My Chemical Romance is touring again, Paramore and Jimmy Eat World are headlining a major festival this fall, and there’s a skinny, tattooed white dude with a guitar dominating the charts. In case you haven’t heard, emo is back, baby! In honor of its return to prominence—plus the 20th anniversary of the first MCR album—The Ringer is following Emo Wendy’s lead and tapping into that nostalgia. Welcome to Emo Week, where we’ll explore the scene’s roots, its evolution to the modern-day Fifth Wave, and some of the ephemera around the genre. Grab your Telecasters and Manic Panic and join us in the Black Parade.
If two emo reunion tours is a coincidence and three’s a trend, then what’s nearly a dozen? A scene? An arms race? We ought to find an answer quickly because 2022 has turned into the year when your emo and emo-adjacent favorites have returned to a venue near you.
The list of reassembled acts is long and varied, encompassing all stripes and eras of a hard-to-define genre. At the top of the year, reunited New Jersey legends Thursday played 30-plus dates across the U.S. Beginning in August, they’ll kick off another run—including a handful of shows supporting My Chemical Romance on their much-hyped return tour. Dipping back into the ’90s, Sunny Day Real Estate will hit the road again, as will Louisville cult heroes Elliott. Armor for Sleep and Midtown, Algernon Cadwallader and Snowing, Karate and Saetia—there’s something for Third-Wave enthusiasts, 2010s revivalists, and post-hardcore fans who wouldn’t dare use the three-letter E-word. Real emo may only consist of the D.C. emotional hardcore scene and the late-’90s screamo scene, but no matter your tastes, hey, you’re part of it.
This comes, of course, as emo and pop-punk are more popular than they’ve been in decades. The recent popularity of Olivia Rodrigo and Machine Gun Kelly have kicked off a fresh wave of “Is Emo Back?” articles, while MCR will headline the Manic Panic’d nostalgia fest When We Were Young this October. (These factors also played a not-insignificant role in The Ringer’s decision to hold an entire Emo Week.) On some level, this discussion can seem overly broad—the jazz-influenced post-rockers Karate may as well belong to a different planet than My Chem, let alone a different genre—but there’s no denying that a wide variety of bands that begrudgingly fit under the wide umbrella of emo have decided to bury their hatchets and pick up their axes again.
Eric Renner Brown, a Billboard senior editor who covers the concert industry, says that there are market forces that make these reunion tours tempting propositions. Fans who listened to My Chemical Romance when they were teenagers in the mid-aughts are now in their 30s. They have the means to pay hefty ticket prices for those arena tours. “They are presumably more settled, they have some disposable income, and they have an attachment to this music from their adolescence in the same way that boomers had an attachment and wanted to keep seeing the Eagles,” he says.
And from the artist perspective, money aside, there’s a pride element. Brown says a band may see its peers prospering and having fun and decide it’s its turn to make a go of it. For groups that don’t make millions each tour—presumably every band on the previous list besides MCR—that may play as much of a role as the money. “Maybe they thought for a while that people had stopped caring about them, and now they see, ‘Oh, we can announce a tour and there’s going to be people who want to come see us and there’s people who this music still resonates with,’” Brown says.
But that explains only part of the reason for the sudden spat of reunions. Why emo, specifically? Is there something that makes a Thursday or a Sunny Day Real Estate the right band for this moment? According to Talia Miller, the head of publicity at Rough Trade Records who’s also worked for other labels like Run for Cover, the nostalgia baked into the genre’s best work may fit within a widespread desire to go back to less chaotic times. “Culturally, we’re really driven by a sense of nostalgia right now,” Miller says. “Things in the world are so bad that everybody’s looking backward for something, for a time that they were happier or things felt simpler.”
Those are some of the macro factors driving the reunion trend. But each band’s journey back to the van is unique, and each helps explain a piece of why we’re seeing so many classic emo acts come back. The Ringer spoke with three legendary ones—Thursday, Algernon Cadwallader, and Karate—about how they decided to reunite, what the challenges have been, and why now was the right time.
Thursday: Sending New Signals Over the Air
Geoff Rickly describes Thursday’s show as something closer to an act of “ritualized catharsis.” That makes sense if you’ve ever heard the New Jersey band’s blend of screamo and melodic hardcore, which can leave grown adults shouting or crying. “You’re leading a crowd together,” the singer says of his role in the ceremony. “It’s almost like prayer. You’re trying to get past some artificial bond of normalcy that we all have in public and instead get to that cathartic moment.”
But how does one lead an audience in that ceremony from a knee scooter? Geoff found himself trying to answer that question early this year. In February, Thursday was playing a sold-out show at San Francisco’s August Hall when Rickly fell from the stage and broke his ankle. It’s an occupational hazard of Thursday’s typically athletic performances, and it required him to get two screws implanted midtour. But the shows went on, with a scrapped encore the night of the injury the only casualty.
The broken ankle put a mild damper on what was otherwise an amazing tour for the band. The reunion run—Thursday’s second following a set of shows in 2017—included what Rickly had dubbed his “dream lineup”: Thursday, Cursive, the Appleseed Cast, and for a stretch, Sunny Day Real Estate frontman Jeremy Enigk. It was also remarkable for the amount of young people in the audience. When I attended the Los Angeles leg of the tour at the Regent Theater the week Rickly broke his ankle, the audience had it’s fair share of old hardcore fans looking for a night away from the family. But the rowdiest group was made up of kids in their late teens and early 20s—the ones moshing and pumping their firsts to Thursday classics like “Understanding in a Car Crash” and “Signals Over the Air.”
It’s a curious development for a group that peaked nearly 20 years ago. Thursday was the hottest band of its ilk for a time in the early 2000s, riding a wave of buzz to a contract with Island Def Jam while influencing a generation of hardcore musicians in the process. But they haven’t released new music since 2011’s No Devolución. (Rickly has, however, fronted bands like United Nations and No Devotion.) The 43-year-old Rickly says he can’t fully explain where all the sudden interest from younger fans is coming from. The band’s manager suggests that it’s partly because of Thursday’s connection to My Chem—they’ve long been cited as an influence on the Black Parade and Rickly produced MCR’s 2002 self-titled debut. But there could be any number of factors, Rickly hypothesizes: Maybe it’s the cultural boomerang effect that’s seen a lot of emo music come back en vogue, or maybe with 20 years of distance, smaller bands are being lumped in with the Fall Out Boys, Dashboards, and other TRL favorites. Whatever the case, Rickly’s not necessarily complaining. “We’re more popular than we were for the majority of our career,” he says. “There was a moment in 2002, 2003, 2004 where we were selling out 5,000-capacity venues. We’re not there again, but for the rest of our career, which is the vast majority of it, it’s much bigger now than it was any of those times.”
But Miller, the Rough Trade publicist, suspects there’s also a technological reason for the interest among young people: the rise of the internet and streaming. In the ’90s, exposure to a left-of-the-dial band with minimal mainstream exposure—think a Rites of Spring or a Fugazi or a Fire Party—often came from cool older siblings or crate-digging at a record store. From there, a person would have to work through an artist’s catalog slowly—assuming it was even available, given the limited production runs by most independent bands. In 2022, an app like Spotify (The Ringer’s parent company) allows people to access a band’s entire discography immediately, while a biography can be found on the internet in short order. Someone could theoretically hear about Thursday on a Friday and be somewhat of an expert by the end of the weekend. “I think that bands are getting back together now because people are discovering music in a way that they weren’t able to discover older music 20 years ago,” Miller says. “With the advent of streaming services and Bandcamp, they’re having all of this access that hasn’t ever in history been available before.”
But is there anything specific about emo and emo-adjacent music in particular that’s led to this rash of nostalgia and reunions? There were other popular styles of music in the late ’90s and early aughts, but only this one appears to be reliving its moment in the spotlight. Eric Brown, the Billboard editor, thinks it has something to do with the passion the music inspired in its devotees, which seems to go beyond normal music fandom. After all, there have been plenty of MTV Unpluggeds, but only the Dashboard Confessional performance featured throngs of fans on the verge of ritualized catharsis. “Emo is an interesting case compared to some other genres, just in how emotionally invested fans are in this music,” Brown says. “Compare it to an artist from another genre who might call it quits and then want to go back out on tour. There are people who bonded with this music as teenagers, 10, 15 years ago, and it still has that really potent emotional resonance.”
But at the end of Division St., there still needs to be a band that’s willing to get back together. And for Thursday, Rickly says, that hasn’t come about because of a calculated cash grab or an attempt to capitalize on whatever’s going on in popular culture. It’s been more of a natural human instinct—time is passing, and there are only so many chances to do what you love. Bands like Thursday were born at basement shows and conceived as a social thing before they were ever a viable career option. With their peers finding success reuniting and going back on tour, it only makes sense for them to try it themselves. Even if it means hitting the stage with a broken ankle.
“I don’t think anybody is thinking, ‘Oh, Travis Barker has made Machine Gun Kelly into an emo superstar and now is the time to strike while it’s hot,’” Rickly says. “People are saying, ‘Oh, this seems to be going well for other people and they’re having fun. I want to get in on that fun too and revisit my youth.’”
Algernon Cadwallader: The Emo Revivalists Revived
Friends and fans have been hoping for an Algernon Cadwallader reunion for a while. Like, since the second they broke up in 2012. “We were getting asked to play within the first year,” says vocalist and bassist Peter Helmis. “I was always the one who was like, ‘No. If we’re going to do a reunion, let’s wait until it’s actually a reunion. Let’s give it at least 10 years.’” Lo and behold, a decade later almost to the day, Algernon is set for a return to touring.
The band’s story is different from the genre’s other recent comebacks in that they’re a relatively young group. Formed in 2005 just outside of Philly, Algernon is part of emo’s Fourth Wave, born in the underground in the wake of the mall-punk boom of a few years prior. Dubbed the Emo Revival by the music press, the Fourth Wave was marked by a return to the Midwest emo style that defined the ’90s. (Think: the open guitar tuning of American Football, or the ragged pop instincts of the Promise Ring or Braid.) Bands like Algernon and Snowing—another Philly group reuniting this year—are typically considered as being among the first and best of the Revival movement. (Though not necessarily on purpose: “I would avoid saying that we’re an emo band at all costs,” Helmis says. “I’d be like, ‘We are a hardcore band,’ because it was just so bastardized, that term.”)
In 2012, with a healthy cult following and a classic LP under its belt, Algernon broke up. It wasn’t because of any animosity between its members. Rather, life beckoned. Drummer Tank Bergman took a nursing job and was also set to become a dad. Helmis says Algernon had already been through a few lineup shuffles. Rather than do that again, the remaining members decided to try new things. “To do another switch to keep the band going would be not really authentic Algernon,” Helmis says. “We figured that was just a good spot to just be like, ‘You know what? Let’s move on to the next thing altogether.’”
The former bandmates remained close over the years, sometimes playing in bands together. (Guitarist Joe Reinhart would eventually join Hop Along, itself authors of one of the best emo songs of the 21st century.) Over the next 10 years, as the Fourth Wave crashed into the Fifth and emo new and old became popular again, the legend of Algernon spread—through YouTube covers and social media and the words of evangelists like writer (and Ringer contributor) Ian Cohen. In 2018, Algernon’s label, Lauren Records, reissued a collection of early singles and EPs, further kicking up buzz. By the end of the 2010s, a band that had a mostly regional footprint when it disbanded had become heroes to a subset of people who like their emo more Cap’n Jazz and less Hot Topic.
Miller, who’s been a friend of Algernon since their early days, says that kind of later discovery is not uncommon with emo music. There’s a nostalgic quality to songs like the ones Algernon writes, and that continues to find people years later, when they need it most. “I think there’s a direct line to emotion that’s really timeless,” she says. “I think that it really speaks to a certain time in your life, and a certain intensity of emotion. As much as things have probably changed, being a teenager is still probably a really lonely, alienating experience.”
Even as Algernon’s stature grew throughout the past decade, Helmis says the band held fast to their no-reunions-for-now policy. The pandemic, however, changed that. Suddenly, the end times seemed nigh and denying themselves of a thing they enjoyed felt silly. “We didn’t want to have any more barriers for having a good time,” Helmis says. “We were like, ‘Yeah, let’s just fucking do it. If we’re going to do it at all, now would be the time.’” Algernon began talking about the prospect of getting back together, and early in 2022, things clicked into place. At the beginning of June, they announced a 20-date fall tour that will start in Pittsburgh, end in Orange County, California, and also include a stop at the Fest in Gainesville, Florida.
Asked how the members of Algernon Cadwallader have changed, Helmis points to lots of significant life events—most notably Tank Bergman and Colin Mahony both have multiple kids, and the group is now spread around the country. (Helmis now calls Portland, Oregon, home.) As for the dynamics in the band, Algernon has only recently begun rehearsing, but so far things feel as natural as ever, even with both Bergman and original drummer Nick Tazza playing together for the first time. The band’s also still doing things DIY style, booking their own opening acts and taking care of what they can themselves. Maybe the only significant difference—besides the passage of time, of course—is the band’s newfound focus on taking care of themselves. Helmis, now 38, says Algernon is focused on doing this tour in a sustainable way while mitigating the hard living that comes with road life. “It’s not like it’s just for the people who we’re playing to, it’s also for us,” he says. “Nobody wants to have a bad time. We want to make sure that everybody’s comfortable and just having the best time.”
Right now, Helmis doesn’t know exactly what to expect from the upcoming shows. Tickets are selling fast, and his texts have been blowing up with friends from around the country saying they’re coming. It’s likely the young kids who cover Algernon on YouTube will make it out. But even if they don’t, just the fact a reunion is happening this way feels like a success.
“There’s going to be a lot more people there than we’ve ever played to,” Helmis says. “What they’re going to look like, I have absolutely no idea.”
Karate: The Wiser Scholars
In their first run in the ’90s and early 2000s, post-hardcore band Karate played nearly 700 shows in 12 years, traveling from Boston basement gigs to DIY venues on the left coast—and, eventually, Europe. Their relentless hustle and blend of the heavy and the jazzy earned them a rabid following and a reputation as some of the finest musicians in emo-adjacent music. Karate was not exactly a get-rich proposition—nor, as the members joke today, a way to meet women—but it was the platonic ideal of rock music as outlined in Our Band Could Be Your Life. They were a group of 20-somethings piling into a van, wearing its tires thin, and winning over fans by the tens, gig by gig.
It’s easy to romanticize those shows in barely legal spaces followed by nights spent sleeping on a stranger’s cold floor. But by the mid-2000s, things had changed for Karate. The members—who joined forces as Berklee College of Music students when most weren’t old enough to drink—were all north of 30 and growing tired of the touring grind. (To wit, original guitarist Eamonn Vitt had already left the band by that point to pursue a medical career.) Then in 2005, guitarist and primary vocalist Geoff Farina was diagnosed with tinnitus. Shortly thereafter, the band called it quits, playing what they thought would be their final show that July in Rome. Karate’s epitaph was seemingly etched in stone, echoing countless other small but beloved rock outfits: Here lies a band more influential than they were famous, with a catalog destined for eye-popping Discogs listings.
The breakup was a minor tragedy for fans of DIY-style bands. But to hear Farina explain it today, it was a completely defensible decision—and part of the natural life cycle of a band. “I panicked that I was losing my hearing and maybe acted a little bit rashly,” Farina says. “But we toured for 12 years together, and no matter how close you are to your bandmates and how good of friends you are, it’s a situation that can be unhealthy. We would just spend a lot of time, too much time together, I think.”
A funny thing happened next, however: Karate became more popular in its afterlife than it ever was at its circa-Y2K peak. The members remained friends, but they played in other bands and took on day jobs. (Farina is currently a professor at the DePaul University School of Music.) In their time away, the cult of Karate only grew. Maybe it was because of unauthorized YouTube links and MP3 uploads, or maybe it was word-of-mouth gospel from older cousins and siblings spreading to younger fans, but a band that made its bones playing house shows for a few dozen people encountered a newfound interest in their music. By the late 2010s, the demand was such that famed reissue label The Numero Group got involved. The company helped secure Karate’s master recordings (which Farina says Karate’s old label essentially held “hostage for a decade”). In 2021, Numero began rereleasing Karate’s albums in gorgeous remastered packages, which brought a fresh wave of critical and blog coverage, in turn boosting the demand for their music further.
At the same time, the members realized that they missed playing together—or at least acknowledged that playing with other musicians never felt as natural. Drummer Gavin McCarthy says that’s possibly the result of Karate starting in his formative years (he was 19 when the band began and 31 when it broke up). But whatever the reason, whenever he’d play with other musicians, he would think to himself, “Well, this is weird because they’re not doing it right.”
“Being in the band was also for me learning how to be a musician and being influenced by what these guys were into,” McCarthy says.
So this year, building off the sudden buzz created by the reissues and the desire to give it another go, Karate committed to do something they’d never thought they’d do again: They booked a tour across the U.S. And while 11 may not sound as impressive as the 700 from their younger days, that’s the number of gigs they settled on for their summer 2022 stint. “We were going to do a couple of shows, which turned into a few more shows,” McCarthy says. “It’s manageable, not too much. I was like, ‘If we can’t bring this 120 percent, then I don’t want to do it.’ We got to be fucking balls to the wall. I do not want to get up and be like, ‘Eh, that’s cool that they came back for one thing.’”
Earlier this month—a little grayer and a little balder—Farina, McCarthy, Vitt, and guitarist Jeff Goddard piled back into the van. They kicked things off with three nights in their hometown Boston—including a warm-up gig at their old 194-capacity stomping grounds, the Middle East Upstairs. In the middle of the month, they played Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago to one of the largest crowds they’d ever seen. (Their guest list was mostly claimed by Farina’s DePaul students. “They’re like, ‘Old man Farina, what’s he doing at Pitchfork?’” he jokes.)
Last Saturday, Karate rolled into the Echoplex in Los Angeles for the final show of the run. When they took the stage for a nearly sold-out crowd shortly after 9 p.m., they did so under the sparkle of disco balls still spinning from the night before. (An Emo Night Brooklyn dance party held at the Echoplex, in a bit of a strange coincidence.) For the next 90 minutes, they regaled the crowd—a mix of men with salt-and-pepper beards and kids with crisp Drive Like Jehu shirts—with modest hits and deep cuts from across their oeuvre. On the venue’s booming sound system, it felt like a coronation for kings of a small scene with outsize influence, rewriting a history that seemed settled in dank basements nearly two decades ago.
“It’s been a really pleasant surprise to feel welcomed after so many years,” Farina said a week prior, speaking at Pitchfork Festival. “We’re just really taking it all in and having a good time. We still don’t quite know what’s going on.”