“I like all kinds of music, except for screamo.” This is a sentence I hear time after time when talking to students on campus. I believe this statement comes from a culture that uses the term “screamo” as a generalizing umbrella term to describe all music with vocalists who scream. The term has arisen from journalists trying to simplify a whole system of genre tags to more easily inform larger audiences. I don’t always believe this is a negative action, but the generalization of screamo can be detrimental in the attempt of understanding heavier styles of music.
In order to define screamo, a basic understanding of punk rock is required. In the 1970s, punk rock became a huge wave of counterculture, displaying a simplicity of music composition with aggression in playing and vocal performance. Ramones and The Clash are among the early bands that laid the groundwork for the punk scene. Into the 1980s, punk got heavier, louder and faster, as bands like Bad Brains and Black Flag established what would be called hardcore. Throughout the 1980s, hardcore was a political genre following the lyrical themes of punk, usually boasting a left-wing stance and discussing different forms of oppression and marginalization.
In Washington, D.C., a few bands decided to discuss emotional themes of relationships and personal struggles. Bands in the Midwest began taking a similar melodic and emotional approach to punk and hardcore to form emo and screamo respectively. Emotional punk rock was eventually shortened to emo in the mid to late 1980s as different fan publications began to use the term.
The 1990s was when the screamo scene entered. During this time, many of the bands playing this style refused to be called screamo and insisted they were playing punk. The sound these bands shared consisted of differing time signatures, often in 5/4, 6/8, 12/8 and 7/8. The drumming could feel very sporadic with tempo changes and large dynamic contrasts going from simple cymbal-wash beats to punk drum beats to blast beats of straight 16th notes. Most of the songs were in minor keys playing thirds, suspended chords or single note riffs instead of stand power chords as in punk, which gave these bands a strong emotive feeling. The vocals were—as expected—screamed or sometimes spoken rhythmically. Some vocalists chose to sing melodically as well.
The 2000s saw a breakthrough in emo and screamo as it entered the mainstream. This was when the term ‘screamo’ started to be used by different journalists to describe this style. Bands like Alexisonfire, Thursday, Alesana and Underoath began to amass a large following. All four albums by Alexisonfire are certified “Platinum” in Canada. These bands refined the sound of 90’s screamo by incorporating more singing and playing a cleaner production.
By the mid 2000s, singing, rather than screaming, became the primary vocal technique. The music slowed down and drummers stopped playing blast beats. This tamer screamo allowed for more people to listen to the style and became more approachable to a wide audience. Hot Topic and Warped Tour helped these newer bands form a career from their music and — perhaps vocationally more important — their branding. Any adolescent could go to the mall in the late 2000s and leave with a new screamo band t-shirt and return to their room and listen to a song on MySpace they felt they could relate to.
After the death of MySpace around the turn of the decade, music took a hard turn as emo and other rock-related genres fell from the spotlight. Bands and fans of the screamo genre began needing a way to distinguish from the heavier 90’s style to the softer 00’s style, thus ‘skramz’ was invented as a word to identify early screamo. As screamo returned to the underground and the internet granted easier access to older band demos and albums, many new bands began to write screamo that emulated the older style. This phenomenon became known as the Skramz Revival. Pianos Become the Teeth, La Dispute and Touché Amoré led this revival.
By the summer of 2018, several prominent 90’s skramz bands reunited to play more shows and write new music. Many bands began to tour across the United States and release a plethora of albums that year. 2018 saw the rise of extra styles within screamo. Bands like Respire, Ostraca and Infant Island, inspired by the Japanese band Envy, started to play a combination of screamo and post-rock. 2019 saw the rise of a hashtag “#20ninescene” as bands like SeeSpaceCowboy, Wristmeetrazor and .Gif from God brought back the aesthetics and style of early 2000’s screamo and metalcore under the humorously titled genre tag “sasscore.”
Even if this style is not everyone’s cup of tea, it has much to offer. If midterms have you stressing or if that ring has not come this spring, maybe screamo is a good genre to get into for catharsis.