Today, I spent some time reflecting about the period of three or four years when I was super immersed in emo/screamo subculture, why that culture existed, and how that has influenced the weirdo that I am today. See, I feel like when you’re a teenager and the time comes for you to decide what music you want to listen to, your constant hormone flux and changing affinities can take you in any number of directions. For me, it started with pop punk, wandered into skate punk and “alt-rock”, veered into Midwest emo (Vagrant, Polyvinyl) and indie rock, and then crash landed when I was about 17 into hardcore/”screamo”/metal/other renditions of white kids screaming about their first-world problems.
Screamo – or skramz – was a very tight-knit but friendly community since there weren’t that many of us. Everyone awkwardly connected by going to community center shows, reading extremely nerdy message boards, and standing in parking lots eating Jack In the Box (mostly their jalapeño poppers and French fries since vegetarianism was universal). The “scene” as we knew it dissipated around 2006, but I decided to look through my Facebook chat list at ~11:30 pm and see who was around to talk about that shit with me. All participants seemed slightly embarrassed to have ever been involved but at the same time had a lot of opinions/nostalgia about it.
Zed and I met at an AFI press thing when I was like 16. We talked on AIM a few times about City of Caterpillarand A Trillion Barnacle Lapse but then he moved away to go to college or something. He was in some bands and now he lives in New York but we still run into each other every two years or so.
me: my question is, what were you listening to immediately preceding your immersion into screamo subculture?
Zed : slipknot
…[I explain to Zed that I’m trying to figure out how and why screamo happened blah blah blah]…
Zed : i met a lot of great people through bay area punk/hardcore, but the whole screamo thing was like some offline meme that was perpetuated by internet personalities that lacked any charisma in persona room full of people not talking to each other waiting to get onto livejournal or some messageboard to talk shit
i mean what were the ethics of screamo
it was like watered down versions of what existed in hardcore already
but it’s supposed to be really sincere and emotional
I had the distinct feeling that Zed might not want to discuss our collective screamo past further, so I decided to ask Alex Bigman more about the ethics of the genre, since he coined the word “skramz” (confirmed by multiple sources), is still heavily devoted to his extensive collection of first press Orchid records, and is in a relatively popular pop punk band called Fight Fair. Also, Alex is from Orinda, a suburb of Walnut Creek that had an unprecedented screamo uprising in like 2002.
me : bigman, i need to ask you some questions
Alex : whats up
me : about skramz
Alex :lol ok
i know a lot
me : i need your input about the origin of the term “skramz” and also of its evolution from “emo”
Alex : lol
i invented the word skramz
early 90s emo
turned into mid to late 90s skramz
which turned into late 90s-early 2000s emo violence
me : right, but HOW? WHY?
Alex : true skramz is emo violence though
me : how did the word skramz come into popular usage?
where is the violence?
Alex : iduno i first started using it as a joke on the CMHWAK [Cross My Heart With a Knife] messageboard
and it just caught on since then
now its huge
me : you were in seeing means more, right?
why is orinda such a skramz hotspot?
Alex : the entire high school went screamo and preppy girls would wear homemade saetia shirts
it was retarded
me : were you pissed?
why would you scream if you weren’t pissed?
Alex : screaming in hardcore isnt necessarily about being pissed
its just rawest emotion through voice
me : did being in seeing means more help you get laid?
Alex : no never
i was a loser
me : do you think that skramz had ethics?
Alex : skramz isnt dead…
me : okay. do you think skramz HAS ethics?
Alex : yah its the only real diy punk community
its never really changed and is still pretty underground
never got picked up by hot topic/myspace/warped tour/mtv
me : what about like attack attack and crabcore and shit?
Alex : thats just hot topic myspace music
those kids have no idea about hardcore & punk
me : but don’t you think it was born of skramz?
Alex : no that has nothing to do with skramz
it was born of more like early 2000s orange county fashioncore
like 18 visions and shit
me : any closing remarks?
Alex : make sure to check out the new beau navire record coming out this may on react with protest
look out for the new loma prieta this summer
and stay tuned for my new screamo band
Alex offered me a unique perspective on skramz history and an interesting counterpoint to Zed’s view, but I decided to bother a couple of other people since they happened to be online and I don’t sleep.
Andrew Mercer and I met at 500 Club about three years ago. Laura and I were wearing Misfits/Soundgarden shirts (respectively) and sitting in the corner buying Pantera songs on the jukebox and getting wasted by ourselves when we were approached by Mercer and our also-now-friend Jackson. They told us that they were rolling on ecstasy, which was a lie, and then we all did karaoke together and never told each other our names until we saw each other at 500 Club like four more times. At some point we were all in my car and Mercer heard that I was listening to the I Have Dreams EP and then we revealed our secret screamo pasts to each other, bonded, and somehow became actual friends. The four of us spent the rest of the summer crashing house parties together and then Mercer left to go to design school in Arizona.
me : when was the last time you listened to skramz and what was it?
Andrew : i bought a in loving memory / black market fetus split tape on ebay a few months back
its the only tape in my car
that’s probably the last skram i listened to
me : what was the moment when you knew that [that screamo] was going to end?
Andrew : i saw my chemical romance open for Suicide File and american nightmare when they were American Nothing for that short weird period of time. I think that’s who it was. that was weird
when i knew things were heading in a bad direction
i can’t remember that time of my life.
me : i blacked out
with FEAR FOR THE FUTURE OF SKRAMZ
Andrew : rolling brown outs
i woke up and all my records were on ebay
what is the current state of skram?
im listening to black cat #13 right now
how does that make you feel
me : bigman just said “skramz isn’t dead”
i am listening to pg. 99, but i beg to differ
Finally, I decided to consult Ian Crowe, my former roommate of a year and a half and life homie. Ian has weird ties to Drive-Thru records (A New Found Glory, Finch, Midtown) and was also in some emo-ish bands called Brethren and A Movie Script Ending and another one that I can’t remember.
me : screamo. discuss.
Ian : ok like, remember how everyone was into ska
why that order? were we all victims of some marketing campaign?
screamo was definitely some kind of gateway into heavier music
before that i thought all metal was butt rock
or like, metallica
me : yeah totally
Ian : i knew nothing of good metal
i should send you lyrics from my screamo band
me : PLEASE OMG YES
Ian : hahaha holy shit this is making me giggle like a school girl
i didn’t remember at first
and they’re all coming back
our lyrics are the quintessential corny screamo lyrics
melodrama and aggression
Then he sent me the lyrics.
under these florescent lights
words that we recite
screams of insecurity
drown out the sound
i think i’ll go forget you now
i’m letting you
or so i say
it’s getting darker
leaves have never looked so
your picture’s worth a thousand words
but it’s saying all the wrong ones
‘autumn’, ‘drown’, ‘wear thin’— common emo imagery and metaphors.
screamo songs liked to have outros that went on for forever (Hopesfall’s “The End of An Era”), at least in the old days. also stage presence was super important and for some reason taken very seriously (exaggerated movements/ choreographed guitar dances?)
Well, no concrete conclusions after this four man, one woman investigation but I hopefully shined a little bit of light into the dark crevices of our former (or current) selves and our record collections.
In the words of Hot Cross (members of Saetia), “Once there was so much left to what was real / but these days I’ll never bet my hand on the first thing you feel.”
WEDNESDAY NIGHT UPDATE:
Neal Sharma (As Black Hearts Break, Carneta, Land of Treason, Ghostlimb, pictured above c. 2005 in Ladders) discovers that I have used his likeness in this blog post.
neal sharma 2:58 PM (9 hours ago)
I suppose that instead of complaining about my picture being used on your blog I should have devoted my energy to inventing a time machine, going back in time, and realizing I would man up and grow out of that bullshit.
hilary pollack 3:00 PM (9 hours ago)
i mean, come on. in spite of the fact that a lot of that music totally blew, we also made some good friends while standing around at burlingame rec and whatnot. there are plenty of embarrassing photos of me wearing white belts and too much eyeliner floating around…
neal sharma 3:03 PM (9 hours ago)
I suppose I should be happy that I have moved on to greener exploits. Or have I? Will I look back in some years with the same disdain that I currently reserve for those days of youth?
hilary pollack 3:08 PM (9 hours ago)
did you read my post? it seems like most everyone who was into it looks back with the same sort of shameful fondness…
getting into “screamo” or whatever the fuck you want to call it is something that happens to people almost at random – there are a lot of kids who listen(ed) to metal and punk but still never found their way to a Circle Takes the Square show – but it forever seals you into this bizarre community that will never again exist. it’s like being part of a family that sometimes drives you nuts but at the same time will always kind of be there for you. it’s easy to hate on it because of aesthetics (which haven’t really stood the test of time) and the degree to which i feel dissociated from it now, but i feel like not everyone gets to experience something like that, especially during a time in your life when you’re developing your own identity and you want to feel understood by others. feel me?|
neal sharma 3:14 PM (9 hours ago)
very well put. you could copy and paste that into your post.
So I did.
originally posted on Deaf Forever, 4.5.11