|Cultural origins||Early 1990s North America|
|Typical instruments||Drums, bass guitar, electric guitar, screamed vocals|
|California, Italy, France|
|Powerviolence, emo, hardcore punk, post-hardcore, dance punk|
Screamo is a subgenre of emo/post-hardcore that evolved in the early 1990s. This initially involved a more aggressive offshoot of emo music and used short songs that grafted "intensity to willfully experimental dissonance and dynamics."
Screamo essentially describes a particularly dissonant style of emo influenced by hardcore punk. Screamo uses typical rock instrumentation, but is notable for its brief compositions, chaotic execution, and screaming vocals. The genre is "generally based in the aggressive side of the overarching punk-revival scene." Primary characteristics of the genre are described by Allmusic:
|“||It came to be that the soft/loud dynamic of having either one or two singers who alternate between passionate singing and distraught shrieking that characterizes most screamo. These vocals are often layered or appear side-by-side amid aggressive, hard-hitting guitar licks used to trigger an exhaustive, emotional catharsis. Though the music is outwardly tough and powerful, the lyrics are usually of the introspective kind found in softer emo bands.||”|
An example of contemporary screamo by Loma Prieta, featuring harsh vocals, stylistic transitions, and emotional lyrics.
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In addition to melodic transitions from heavy to soft styles, the genre is also characterized "by frequent shifts in tempo and dynamics and by tension-and-release catharses." Screamed vocals are used "not consistently, but as a kind of crescendo element, a sonic weapon to be trotted out when the music and lyrics reach a particular emotional pitch." Some consider the genre to be a bridge between hardcore punk and emo.
Screamo lyrics often feature topics such as emotional pain, romantic interest, feminism, politics, and human rights. The New York Times noted that "part of the music's appeal is its un-self-conscious acceptance of differences, respect for otherness." Some screamo bands openly demonstrate acceptance of religious, nonreligious, and straight edge lifestyles
Many screamo bands in the 1990s saw themselves as implicitly political, and as a reaction against the turn to the right embodied by California politicians, such as Roger Hedgecock. Some groups were also unusually theoretical in inspiration: Angel Hair cited surrealist writers Antonin Artaud and Georges Bataille, and Orchid lyrically name-checked French new wave icon Anna Karina, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, French philosopher Michel Foucault, and critical theory originators the Frankfurt School.
Origins (early 1990s–early 2000s)
Gravity Records and Ebullition Records released this more chaotic and expressive style of hardcore. The scene is noted for its distinctive fashion sense, inspired by mod culture. As with emo, the term screamo carries some controversy among participants.
The innovations of the San Diego scene eventually spread elsewhere, such as to the Seattle group The Blood Brothers. Many groups from the East Coast were influential in the continual development and reinvention of the style, including Orchid, Circle Takes the Square, Pg. 99, Hot Cross, Saetia, Ampere, and City of Caterpillar.
Contemporary screamo (2000s–present)
By 1995, the genre name "screamo" drifted into the music press, especially in the journalism of Jim DeRogatis and Andy Greenwald, and by the mid-2000s, the term was being used to describe a huge variety of post-hardcore and metalcore acts. Some bands that were oft referred to as screamo in the early 2000s, such as Thursday, Alexisonfire, Silverstein and Poison the Well popularized the use of the term to describe many of that era's popular post-hardcore bands. Thursday cited the post-punk band Joy Division, and the post-hardcore band Fugazi as important influences, but also took cues from the alternative rock of Radiohead, U2, and The Cure. Many of these bands took influence from the likes of Refused, At the Drive-In, and Keepsake. In contrast to the DIY first-wave screamo groups, Thursday and The Used have signed multi-album contracts with labels such as Island Def Jam and Reprise Records.
Simultaneously, the DIY screamo scene continued to exist, with American bands like Comadre, Off Minor, and Hot Cross releasing records on independent labels that were stylistically similar to early screamo bands. The contemporary screamo scene has also remained particularly active in Europe, with bands such as Amanda Woodward, Louise Cyphre, Le Pré Où Je Suis Mort, La Quiete and Raein all being prime examples of their scene. Many of these bands have existed since the initial explosion of European screamo in the early 2000s, and the scene in countries like Italy and France has remained strong through to the present day.
Use of the term "screamo" to describe mainstream post-hardcore acts has begun to subside in the early 2010s, with the term being largely reclaimed by a new crop of DIY bands. The genre is once again growing in popularity, with many screamo acts - like Loma Prieta and Touche Amore - releasing records on fairly large independent labels like Deathwish Inc..
Influence on other styles
Emoviolence is a style of screamo and powerviolence. The name was coined half-jokingly by In/Humanity. Recognisable elements of emo violence are its incorporation of amplified feedback and blast beats; the music is highly dissonant and chaotic, generally featuring fast tempos, shouting, and screamed vocals. Emoviolence practitioners include Pg. 99, Orchid, Reversal of Man, Agna Moraine, RentAmerica, and In/Humanity.
Some screamo groups, such as Orchid, Reversal of Man, and Circle Takes the Square tend to be much closer to grindcore than their forebears. Other screamo acts have often incorporated post-rock into their music. This fusion is characterized by abrupt changes in pace, atmospheric, harmonic instrumentation, and low-volume vocals. Pianos Become the Teeth, City of Caterpillar, Envy, Funeral Diner, and Le Pre Ou Je Suis Mort are examples of post-rock influenced screamo acts.
Other screamo-influenced genres include crunkcore and Nintendocore. Crunkcore combines screamo with crunk hip hop and various electronic elements. Nintendocore, a name coined by Horse the Band, is a music genre that fuses elements of modern rock with video game music, chiptunes, and 8-bit music. It is considered a derivative form of screamo, post-hardcore and melodic metalcore. Nintendocore borrows many characteristic of screamo, such as screamed vocals and unpredictable rhythms.
Vagueness of "screamo"
While the genre was developing in the early 1990s, it was not initially called "screamo". Chris Taylor, lead vocalist for the band Pg. 99, said "we never liked that whole screamo thing. Even during our existence, we tried to venture away from the fashion and tell people, 'Hey, this is punk.'" Jonathan Dee of The New York Times wrote that the term "tends to bring a scornful laugh from the bands themselves." Lars Gotrich of NPR Music made the following comment on the matter:
|“||The screamo scene [has] change[d] a lot in the last 10 years. There used to be more creative bands like Circle Takes the Square and City of Caterpillar. And then it took this route where screamo got really streamlined and unrecognizable to the point where someone hilariously invented the term skramz to distinguish the first wave of screamo bands.||”|
Allmusic has noted that the term screamo can sometimes be vague, and that even bands that weren't necessarily screamo would often use the style's characteristic guttural vocal style. Derek Miller, guitarist for the band Poison the Well noted the term's constant differing usages and jokingly stated that it "describes a thousand different genres." According to Jeff Mitchell of Iowa State Daily, "there is no set definition of what screamo sounds like but screaming over once deafeningly loud rocking noise and suddenly quiet, melodic guitar lines is a theme commonly affiliated with the genre." Bert McCracken, lead singer of The Used, stated that screamo is merely a term "for record companies to sell records and for record stores to categorize them." Juan Gabe, vocalist for the band Comadre, alleged that the term "has been kind of tainted in a way, especially in the States."
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