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The Science Survey

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The Science Survey

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The Science Survey

New York City’s Screamo Scene: Active and Alive

An inside look at a flourishing music subculture that has a hardcore punk influence and is known for its screamed vocals.
Here+is+the+crowd+on+December+9th%2C+2023.+
Tristan Borlongan
Here is the crowd on December 9th, 2023.

The venue wasn’t particularly large, the main area was approximately the size of a classroom, with standard tile floors, plain white painted walls, and piping running throughout the ceiling. There wasn’t a stage either, just a section of the floor against the wall where the bands began to set up their equipment. I had arrived early, and had been moving instruments out of an Uber car and taking them inside. It was December 9th, 2023, the night of the ‘Screamo BBQ.’ I’d seen the flier for the show online, recognizing the band Despot (pronounced “De-spit”) from another event a few months back.

Finding a show such as this is far from difficult. Online fliers are distributed through social media, detailing the bands that are playing, the venue that is hosting, and the show’s pricing. The price is always reasonable, the goal being to keep the shows accessible to all, with the profits oftentimes going to humanitarian causes. 

As the sets began, the bands went up one by one, playing maybe four to five songs each, before stepping aside to allow the next to set up. The genre name ‘Screamo’ sums it up pretty well. Vocalists screamed incoherently into the mic, strangely harmonizing with the intense instrumentals. 

The crowd loved every single bit of it, they all crowded up against the ‘stage,’ allotting maybe three feet of space between the crowd and the band, either banging their heads up and down or slowly nodding along. 

I’d been to a few shows on my own before, although for my friends Billy Kruger ’24 and Dennis Cholakov ’24, it was their first time. I had asked Kruger for his first impressions. 

“The people were a bit younger than I was expecting,” Kruger answered later on. “Some were as young as fourteen, maybe, althought it was very over-the-top. I was very surprised to see people actually getting so into all of the thrashing.” 

“I really liked it, however. I couldn’t really do much but observe, as I didn’t really feel like I fit into their scene, not that they would really care. I was also nervous, because I was around a bunch of girls whom I had just met,” Kruger said.

Later, I asked Cholakov for his thoughts as well. “The first thing that stuck out to me was the clothing, that black makeup and the early 2000s hairstyles. I’d never really see things like that in person. The whole crowd in general was something new for me, but I didn’t really know what to expect at the same time,” said Cholakov.

“But they were passionate. I really noticed that there was a real passion from the audience. And I completely get that, man. The drums and the electric guitar, it really does energize you. I didn’t understand the aggression in the crowd with kicking and clawing at first, but hearing the music and what it means, I can tell it resonates with them, and it’s an outlet of expression. I get that,” Cholakov said.

Billy, Dennis, and I were standing side by side. I was furiously scribbling down things to remember in my notebook, while Billy handled our camera. Dennis thrashed about with the crowd. As the music intensified, the crowd began to back up, widening the semi-circle of space around the ‘stage.’ 

It was at this point that I was separated from my friends. The song picked up speed, as did the people around me. They then began to run into each other, swinging their limbs about. They managed to start moshing in such a compact space. For the most part, the brunt of the swinging would be absorbed by those on the edges of the mosh pit. In other words, you would only really get hurt if you wanted to be. 

Unfortunately for me, I was caught off-guard, as someone’s swinging arm smacked the notebook from out of my hands. I still do not have that notebook. 

For me, one band seemed to stick out from the others, Despot. They seemed to have this visible stage presence, a control over the crowd that the other bands didn’t really possess. Maybe it’s because they were local to Brooklyn, unlike some of the others bands who came in from New Jersey or Connecticut. 

Between Dennis, Billy, and I, we all agreed that Quinn, Despot‘s guitarist and vocalist, had a unique ability to control the crowd.

As the instrumentals calmed down and the rhythm slowed, Quinn swayed the crowd quite literally to their knees, kneeling alongside them. They kneeled as she kneeled, and they rose as she rose. They mirrored her movements, reciprocating her energy. 

It was incredible to us how a band could control such an unruly, chaotic, and noisy crowd. I had the privilege of interviewing the band after the show. I wanted to know more about how they found this genre, and each other. 

“Okay so the band started with this single called ‘Gimme That Cat,” said Isaac, Despot’s bassist. 

“Basically, we all met in or around the second grade in elementary school, (which) Me, Mac, and Izzy did. Quinn came along much later. But we started making music in like the second grade.”

 I followed up, “Was it ‘screamo’ since the fifth grade?”

Isaac, Mac, and Izzy answered, laughingly. “It was a little bit ‘screamo.’”

Izzy, a vocalist and guitarist, explained, “we were kinda just yelling ‘gimme that cat’ over and over again, Mac played the drums, Isaac played the guitar, and I played the piano, and yeah.”

Isaac continued, “it was pretty ‘screamo,’ yeah. Fast forward to high school. This is kind of like a couple of years after losing connection a little bit, and then we somehow got in contact again kind of in the ninth, or tenth grade, before COVID-19, and I think around COVID is when we started making music and actually giving ourselves a name. At first we were Dirty Despot‘ [he pronounces it de-spit] and we were more shoegaze orientated, but I’m really happy we found our way to the ‘screamo’ scene.”

“We were like a punk band that was like trying to bring in shoegaze elements and we were like [get rid of] all of that, and we became ‘screamo,’” Izzy summarized.

Here are two photographs depicting Despot playing. (Tristan Borlongan)

“And what were the inspirations for that, did you grow up listening to ‘screamo’?” I asked the members of the band.

Isaac answered first. “I did not. The first screaming I ever heard in my life that I thought was good was a song by Deafheaven.”

Izzy and Mac laughed in the background. 

He continued, “And that’s really embarrassing but I mean, I heard it on the plane to Canada with my dad and I was like…’this is so good,’ and then I got back, and I asked Izzy what they thought of screaming, and they started putting me on to [stuff].”

Izzy continued. “I had already been screaming in the band. We kinda started off the band with me screaming but back then it was more punk [stuff].”

“It was yelling,” clarified Mac, Despot’s drummer.

Another point that interested my friends and me was the culture of the scene in general, so we asked the band what their favorite parts of the show were. 

“I’d say the love, I mean like the love for the music, the love for each other,” said Isaac.

“Yeah, it really feels like people come here for the music,” said Mac.

Izzy added, “Yeah, like we love all the bands that we play with and the community that comes together–”

“People always bring energy,” interrupted Mac.

Izzy continued, “people bring energy, yeah, people bring like…hotdogs, and burgers. And you know, they bring their music, or they bring their connections to get venues. Everything we play, we rarely play at bars or similar venues, we play random [stuff] like this, like a…house or like somebody’s basement or like someone’s backyard…[stuff like] this, and it takes a village to set this all up and make it happen.”

 

Here, audience members line up for the BBQ held after the Despot show. (Tristan Borlongan)

“Shout-out to Siggy for making this one happen. It’s always someone taking the fall and really putting everything together. And sometimes things don’t work out, and things go wrong during the show, but that just makes it more DIY, and makes it more special,” said Isaac.

“DIY or die all day,” said Mac.

Isaac continued, “like you can hear like mics cutting out sometimes, and people being like…’I forgot me CAT at home, and now I have to use this…combo lamp’ and that’s a Potter’s Field set, they’re complaining about Izzy’s…combo lamp, but you know they just…roll with it, because, you know, they wanna play music for people, and it’s all about the music, it really is.” 

The three of us would meet Despot again in March 2024 during a set in Brooklyn. The venue featured a boxing ring in which the bands would use as a stage. It was about as chaotic as the last show, with various audience members bringing their own boxing gloves from home to use in the pit. 

Among the bands playing that night was Solace, another screamo band with a focus on metal and hardcore. We had the privilege to speak to the band members: Yaniel, a vocalist, Jagger, a guitarist, Jose, a bassist, and Richard “Bone,” the drummer. Solace is quite active in the New York City screamo scene, having previously performed during the BBQ event in December 2023.

I asked them why they loved this genre, and why it was special. In Yaniel’s words, he loves the breakdowns and the throwing down in the crowd when the music is played live. “I also love the guitar riffs and double pedals; everything together is just mad fire,” Yaniel said. 

For Jagger, he appreciates the opportunity to play with his friends in such a positive scene. I followed up on this and asked how the band formed in the first place. 

Things seemed to simply come together for Solace. Yaniel, Bone, and Jagger, were all friends beforehand, skating together. 

“We all like listened to ‘screamo’ from skate videos and became more familiar with the genre,” said Yaniel.“Bone and I started going to shows and fell in love with the idea of starting a band, and at first it was scary, and it still is. I kinda feel like we suck, but it’s all just for fun, because we like doing this [stuff] and don’t really care that much if people [mess] with it or not, as long as we’re having fun. We started playing covers of other ‘screamo’ bands, then started creating our own music, and we got asked to play our first show at SCT, and we just kept going from there.”

Jose, their bassist, joined the band later on. “We originally had another bassist named Jork, but she moved away, and we agreed on not finding another member. But then Jose came along and blew our minds, so we got bro in Solace and now it’s the four of us.” 

I asked them for some final parting advice for those who were new to the scene, or those who were interested in becoming more involved. 

Yaniel: “I mean, I guess have fun and don’t be a [jerk] to other new people.”

Jagger: “Just have as much fun as you possibly can, and don’t worry if you think you sound [bad], because nobody can tell in the pit, haha.”

Jose: “Deodorant please, and just be yourself.”

The three of us would meet Despot again in March 2024 during a set in Brooklyn. The venue featured a boxing ring in which the bands would use as a stage. It was about as chaotic as the last show, with various audience members bringing their own boxing gloves from home to use in the pit. 

About the Contributor
Tristan Borlongan, Staff Reporter
Tristan Borlongan is a Spotlight Section Editor for 'The Science Survey.' As a journalist, Tristan has a  curiosity for international conflict and geopolitics. He personally believes that in order to capture and encapsulate an accurate story, a journalist must embed themselves within the conflict as much as humanly possible. He frequently enjoys the works of war correspondents such as Michael Herr, Robert Capa, and photojournalist Li Zhensheng, who inspire his ideals of what true conflict journalism should be. Academically, Tristan's interests include military history. Tristan hopes to pursue a career as a war correspondent, and he plans on studying journalism in college.