almost entirely of emo acts. I was not wearing the skinny jeans, but I was an emo kid.
Not wanting to just be part of what was becoming the musical fad I started asking questions. I went back in time to The Get Up Kids, Jawbreaker and Mineral while also doing research to learn how this emo wave came to be. Many credit the Washington DC post hardcore scene of the 1980s for the birth of “emotional hardcore” with bands like Rites of Spring and Embrace said to be trailblazers. Soon the nickname “emo” started to take over much to the chagrin of those labeled it. From then on, the sound grew until acts like Sunny Day Real Estate and Jimmy Eat World brought it ever closer to radio recognition as we entered the new century.
My college years were colored with emo subculture as it came down from stage to impact fashion and more. Like with most musical trends once mainstream grabbed hold the movement quickly ran downhill. By the mid-to-late 2000s the fun seemed to be over. Personal and passionate was traded in for cheesy tropes as it all started sounding the same. Emo, screamo and the like seemed to have become a thing of the past.
The year is now 2019 and the prevalence of alternative music that falls under the stylings of emo, grunge and shoegaze have been operating underground for years in house venues and the occasional Raindogs or Sarbez show. Today, thanks to the hard work put in by the bands and promoters in Duval and Saint Johns counties, the sleeping, chain-wallet, flannel-wearing, Doc Marten's-clad giant that is emo seems to be awaking. Although growing slowly and not without its tribulations, there are passionate people working together with groups of dedicated promoters, and open-minded listeners with an emphasis on the modern message of inclusivity.
Rory McCoid is a promoter for mid-high level touring acts coming through Jacksonville via For Your Friends Booking. His line of work involves booking aspiring local acts looking to get their name out to play shows with more well-known touring acts. Rory explains, "I've seen a lot of camaraderie between newer, up-and-coming artists. It seems with the younger generation of bands there has definitely been a rejuvenation of house shows that can really help out smaller touring bands that may be unable to play at a traditional venue." He also noted that the comradery of bands sharing each other’s music has made entering the scene way more accessible.
Ryan Kunsch is the owner of Sarbez!, a stronghold for artists and musicians in Saint Augustine. His take addresses the drawbacks of the genre, how it can be tonally abrasive and not quite for the leisure crowd. In addition, a good portion of fans of the genre are just not old enough to go to venues 21+. "Most bars and venues are 21+ so that eliminates the 13-21 age group almost right off the bat. If there is a venue (like Sarbez) who is 18 and up, you still only have 18-25 to stir up a crowd," says Kunsch. "If the band doesn’t draw a crowd the venue is going to be reluctant to book that show. With that style music, it is very very specific. It’s not like a folk band for example. If people don’t like folk music it doesn’t mean they won’t stay around at the bar. If they don’t like emo music, they will immediately leave, it's just the energy behind it."
Drew Portalatin, vocalist of 904-veterans Intervention and producer at his studio Space Camp listed to Narrow his take on bands in the area that are making waves in the scene. "My top 5 locally because of the momentum and the regional draw that these bands have now would be: Glazed, Runner's High, Teen Divorce, Bobby Kid and Flipturn. Five local bands on the early come up would be: Krysten Doré, Hensley, Sleepless, Matilda and GILT."
David Kennedy is a promoter via Bughouse Live and the drummer for Teen Divorce. His venue, although now gone, was a crucial platform for the scene to grow. "Alternative music to me has always been diverse and away from the norm, from bands like the Cranberries to Whole Wheat Bread I think it's always been something that tries to push the boundaries of what's socially accepted and expected," David told Narrow. "I think we're at a point that people are realizing that and making sure that everyone can be loved and appreciated and come out to enjoy music."
From my (Tristan’s) own stance as a musician and active participant of the scene, I see new bands coming out of the frameworks like Bedsweater, Flora LiCrame, Dutch Martins, BLÜM, Sleepless, Soundaltar and many more that are promoting hard, bringing their friends and coworkers (you'd be surprised the army of Starbucks baristas that Sleepless brings with them honestly) and the local shows at Sarbez, Nobby's, Raindogs and occasionally 1904 increasing in attendance. While the future is never certain, emo is centralized in NE Florida more so than any other part of the state and the most accessible it's been since the early 2000's.