A Chicagoland emo obscurity resurfaces to influence the genre’s fifth wave | The Listener | Chicago Reader

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A Chicagoland emo obscurity resurfaces to influence the genre’s fifth wave

Ten years ago, Heccra collided emo, metalcore, and electronics—and today his music is finding a legacy.

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The cover of the Heccra album The Devil​-​Faces of My Old Friends, Beneath Me
  • The cover of the Heccra album The Devil​-​Faces of My Old Friends, Beneath Me

The emerging fifth-wave emo scene has given me a great excuse to stay glued to social media. I'm not shy about my enthusiasm for emo, and I got a little giddy last month watching a cross-section of Twitter music fanatics go wild for pop-minded Chicago emo songwriter Eric Reyes, who records as Snow Ellet. Hugo Reyes had included Snow Ellet's music in a great Medium roundup of recent Chicagoland emo on April 19, and after interest snowballed on Twitter, on May 7 Pitchfork ran a review of Snow Ellet's debut EP, the March release Suburban Indie Rock Star.

I love when people rave about new bands, and right now it's happening on a scale I haven't seen since the rise of fourth-wave emo nearly a decade ago. This time around, young people involved in the newest wave are steering the conversation—sometimes the musicians themselves, sometimes fans with critical ears and sizable Instagram accounts (my favorite is the defunct real_emo_only_consists_of_the). Brandon MacDonald, who fronts ambitious Florida upstarts Home Is Where, has a knack for finding the threads that connect bands around the globe, and they use their knowledge to create educational memes—as well as a playlist that can make a believer out of the uninitiated. MacDonald talked a little bit about fifth-wave emo in a May Spin interview, and their attempt to answer a question about defining the fifth wave was ambiguous enough that practically any aspiring musician could feel included: "I see it as something really beautiful and hopeful. That's all I can really say. There's not one sound that's unifying it."

I've noticed that more of these newer emo bands embrace electronic music, compared to previous generations. But emo did sometimes work with electronic elements before the fifth wave: New York band Crying, for instance, got started in the early 2010s, applying a sweet, lightheaded melodic sense derived from emo and pop punk to music that foregrounds chiptune synths. They toured with genre poster boys Modern Baseball and released music through Run for Cover Records, and I can hear their influence on fledgling groups such as Montana's Hey, ILY!

The Chicago area also gave the fifth wave a reference point in the form of a suburban college student with a solo project called Heccra. His output all dates from the early 2010s, and though it was extremely obscure at the time, younger musicians have recently unearthed and championed it. Heccra bends electronics, emo, and metalcore into shapes that defied conventional song structure, combining athletic guitar solos, double-kick sprints, and eruptions of honeyed, yearning shouts into music that rattles and bursts like a bottle rocket in an oil drum. Heccra wrote The Devil​-​Faces of My Old Friends, Beneath Me (my favorite album of his) while working at a seafood restaurant on the Fox River in Algonquin in 2013. On Bandcamp the album says it was released in 2015, but Heccra's notes on the page also say he finished it in 2013 and let it sit "unfinished" until 2019, when he decided it was done after all. That was the last Heccra release, though in fall 2020 fifth-wave emo label Chillwavve dropped a cassette compilation of old material called Heccraween.

Both releases include "Port Deadwards," which embeds what sounds like fragmented samples from Super Mario 64 into a wall of bristling guitars and unyielding drumming. After about a minute, Heccra yanks that noisy combo away to reveal a lattice of serene postrock guitars, but the calm lasts only briefly. Like most Heccra songs, "Port Deadwards" is prone to sudden mood swings, and it jostles in several different directions before closing with a wallop of feedback. I can understand why Tennessee band Guitar Fight From Fooly Cooly, who specialize in athletic, amped-up riffing, dig Heccra. In a January interview with YouTube podcast Spookshow Chats, Heccra claims that members of the group have reached out about releasing his music on cassette. It's his first-ever audio interview, but as new bands continue to reference his old records, it surely won't be his last.  v

  • "Port Deadwards" was reissued last year on the cassette Heccraween.

The Listener is a weekly sampling of music Reader staffers love. Absolutely anything goes, and you can reach us at thelistener@chicagoreader.com.

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