“Scene” is Not a Dirty Word

Music Stereotypes

What do you think of when you hear the word “scene”?   If you’re just the average Joe, you probably are thinking of the setting and actions of a play, a moment in your favorite movie, something built up and dramatized, or just something concrete to look at and remember. It can even reflect a culture or lifestyle as one major umbrella topic.

What a pretty scene here at the beach.  That’s my favorite scene in Almost Famous.  That neighborhood has such a cool skate scene.   It’s all good and dandy; that is, unless you are talking about the “scene” of the substream music world. Then it becomes a dreaded word.

I am talking about the -core bands, the non-mainstream pop punk movements, and offshoots of metal that help make up Warped Tour lineups, Hot Topic trends, and give magazines like us, Alt Press, and Rocksound something to write about.  While the varying sounds and genres of all of these bands may not overlap, their fan followings, press coverage, and tours usually do. What’s the most logical term to use to describe that? Scene, of course.

Growing up with the music that I liked, the shows that I went to, and the people that I hung out with, I always just referred to it as my “scene.”  Of course, as I was referring to this the term, “scene kid” started to replace the term “emo” and became just as degrading or offensive.  In fact, as I started to interview bands, if I referred to anything such as “this music scene” or “the scene your band stemmed from,” they’d typically try to correct me and say they didn’t want to call it a scene, however, they never really offered another term for it to go by.

Scene Feature

The problem with this realm of the music world is that it’s not fully hardcore, it’s not fully punk, it’s not fully metal, it’s not fully pop.  It’s a strange mixture of sounds with a varying range.  Why can State Champs, Blood On The Dance Floor, Vanna, Terror, and Attack Attack! all be offered the same opportunities from Kevin Lyman if they have (for the most part) opposing sounds?  Well, because many of their values and audiences overlap.  The fact that many of these “diehard” or overbearing children of the MySpace age (myself included) became labeled as scene kids for how they looked, acted, and what they listened to is not a product of the music, it’s a product of the time.  Sure, generic stereotypes came out of wearing intense side bangs that covered your entire face, crazy dyed hair, skinny ties (usually as anything but a tie), highlighter colored vans, and rubber band bracelets a mile long up your arms, but we loved and rocked that look.  And who were the people who hated on the scene kids? The metal heads and the hardcore kids?  Basically the kids so involved with the offshoots of this substream world that they knew what to look for to hate on scene kids. Please allow me to also wear immense amounts of black and a Metallica shirt from their thrash age that I lifted from my dad, or immense amounts of flannel shirts in varying colors with my square rimmed glasses and a Texas in July beanie. Trust me, I can willingly and gladly rock all of the fashions and support all of the styles of music associated with metal and hardcore, too.

When we talk about scene, the negatives trend around a previous fashion, style, and look characterizing a generation for the most part that has now grown up.  But why is that term still so negative?  “Emo” was hated for years.  My Chemical Romance, the band who reportedly “Wouldn’t front the scene if you paid me,” denounced being emo, and guess what?  They went down in history for 1. fronting the scene and 2. being one of the most influential “emo” rock bands to break the mainstream (and still didn’t sell out to do it, I might add).  Now look at the music headlines.  Everyone is talking about the “emo revival” that’s upon us.  It’s being lauded for what it was and the upcoming bands that influenced it.  Emo had been a stereotype associated with a style, sound, and negative actions of self harm.  That’s why people hated it, because they all believed that kids who listened to it were mopey and in need of psychological help.  That’s gross, and widely untrue.  Associating a sound with one particular mental state is an invalid overgeneralization.  A sound that helps inspire someone in need is what music is all about however, and emo was the poster child of that movement.  A band doesn’t literally save someone’s life, but the connection and inspiration one gets from listening to music that relates to them does.

Eventually emo would open the doors for the term “scene” since it is, first and foremost, just a noun referring to a collective state or following of something.  That’s it, a noun.  It’s not all-inclusive or exclusive and doesn’t mean you can’t break out of it.  Look at Of Mice & Men or A Day To Remember or even Blink-182.  They started somewhere, with a certain scene, and branched out, but are still loved by the fans that first helped jumpstart their careers. When turned into an adjective, however, for some reason “scene” is a dirty word because guitarist so-and-so and vocalist whatshisname don’t want to be crowned “the poster child of Hot Topic” or whatever their shallow qualms may be.  Why? Hot Topic probably sells your band’s T-shirt, and you know damn well you probably want people to buy and wear your band’s name.  That’s why people make music: to share it with other people.

So in defense of the scene kid, the emo, the hardcore kid and the metal head, all terms I’ve been labeled for how I dress, act, and what I listen to, I say fucking own your title.  Those aren’t negatives because people say it with snark or try to avoid it.  By not owning what and who you are you give power to those who want to put those phrases down.  So in defense of the music SCENE that I am heavily involved in, largely in love with, and have been for the majority of my life, I refuse to not use that term when referring to this musical collective and lifestyle.

It’s difficult to always say “the musical substream of the bands that are widely accepted on Warped Tour and through offshoots of ’90s metal,’80s hardcore and pop punk.” That’s exhausting and takes forever to type. Let’s just call it what it is. It’s our music scene.  It’s fun, diverse, ever-changing and something we should be proud to be associated with.  We don’t have to be scene kids.  We just have to love our scene and know that it’s okay to call it that.

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