In photos: The angsty era of emo music

My Chemical Romance perform to a screaming crowd at North Star Bar in Philadelphia, circa 2003.

My Chemical Romance perform to a screaming crowd at North Star Bar in Philadelphia, circa 2003.Brian Woodward/Courtesy Chronicle Books

(CNN) — The sun is setting on the Badlands as Amy Fleisher Madden squints through her camera’s viewfinder, searching amidst the red rock and prairie grass for a figure wearing head-to-toe black.

The year is 1999, and the young photographer has been touring with Saves the Day, four baby-faced kids from Princeton, New Jersey who recently released their sophomore album, “Through Being Cool.” They don’t know it yet, but the record will eventually become synonymous with “third wave emo,” a nebulous genre emerging from suburban garages, church basements and all-ages venues across America.

Saves The Day

Fleisher Madden captured this shot of Saves The Day drummer Bryan Newman, backlit in the Badlands at “the perfect moment when the sun was going down.”Amy Fleisher Madden/Courtesy Chronicle Books

Both controversial and confessional, emo music is a softer approach to hardcore punk, with warbly vocals and evocative lyrics that have other bands derisively calling it the sound of “teen angst.” But that doesn’t matter right now to drummer Bryan Newman, who Fleisher Madden spots crouched on the ground, lost in the quiet of the South Dakotan landscape. She presses the shutter button, knowing that the candids are just as important as the concert when it comes to the story of emo.

“It was like, ‘This is as much a part of the story as the guy on stage,’” Fleisher Madden said of the spontaneous moments that so often happened during a band’s downtime between shows, whether a goofy greenroom joke or a mad dash for the shower in their seedy motel room. Many of these images serve as anchors in her new book, “Negatives: A Photographic Archive of Emo (1996-2006).” And that photo of Newman remains her favorite, twenty-some years later, Fleisher Madden told CNN.

“The entire middle section (of the book) is called ‘Everything and Everyone,’ and that whole section is just chaos,” she laughed. “It’s the van, backstage, sleeping in a bathtub, behind-the-scenes of photoshoots, stuff like that. And for me that’s the pulp. That’s the good s**t.”

"Saosin seemed to have appeared out of nowhere," Fleisher Madden writes in "Negatives." "It's a phenomenon that happens when a band is able to fully utilize an online platform, or harness some sort of social media movement—we saw it back then and we still see it now." The band is pictured here in photographer RJ Shaughnessy's house in Los Angeles in 2003.
Mineral perform at the VFW Hall in Elkton, Maryland, circa 1997.
At The Drive In performing at the Manville Elks Lodge in Manville, New Jersey, circa 1998. The band's live shows "were the stuff of legend, and to witness one was to be a part of history," Fleisher Madden writes in "Negatives." "They blazed the trail for so many other up-and-coming experimental bands that followed.*

At The Drive In performing at the Manville Elks Lodge in Manville, New Jersey, circa 1998. The band’s live shows “were the stuff of legend, and to witness one was to be a part of history,” Fleisher Madden writes in “Negatives.” “They blazed the trail for so many other up-and-coming experimental bands that followed.*Paul D’Elia/Courtesy Chronicle Books

A promotional photo for Jimmy Eat World's 1996 album "Static Prevails," taken "somewhere in Arizona."
Ketchup and cigarettes: Musicians Matt Skiba (Alkaline Trio) and Blake Schwarzenbach (Jawbreaker) photographed at breakfast in Chicago, circa 1998.
Dashboard Confessional performing at MACROCK in Harrisonburg, Virginia, in 2001. In a foreword to "Negatives," the group's lead singer Chris Carrabba writes of emo that, "The music brings us together and holds us together now just as it always has... It remains, at its heart, a community — and this community has seen some amazing things. If we didn't have the pictures to prove it, I'm not sure anyone would believe us."
One giant leap: Something Corporate perform at Nation in Washington, DC, in 2004.
Gerard Way (My Chemical Romance) pictured on a late-night snack run during a 2004 tour, "somewhere on the West Coast."
"Jejune was this delicate and soft-spoken whisper of a band that would hit you with intricate melodies — and then they'd explode into a wall of noise," Fleisher Madden writes in "Negatives." The band is pictured here at a 1997 gig in New York City.
Inside the tour bus with members of The Grey A.M. in a 1998 photo. "We won tour bingo in every way," Fleisher Madden writes of her experience on the road with the band. "The van constantly broke down, we'd show up to shows that didn't exist, and right before the end of the tour, the singer quit the band. BINGO."<br />
Members of Texas Is The Reason on a Dunkin' Donuts run after a show in Brighton, Massachusetts, in 1995.
"Saosin seemed to have appeared out of nowhere," Fleisher Madden writes in "Negatives." "It's a phenomenon that happens when a band is able to fully utilize an online platform, or harness some sort of social media movement—we saw it back then and we still see it now." The band is pictured here in photographer RJ Shaughnessy's house in Los Angeles in 2003.
Mineral perform at the VFW Hall in Elkton, Maryland, circa 1997.
At The Drive In performing at the Manville Elks Lodge in Manville, New Jersey, circa 1998. The band's live shows "were the stuff of legend, and to witness one was to be a part of history," Fleisher Madden writes in "Negatives." "They blazed the trail for so many other up-and-coming experimental bands that followed.*
A promotional photo for Jimmy Eat World's 1996 album "Static Prevails," taken "somewhere in Arizona."
A pioneering photographer’s visual history of the emo music scene

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Making a scene

An overview of the bands that helped shape emo after the musical genre’s first wave emerged in the ‘80s from D.C.’s hardcore scene, “Negatives” features hundreds of images, drawn from Fleisher Madden’s own archives and the work of other photographers documenting the scene. Some of the musicians featured are instantly recognizable — Death Cab For Cutie, Jimmy Eat World, Fall Out Boy — others less so. But every single band in the book helped influence the emo scene in some capacity, and Fleisher Madden said it became her job to figure out where each stood, historically and sonically, within the trajectory of emo.

“I asked myself things like, ‘Why did that band matter? Did they inspire future sounds and looks? Are their records part of a legacy?’” Fleisher Madden explained of her process. “There are a lot of bands in the book that I’m not personally fans of, but they mattered and influenced the movement.”

Amy Fleisher Madden

Amy Fleisher MaddenRJ Shaughnessy/Courtesy Chronicle Books

Growing up in Miami, Fleisher Madden was an active member of the local punk scene in the mid-’90s, throwing shows and writing about up-and-coming bands for her zine, Fiddler Jones. At 16, she started Fiddler Records and released an album by The Vacant Andys, a band fronted by Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional, before going on to book tours, work A&R for other labels, and travel around the country taking photos of many of the bands mentioned in her book.

As Fleisher Madden wrote, she was a “fan” during the second wave, circa 1996-2000, which was defined by bands like Bright Eyes, American Football, Cursive, Sunny Day Real Estate, and The Get Up Kids, and a “participant” for the third wave — an era spanning from 2000 to 2006 that included bands like Circa Survive, Say Anything, and New Found Glory, as well as heavy-hitters like Paramore and My Chemical Romance.

And while she acknowledged there are plenty of purists willing to split hairs over her decision to label a certain band “second wave” instead of “third,” or vice-versa, Fleisher Madden said she tried to approach the issue by using objective measures like “the age of the band members, how they dressed, what the photos look like and if they’re on film.” (Beyond that, her opinions are her own.)

“I sort of became an emo Sherlock Holmes,” she explained, “where I tried to find the answer in the details.”

Hayley Williams of Paramore performs during a 2006 tour stop in San Diego, California. The band "had to blaze their own trail" in the emo scene, Fleisher Madden writes in "Negatives," adding that, "their salad days were filled with micro (as well as macro) aggressions from a predominantly male-leaning scene. It makes me feel all sorts of terrible that that’s the world we came from, but all I can do now—and encourage you all to do, as well—is take the steps to make sure that’s not the world we’re heading toward."

Hayley Williams of Paramore performs during a 2006 tour stop in San Diego, California. The band “had to blaze their own trail” in the emo scene, Fleisher Madden writes in “Negatives,” adding that, “their salad days were filled with micro (as well as macro) aggressions from a predominantly male-leaning scene. It makes me feel all sorts of terrible that that’s the world we came from, but all I can do now—and encourage you all to do, as well—is take the steps to make sure that’s not the world we’re heading toward.”Ilene Tatro/Courtesy Chronicle Books

A musical diary

Emo’s third wave, in Fleisher Madden’s eyes, saw the emergence of pop-punk, screamo, and post-hardcore, subgenres which “share the same emo DNA” and “heart on your sleeve” lyricism, just done louder, faster, and punchier. And since then, the definition of “emo” has only continued to expand, much to the chagrin of older fans, who lament the “mainstreamification” and “commercialization” of emo music and culture.

Fleisher Madden refutes this criticism, arguing that discovering new music (even if it’s technically “old” music) has always been a teenage rite of passage.

Similarly, Emo Nite founder Morgan Freed — whose emo-themed party night has become a nationwide phenomenon amongst younger fans — echoed the sentiment, pointing out that emo has in recent years spawned dozens of TikTok trends and a popular music festival produced by LiveNation.

“This is music to listen to when you’re in the suburbs, sitting on the roof on a summer night in your cul-de-sac drinking a beer,” he said, adding that the alienating experience of being a teenager is universal and timeless — especially in an increasingly digital world

“There are always going to be 15-year-olds who need to latch onto something relatable to them,” Freed said. “And this music is for (the people) growing up as outsiders or nonconformists.”

That said, there’s no debate when it comes to the authenticity of Fleisher Madden’s “Negatives.” It’s a book that chronicles her own lived experience within a scene that still has its hold on pop culture at-large, more than two decades down the road.

Negatives: A Photographic Archive of Emo (1996—2006)

Negatives: A Photographic Archive of Emo (1996—2006)Chronicle Books

And for her, there is no room for gatekeeping a “wholesome artifact” meant for people “to put on their shelves and show https://kesulitanitu.com their parents or their kids and be like, ‘I was a part of this thing.’”

She recalled an “amazing” conversation she had with a 20-something at her recent L.A. book event: “He was like, ‘I wasn’t old enough to see these bands in this era, but now I’m into all of it. I’m catching up and learning, and I use your book as a rulebook,’” she said, smiling.

“So I’m like, ‘That’s amazing,’” she continued. “And he goes, ‘It’s a map. It’s a map to the whole scene.’”

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