To say “emo” has taken a drubbing and come back victorious is an understatement, as witnessed by this week’s glut of emo-related events: the debut of Los Angeles’ hit dance party Emo Nite at Voltage Lounge on Feb. 24, the now-sold-out Panic! at the Disco show at Wells Fargo Center on Feb. 25, and the two-night stand of Japandroids at Union Transfer, Feb. 24-25.
Born as "emotional hard core" in the late 1980s to describe the then-burgeoning movement in Washington, D.C., of bands with deep feelings, sad souls, skinny jeans, and occasional outbursts of grandly finessed musical complexity, “emo” became a thing in the early 2000s when warbling, lump-in-the-throat punks such as Dashboard Confessional and Jimmy Eat World went platinum and opened doors for the likes of Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco.
"It started from a place where I was getting bullied a lot, constantly getting beat up," said Panic! singer Brendon Urie to the BBC of his emo origin story. "I didn't want to sit in the sadness and I hated how it made me feel. I realized at a young age that I can only allow so much feeling from someone else to make me feel inferior.”
Japandroids’ Dave Prowse – his moody Canadian duo with Brian King is touring for its new album, Near to the Wild Heart of Life – says of the brand: “When I think of emo, I think of bands we listened to a lot in our teens and early 20s -- Get Up Kids, Piebald, Thursday. I can't say we listen to those bands a lot these days, but they were important to us in the years before we started playing music together, and I'm sure they had some sort of influence on us -- especially in the early days and our first EPs.”
Though emo became passé in the mid-2000s, the genre roared to chart-topping return as Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco created their most diverse works (see Panic!’s 2016 Death of a Bachelor) and underground acts such as Japandroids won critical and indie acclaim for brusque emotional peaks such as 2012’s Celebration Rock and their bolder, brightly colored new album. “We still certainly want to make emotionally charged, heart-on-our-sleeve, anthemic music," Prowse says, "but how we go about doing that has transformed over the years to where we are now.”
To that point and the expansive sound of Near to the Wild Heart of Life -- filled with rich keyboard tones and emo’s epic complexity on songs such as “Arc of Bar” -- King says Japandroids never sought out the sound of other two-men bands (“the minimalist blues of Black Keys”), but rather always strived for “being tiny but sounding huge, a big five-piece-band vibe like four guitars rather that something raw and primal.” As far as the raw and primal, that exposed nerve is still reserved for Japandroids’ lyrics (King’s job) and emo-y titled tracks “True Love and a Free Life of Free Will” and “I'm Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner).”
"They’re definitely two sides of the same emotional coin and explore similar feelings from slightly different angles,” notes King.
Along with the rise of underground acts such as Japandroids and the renewed glam-rock-meets-dance-pop vigor of Panic! at the Disco, another reason emo has revitalized itself is the trio of Los Angelinos who started the immensely popular Hollywood party Emo Nite, currently expanding its brand to include a skinny-clothing line and its first-ever dance-party tour that hits Voltage Lounge on Friday.
On celebrating Emo Nite’s two-year anniversary with this touring showcase, cofounder T.J. Petracca said: "It's honestly pretty surreal. This whole thing has gotten way bigger than we ever imagined or intended it to get. We were never ‘party promoters’ or talent buyers before this. We started Emo Nite because we wanted to get together with friends at a bar and listen to music we actually liked instead of the typical top 40 you hear at most clubs.”
Petracca says he does not feel responsible for emo’s continued popularity or renewed artistry despite holding online streaming events (“Streamo”) with 200,000-plus devotees at a pop and selling out massive events featuring DJs and the occasional emo superstar playing acoustically. The bands "are all extremely talented, make incredible music, and we take zero credit for the amazing records they have been putting out for years,” he says.
“Personally, I never stopped listening to this kind of music. Since I was 15, I’ve always felt an extreme sense of camaraderie and community with other people who listened to emo. Still to this day, when I find someone else likes Brand New -- we instantly become best friends.”
Japandroids, Friday and Saturday, Feb. 24 and 25, at 9 p.m., Union Transfer, 1026 Spring Garden St., $20, utphilly.com.Emo Nite, Friday, Feb. 24, at 9 p.m., Voltage Lounge, 421 N. Seventh St. $10, ticketfly.com.Panic! at the Disco, Saturday, Feb. 25, at 7 p.m., Wells Fargo Center, 3601 S. Broad St. Sold out.