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Screamo is a genre of music which predominantly evolved from hardcore punk, among other genres, in the early 1990s. The term "screamo" was initially applied to a more aggressive offshoot of emo that developed in San Diego in 1991, which used short, chaotically executed songs which grafted "spastic intensity to willfully experimental dissonance and dynamics."In the early 2000s, the genre name began to describe a different, slower and less dissonant style that borrowed from alternative rock. The term's application to the "second wave" is controversial among fans and practitioners of the earlier style. One musician alleged that the term "has been kind of tainted in a way, especially in the States".

First wave (c. 1991 - Present)

The term "screamo" was initially applied to a music genre that began in 1991, in San Diego, at the Ché Cafémarker, with groups such as Heroin, Antioch Arrow, Angel Hair, Mohinder, Swing Kids, and Portraits of Past. These groups were influenced by Washington D.C. post-hardcoremarker (particularly Fugazi and Nation of Ulysses), straight edge, the Chicago group Articles of Faith, and post-punk, such as Joy Division and Bauhaus. Gravity Records and Ebullition Records released this more chaotic and expressive style of hardcore. The scene was also notable for its distinctive fashion sense, inspired by mod culture. The Crimson Curse, The Locust, Some Girls, and The Rapture. The Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower incorporated the style into punk jazz. Much as emo was, the term "screamo" was always controversial in the scene.

The innovations of the San Diego scene eventually spread elsewhere, such as to the Seattle group The Blood Brothers. East Coast groups, such as Orchid,, Circle Takes the Square, pg. 99, Hot Cross, Saetia, and Ampere were influential in the continual development and reinvention of the style. These groups tended to be much closer to grindcore than their forebears. Powerviolence-inflected screamo is sometimes referred to as emo violence, a name half-jokingly proposed by In/Humanity.

The original screamo style is still practiced by a variety of groups, particularly in Europe. Amanda Woodward, Louise Cyphre, La Quiete and Raein are prime examples of the European scene. These bands often release their records themselves or through independent labels, often recording splits with other bands from the same scene.

Although the contemporary DIY screamo scene is more prevalent in Europe, there are still many active bands in America. Examples include Comadre from Redwood City, Off Minor (ex-Saetia) from New York, Spires from Oakland and ...Who Calls So Loud (ex-Funeral Diner and I Wrote Haikus About Cannibalism in Your Yearbook.) from San Francisco.

Conceptual elements

Many first-wave screamo groups 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 and critical theory originators the Frankfurt School.


First-wave screamo uses typical rock instrumentation, but is notable for its brief compositions, chaotic execution, and screaming vocals. It has been described, by music journalist Jason Heller, as "graft[ing] spastic intensity to willfully experimental dissonance and dynamics," indicating a kinship with noise rock. Later groups sometimes included synthesizers and other electronic sounds.

Second wave (2001–present)

By 2002, the genre name drifted into the music press, especially in the journalism of Jim DeRogatis and Andy Greenwald. "Screamo" began to describe a different, much slower and less dissonant style, like Emanuel, that borrowed from alternative rock. These new bands incorporate commercial elements of rock, emo and post-hardcore. As the two styles are noticeably distinct, the wide contemporary usage of the term 'screamo' has been controversial among some critics. The Sacramento band Far, and the Canadian group Grade, were among the first bands to practice this variety of screamo. The second outcropping of groups to be given the name included Thursday, Alexisonfire, Underoath and Thrice. Thursday also cited post-punk (Joy Division) and post-hardcore (Fugazi) as important influences, but also took cues from the alternative rock of Radiohead, U2, and The Cure. In contrast to the DIY first-wave screamo groups, Thursday and The Used have signed multialbum contracts with labels such as Island Def Jam and Reprise Records. 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." The groups generally prefer to be described as post-hardcore.


Second-wave screamo typically makes use of dual guitars and eschews guitar solos, and is most identifiable by its "frequent shifts in tempo and dynamics and by tension-and-release catharses." Unlike the first wave of screamo, these bands often compose ballads. Second-wave screamo has been described as "mixing the literate, poetic lyrics of emo with a harsher and more metallic brand of sonic thrash" as well as using screaming vocals "as a kind of crescendo element, a sonic weapon to be trotted out when the music and lyrics...reach a particular emotional pitch". The screams can be very low-pitch to very high pitched.


  1. Jason Heller, "Feast of Reason". Denver Westword, June 20, 2002. [1] Access date: June 15, 2008
  2. "A History of Emo Music", Gigwise. July 17, 2008. [2] Access date: July 18, 2008.
  3. Jan, "Yellow is the new pink", 18-04-07
  4. "A Day with the Locust", L.A. Weekly, September 18, 2003 [3] Access date: June 19, 2008
  5. Local Cut, Q&A with Aaron Montaigne. [4] May 14, 2008. Access date: June 11, 2008.
  6. Ebullition Catalog, Portraits of Past discography. [5] Access date: August 9, 2008.
  7. Swing Kids covered "Warsaw"; Justin Pearson discusses Joy Division's influence in an interview on, [6] Access date: June 13, 2008
  8. Trevor Kelley, "California Screaming". Alternative Press 17 (2003), pp. 84-86.
  9. Interview with Justin Pearson on, [7] Access date: June 13, 2008
  10. Matt Schild, "Going to Extremes", Aversion, May 19, 2003. [8] Access date: June 16, 2008
  11. Matt Schild, "Heaven's Pregnant Teens" review, "Aversion"
  12. Sub Pop biography, [9] Access date: June 16, 2008.
  13. Joel Caris, Concert Review, Blogcritics Magazine, February 21, 2005. [10] Access date: June 17, 2008
  14. Matt Schild, "Bleeding Hearts." March 3, 2003. [11] Access date: June 15, 2008.
  15. "Orchid always was, and always will be the quintessential screamo band of the late 90s, as they encompassed everything people like me love about the genre, and throw their own unique spin on it" - Anchors; Review of Orchid's Totality, December 27, 2005. Access date: June 16, 2008. [12]
  16. Nick Catucci, The New Rolling Stone Album Guide, 2004. [13] Access date: June 17, 2008.
  17. Ryan Buege, "Circle Takes the Square is in the Studio". Metal Injection, June 15, 2008. [14] Access date: June 17, 2008
  18. Nick Greer, Ampere review, Sputnik Music, August 29, 2005. [15] Access date: August 9, 2008.
  19. "Another interesting sub-sub-genre was this strange crossover of first-generation emo and grind. Bands like Reversal of Man or Orchid may not have stood the test of time, but it was a pretty cool sound at the time and one that was pretty uniquely American. - Greg Pratt, "Altered States," "Grindcore Special," part 2, Terrorizer #181, March 2009, p. 43.
  20. Jason Thompson, Violent Resignation review, PopMatters. [16] Access date: June 17, 2008.
  21. Kevin Jagernauth, PopMatters, November 29, 2004. [17] Access date: July 28, 2008.
  22. "Altogether, our music certainly still is 'screamo'." - Sven, interview with Julien, "ShootMeAgain Webzine", 06-11-2006. [18]
  23. Orchid, Dance Tonight, Revolution Tomorrow. Allmusic Guide. [19] Access date: June 17, 2008.
  24. Jim DeRogatis, "Screamo", Guitar World, November 2002 [20] Access date: July 18, 2008
  25. San Diego Weekly Reader, November 22, 2006. [21] Access date: June 16, 2008
  26. Interview with Thursday on The, [22] Access date: June 13, 2008.
  27. Andy Greenwald, Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, and Emo, New York: Saint Martin's Griffin, 2003, p. 153
  28. Greenwald, p. 149.
  29. Andy Greenwald, "Screamo 101", Entertainment Weekly, no. 738, Nov. 21, 2003.[23] Access date: August 2, 2008.
  30. Corey Apar, A City By the Light Divided review, Allmusic, [24] Access date: August 2, 2008.
  31. "Plus, what screamo band doesn't have ballads?" -Troy Davis. San Diego Weekly Reader, November 11, 2006. [25] Access date: June 16, 2008

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