Felix Martua (The Jakarta Post)
Fri 28 January 2022
Heartbreaking love stories and embarrassing hairstyles. Millennials growing up in the 2000s have reflected on how their “emo” teenage years influenced their adult lives.
The internet was ignited when concert promoter Live Nation announced last week that once culturally influential “emo” – short for “emotional” – acts such as My Chemical Romance, Paramore, Avril Lavigne and Bring Me the Horizon will headline of When We Were Young Fest in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, in October. It didn’t take long for Indonesian emo music enthusiasts to put their own spin on the event. A fan-made meme, for example, replaced acts with 2000-era Indonesian icons such as Radja, Vagetoz and Kangen Band.
Mohammad Zaki, editor of JOOX Indonesia, said the buzz surrounding the When We Were Young Fest could lead to a widespread emo revival.
“When October rolls around and these major emo players get together on stage, it’s not impossible that they’ll shake up the whole music industry. The answer will be revealed later. But now? Not yet” , did he declare.
Revival: A promotional poster for When We Were Young Fest, taking place in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA in October. (Instagram/Courtesy of @whenwewereyoungfest) (Instagram/Courtesy of @whenwewereyoungfest)
How do you define emo? Wisnu Ikhsantama W, a former “emo kid” who is now known for his work with indie-pop groups Glaskaca and Lomba Sihir, offered his own definition. One thing’s for sure: it’s not just about the stereotypical rose tattoos or ripped skinny jeans.
“Emo is emotion,” said the 27-year-old musician. “Lyrically, emo is simple and revolves around sadness. It’s pretty nihilistic, really.”
While it’s impossible to summarize emo music without delving into its history, most agree that its first incarnation came in the mid-1980s when hardcore punk bands across the United States, particularly Washington DC, grew weary of the macho posture of their stage and began to sing about their personal difficulties, often giving concerts in tears. This happened during the so-called “Summer of Revolution” in 1985.
Although this music never developed beyond the underground, bands inspired by this movement – although playing decidedly more melodic and outwardly dramatic music – appeared in the mid-1990s, mainly in the American Midwest, before slowly blossoming into more traditional music. form of emo with a more confined sound and mode set. It is the latter that the latest wave of nostalgia celebrates.
Dramatic emotions could be the key to why young Indonesians immediately jumped on the emo bandwagon during the 2000s. Given the country’s social and political climate in the post-New Order regime, Wisnu surmised that Indonesians at at the time were in a state of “collective grief”.
“I think at the time, the whole world felt like this era was the most heartbreaking. Just like the era we’re in right now,” he said, alluding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Zaki, now 31 and a father of one, still vividly remembers the time he joined this emo bandwagon.
“When I was in high school, emo was part of a way of life,” he recalls. “All the music I listened to was emo music, but punk music was what started this culture.”
Zaki cited Avril Lavigne as an example – an artist he felt was “punk oriented on her first two albums before going emo on the third”.
Grateful: Music producer Eky Rizkani credits the emo Midwest band American Football with influencing his current work. (Photo courtesy of Eky Rizkani) (Personal collection/Courtesy of Eky Rizkani)
A huge fan of hers as a teenager, he said Avril’s transition from punk to emo persuaded him to join the other side as well.
“Usually when an artist pivots or changes genre, their fans either follow suit or leave. As for me, well, I followed,” he continued.
Style-wise, Zaki claimed his love of emo as a teenager didn’t necessarily mean “wearing all black” on a daily basis; although he did, at one point, adopt the long fringe hairstyle similar to the young Benji Madden of the pop-punk/emo band Good Charlotte.
“I no longer have the photos!” he said laughing.
Wisnu, meanwhile, was all about hard rock-leaning emo bands such as From First to Last and Bullet for My Valentine.
“I remember in middle school when I broke up with someone, my Facebook wall was filled with the lyrics to From First to Last or Bullet for My Valentine,” he laughed.
His exposure to the 2000 era emo subculture soon became a driving force when he began producing for an emerging local emo band called PVLETTE. The band’s lead singer, Christo Julivan, was a particular fan of shouto: an emo derivation that emphasizes shouting in vocal delivery.
According to Christo, the strong appeal of emo music lies in its unmistakable “expressiveness”.
Scream: The lead singer of emo band PVLETTE, Christo Julivan, is inspired by the shouto subgenre of emo music. (Photo courtesy of Christo Julivan) (Personal collection/Courtesy of Christo Julivan)
“I think emo music is more ‘real’, and the feelings it conveys are more raw,” the 26-year-old singer said. “Maybe most people see this genre as a joke, but I find it more authentic compared to other genres.”
thank you for the Venom
Things were slightly different for Eky Rizkani. While Zaki, Wisnu and Christo discovered emo music as teenagers, just a few years ago, Eky was first introduced to the world of emo – to be precise, when he listened for the first time the music of the emo band from Midwest American Football on Spotify.
It wasn’t exactly love at first sight.
“Lyrically, their music was moving. Very romantic and very emo. But at first I wasn’t immediately hooked. I found their voice to be very dry,” the 23-year-old recalled.
Over time, Eky realized how “cutting edge” emo acts such as American football could be.
“It occurred to me that bands like American Football had already explored the sound that current bands are exploring right now,” he continued. “You could tell they were ahead of their time.”
Cut to the present, Eky is now focusing on his budding career as a folk and post-rock music producer under the stage name Reruntuh. American football remains one of his biggest influences that influence his craft.
Mike Kinsella [the vocalist of American Football] was basically the one who taught me how to tune a guitar,” he said.
I’m not fine (I promise)
For some people, the past influence of emo extended beyond ears and hairstyles. Zaki, for example, observed that while his past love of emo music did not influence his character as an adult, it did prove to be a healthy release from his temper.
“When I listen to Dashboard Confessional or My Chemical Romance or Good Charlotte, I feel like I can channel my emotion freely. listening to these emo bands, something that sounded like an alter ego would be unleashed,” he said.
Rasyiqa Tharifa, 25, who works at a music label and is an aspiring musician herself, credited emo music with helping her through her difficult formative years.
Emo groups such as Fall Out Boy, Jimmy Eat World and Panic! at Disco were his constant companions as a tween.
“I wasn’t the popular kid in the class. I was often bullied. I had this friend and after she left, I felt like an outsider. I was the kid who spent his time in the back corner with a CD player in hand,” she recalls.
Emotional: Growing up, Rasyiqa Tharifa’s favorite emo acts included Fall Out Boy, Jimmy Eat World and Panic! At the disco. (Photo courtesy of Rasyiqa Tharifa) (Personal collection/Courtesy of Rasyiqa Tharifa)
Last year, Rasyiqa released her debut single “Reckless”, which was also inspired by emo-pop music.
“I guess from a management perspective, I just missed the kind of music that can represent his feelings.”
While Zaki and Rasyiqa found solace in emo music, Luthfi Suryanda, music journalist for Creative Disc, credited emo band Motion City Soundtrack with helping him broaden his horizons as a teenager. He finally got the chance to see the band perform live in Bandung, West Java in 2013.
“The audience was small, so the atmosphere was quite intimate. You could jump and dance as wildly as you wanted. You could pour out whatever was inside of you,” said the young man from 26 years with admiration. “I will never forget that moment.”
As an adult, Luthfi found that the outspoken lyrical style of Motion City Soundtrack “subliminally” influenced his character traits.
“It happened to my friends [who loved emo music] also. We’re all simple people!” he laughed. “We are more relaxed when we interact with each other because we know there are no hard feelings.”
Famous Last Words
As for the future of emo, Luthfi offered a more critical sentiment. He thinks the emo wave is “just a phase” or, at best, a “time capsule”. While he still loves the Motion City soundtrack, he has no plans to join the fandom of newer, younger emo acts such as Machine Gun Kelly, Willow Smith and Gayle.
“Maybe I’ll stick to my youthful memory,” Luthfi said. “Listening to old music keeps me young. It’s funny, but that’s how I see it.”
On top of that, he finds the emo presentation of new acts “more of a throwback” than a revival.
“I think these artists just don’t know who they are musically, so they use emo as a transitional medium to get in their place,” he added.
As to why emo isn’t a popular genre for Indonesian musicians to explore right now, Luthfi delivered his brand of emo-influenced candor: “In Indonesia, we don’t know emo; we know the sad boys!”