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Your Emo Revival Survival Guide

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Don’t fret if you were too wrapped up in other things during the late '90s and early aughts to notice the emo insurrection. If you somehow managed to escape all the body-hugging girl jeans, chart topping tunes, and MTV videos on TRL, here’s your chance to catch the next wave of emo. Though some claim emo has never left the spotlight, few could argue that the genre’s momentum hasn't slowed in the last several years. But with national tours from the likes of Taking Back Sunday, Paramore, Saves the Day and Yellowcard selling out and a new albums by Alkaline Trio and Braid (coming soon), you could say emo is really working to reclaim its throne (it's such a big deal, we even wrote about it back in August).

Ok so what is emo, like, besides a style of dress? Well, in broad terms it’s a style of music, similar to punk rock, that utilizes melodic and complex musical arrangements and is known for its confessional and emotional lyrics. Of course that leaves the door wide open for interpretation and subgenres, but we’re going to keep it simple, because you’re new at this.

I teamed up with my friend Ashley, a local DJ and self-proclaimed emo girl, to get the scoop on how we non-emos can prepare for the next generation of the genre. According to Ashley, surviving the emo revival is as simple as adhering to these these four steps: Music, Style, Hobbies and Maintenance.



First and foremost, emo is about the music, of course, the rest is just details.

If you want to be prepared for the latest wave of emo bands, you're going to have to first listen to the “classics.” Immerse yourself in the music. The good news is many of the bands who lead the charge in emo’s hey-day are hitting the road either as part of music festivals like Vans Warped Tour or Riot Fest or on their own. Yellowcard played here two weeks ago, Story of the Year and Hawthrone Heights played last week, and if you hurry you can still snag tickets for Alkaline Trio, New Found Glory and H20 on October 23 at the Warfield.

But maybe you don’t have the ability to go back in time and catch those shows and you’re busy on Wednesday. Not a problem at all, we have you covered. This playlist will help you cut your teeth on the emo basics. Poppy and hard-charging, these little ditties will get your toes tapping and possibly have you considering contacting an ex to let her know how you really feel. Play it over and over until you can sing along to a few of them, this will help with your “street cred” which may come into question at some point on this journey.


Emo style has certainly evolved since the early days but still holds true to its roots. Ashley and I have divided the emo subculture into two main groups: Mall Emo and Traditional Emo (please note: we made these terms up and it is possible no real emo-identifiers will accept them).

First we have the Mall Emo. These persons are typically characterized by one or more of the following: extreme swooped hair, colorful hair extensions, snake bite piercings, fingerless gloves, white belts, stripes, stretched ears, girls’ jeans and eyeliner. Their favorite bands may include; My Chemical Romance, Avenged Sevenfold and AFI.

Exhibit A: Meet Ashley and her pals in their “Mall Emo” days. Note the hair, piercings and “damn the man” attitude.

Ashley and Co. in their "Mall emo" days
Ashley and Co. in their "Mall Emo" days

A modern day/grown up version of this look still includes the trademark shiny black hair but now also features designer skinny jeans, American Apparel, better user of accessories and more tattoos.

Here’s Liz to show us how she’s evolved:

Liz in her modern "mall emo" look
Liz in her modern "Mall Emo" look

Next up is the Traditional Emo look. Famous for it’s cuffed dark denim and tiny vintage tees, Traditional Emo style also includes the following: dark hair, baby bangs, thick-rimmed glasses (usually black & “nerdy”), Sauconys, 1 inch band buttons, cardigans, bandana (around the neck or hair or hanging out of back pocket), Alternative Press. Their favorite bands may include: Piebald, Get Up Kids, Jimmy Eat World.

This is Nicole, showing us two of the most popular emo bangs style for gals:













A modern day version of this look is fairly simple. It’s basically the same idea but with more high-end apparel and slightly longer hair. Cuffed dark denim still reigns supreme, but gals are introducing more dresses over tights (if you’re too impatient for vintage dress shopping, try websites like ModCloth for vintage-style modern looks) and the layered look. Beanie hats are hot as well as flannel.

Nicole shows us the modern emo with glasses look while Ashley jumps for joy in her emo-style layered look.

Modern "traditional emo" look
Modern "Traditional Emo" look

Ashley layers it up in SF, emo-style












For a male evolution of this look take Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst in the old days versus his modern look.


To really be into emo you have to be a little bit emotional. Not the kind of emotional that keeps it bottled up inside, but the kind that let’s the world know what you're feeling. You're going to need to start a blog. Or, better yet, dust of your old LiveJournal and resume complaining about life. Fully explaining your feelings in a public forum is key.

Always make mixes for any reason. No matter how you feel, make a playlist about it. This will help you cope with life as well as share your musical knowledge with your cohorts. You may also impress some people, so whatever you do, always make a mix to accompany you.

Next you'll want to learn to ride a fixed gear bike. Don't let the hills scare you, just go for it. Spend a lot of time talking about your bike, working on your bike and riding your bike. Your bike is your lifeline, right next to music.

If you decide to drink, make sure you drink only the cheapest of  cheap beverages. Load up on PBR and Olympia and scoff when other’s order a cocktail. This will also help keep your wallet lined so you have more loot to go vintage shopping.


Now that you look the part, know the tunes, and have the ‘tude down, you’re ready for maintenance mode. This is the easy part!

Keep the look alive by caring about what you wear out of the house, making sure your hair is just right and your band buttons are affixed safely to your hoodie. To really remain a part of the emo subculture you're going to have to make an effort to go to shows. If you missed the previously mentioned tours, check your free weekly papers and music blogs for news on upcoming tours and get your butt to the club. Hearing live music on the reg will keep your emo spirit alive.

When you can't make it to shows, you always have the option of DJ nights. SF is no stranger to popular emo-centeric DJ nights. Until last year SF was host to both "Diary" at Pop's in the Mission and "Tell All Your Friends" hosted by Milk Bar in the Haight. Both of these well-attended nights have come to an end but Ashley and her DJ pal Noelle have brought their own version emo night to Delirium in the Mission, picking up the slack in the name of emo-diehards. The last Sunday of every month, "Through Being Cool" boasts three solid hours of emo favorites accompanied by $2 PBR, Tecates, and Jell-O shots. That kills several emo birds with one stone (or one drink special).



So lace up your Sauconys and let's get emo, y'all!

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