From Under The Sea to Debussy’s Symphony in B minor, the pirate in me had gone on such a rampage discovering new tunes that every click of the shuffle button resulted in a journey of musical discovery. But if there was one genre I always found myself heading back to, it was the one known as “emo”.
Characterised by an emphasis on emotional expression with vulnerable, soul-baring lyrics, it was the genre that my angsty teenage-self connected with the most. Somewhere amidst the screaming and surprisingly delicate poetry, the music put words to feelings that my limited vernacular at the time couldn’t express. This music taught me that it was okay to not be okay.
In those days, I worshipped at the altar of Bert McCracken (The Used). I memorised the words to every Dashboard Confessional song ever written. And up until now, I still hold a grudge against the friend who took his emo-unappreciating girlfriend instead of me to a Taking Back Sunday gig. Emo well and truly had me wrapped around its black, nail-polished finger.
So upon learning that a club in town was dedicating nights solely to the genre, I knew that it was only a matter of time before I checked it out.
I’d arranged to meet my unofficial guide for the evening, 20-year-old Vanessa Teo and her bunch of emo night regulars, but I was still hopelessly lost in the back streets of Tanjong Pagar looking for a place called Kilo Lounge where this orgy of sadness was supposedly being held.
Thankfully, an off-key rendition of Mr Brightside performed by a group of tone-deaf boys begins to emanate from an alley nearby. Following the general direction of their warbling, I find myself in the company of my hosts within minutes.
We head to a neighbouring bar for a quick pre-drink (two shots) before joining the snaking entry queue. For a second, I actually forget where I am.
Having expected to see everyone dressed like Paul Twohill circa 2006, the sight that greets my eyes is no different from the line for the washroom at Zouk, complete with impatient squirming. Everyone’s undoubtedly dressed to impress. The black band tees, cuffs and studded belts that were hallmarks of emo culture have now given way to Champion sweatshirts and apparel emblazoned with Gucci’s interlocking Gs.
Not wanting to judge a book by its lack of eyeliner, I keep my snarky comments to myself and take one small step into the club and one giant leap back into my youth.
At twenty-seven, I’ve always considered myself young at heart despite the wrinkles forming around my eyes. But holy fuck do you feel old when you overhear groups of teenagers discussing curfews and the top ten ways to sneak out of the house. A quick visual sweep of the club also drives home the harsh reality that save for the organisers, bouncers and bartenders, I’m probably the oldest person in the room. A decade under the influence indeed.
I’ve basically become that creepy uncle at family gatherings who spends way too much time with his younger nieces and nephews trying to relive his glory days.
After this ball-crushing epiphany, I glumly follow my new friends to a dark corner of the club where I’m hoping to fade into oblivion for the rest of the night.
But no such luck. We end up about five feet from the DJ console.
By now, it’s close to 1 in the morning and emo night is in full swing with not one, but three DJs behind the booth. Three too many in fact.
While head-bobbing to Down by Blink 182, I come to the conclusion that my Spotify playlist could effectively replace the three musketeers since there isn’t any real mixing involved and the songs remain generally untouched. They look like they’d be more at home at a Zumba class than behind the decks at Emo Night. Their main job, it seems, is simply to hype up the crowd.
Odd, I thought this was supposed to be hardcore, not Hardwell.
Fair play to one member of the trio though. I mean, he’s wearing an old Arsenal jersey so it’s pretty clear he knows what feeling emo is all about. Wenger then duly repays my silent faith when the familiar opening line of Face Down by The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus echoes through the joint, greeted by a communal “OHHHHH!” of recognition from the crowd.
Right on cue, Vanessa shoves us all into the middle of the dancefloor and as the chorus begins, so too does the moshing. Suddenly, as bodies collide into mine, memories of pushing my secondary school and junior college mates into each other come rushing back to me and I lose myself in the music and moment. But my bliss is short-lived.
Nary a minute passes before we start receiving dirty looks from other groups of faux emo kids, driving us to slink back to our little corner to continue screaming our lungs out.
Jesus Christ. Spice Girls? At EMO night? ARE. YOU. FUCKING. KIDDING. ME? The crowd laps it up though, dancing along as if the DJs didn’t just completely rape their already iffy playlist.
I raise an eyebrow at my friends who are equally nonplussed. They shrug their shoulders.
Feeling miserable, I go back to observing the crowd, to bear witness to several things that leave this senior citizen perplexed.
For one, it seems that kids in the dark will behave like, well, kids in the dark no matter what blasts from the speakers. In dimly lit alcoves all across the room, I spy couples making out to emo anthems from All Time Low, Fall Out Boy and Simple Plan. Maybe they’ve found love in a hopeless place.
At the same time, courtship has changed drastically. The practice of walking up to a girl, talking to her, and finally asking for her number is already dead. Instead, a phone with Instagram’s search page preloaded is handed over and handles are exchanged.
But before I can ask Vanessa’s friend if the practice is now commonplace, Your Guardian Angel starts playing and I figure that it’s high time grandpa teaches these kids how it’s done. After shouting to him to raise his lighter in the air, he looks at me with wide eyes and excitedly fishes it out of his pocket and before waving it around above his head, an action that is instantly copied all around the club.
The rest of the night then follows the same musical pattern of hits and misses. At 3:15am, after Gerard Way screams his last “I’m not okay”, we head for the exits. Thanking Vanessa and her black parade for their company, I bid them farewell and hop in a cab, ready to have my own private moshing session with my pillows.
At the same time, the sixteen-year-old in me was outraged. That night, the tunes that got me through a pretty rough phase in my life were reduced to nothing but commodities used to sell the concept of differential clubbing.
What started out as a great idea really just took emo from its rightful home in the underground scene, and sadly made it look like selling out. The genre’s dingy basement roots have been thoroughly eroded.
It felt as though everything so visceral and meaningful about the soundtrack of my youth had been nullified by a crowd that’s probably never heard of Underoath or Funeral For A Friend, and looked to only be there because it was the coolest place to hang out on a Wednesday night.
And so with a sad, sorry, and selfish cry, I can only thank emo night for the memories, but I’ll take my emo with a generous serving of self-loathing alone in my room, thank you very much.