Since its inception in Washington, D.C. in the 1980s, emo has reinvented itself multiple times—from Midwest emo to the “fifth wave,” from emoviolence to emo pop—and reached listeners worldwide. Yet not all styles and subgenres have been equally successful everywhere. In Europe, for example, it was screamo that caught on most readily. As early as the late 1990s, this violent and desperate style of emo was championed by substantial scenes in Germany, Sweden, France, and Italy, with bands like Raein, Daïtro, and Suis La Lune attaining a cult following and influence on par with that of their American counterparts.
But these Euro screamo acts ended up overshadowing bands that were influenced by other, often softer types of emo. “I think the difference is that screamo developed in parallel on both continents,” says Alberto Calabrese, singer and guitarist of one of the most promising emo bands in Italy at the moment, Stegosauro. “This meant that even European bands were extremely recognizable and ended up influencing many American acts. On the other hand, that kind of ’emo revival’ that came after the first wave was a properly American phenomenon that was simply ‘imported’ into Europe.”
While keeping American emo as the reference point, though, several European emo bands managed to carve their own niche within the continental hardcore punk scene over the years, from Eversor and Far Apart in the 1990s to the mid-2010s emo revival of the French band Sport, who are reuniting this year. Even one of the leading projects of the “fifth wave” of emo, Weatherday, actually hails from Europe, specifically Sweden. There even exist proper emo scenes: Stegosauro’s debut EP was released by Italian label To Lose La Track, home to a constellation of emo bands who gather every summer at a festival called Italian Party in central Italy.
Overshadowed by overseas bands and the local predominance of screamo, many of these groups have struggled to gain notice. It’s hard to say whether things are changing, but one thing is sure: in the past few years, a wave of new European emo bands have emerged—and they seem to be connecting more than ever before. “I think people all over Europe are more open now to shows with mixed lineups of heavy stuff and emo,” suggests Jonas Enbluten of Vienna-based Va Fa Napoli.
New festivals are springing up as well. In 2022, queer collective My Heart Your Mouth started organizing a yearly festival Emostiu in Barcelona. It serves as a showcase of Spain’s thriving emo scene, led by bands such as Comic Sans, Boys Kissing Boys, and Llacuna. Still, it’s much more than that: “When you think of emo, you think of basement shows, squats, sweat, tears, laughter, catharsis, cooperation…” the members of the collective said in a statement. “The DIY scene in Barcelona has always been about hardcore and punk; shows were full of macho guys invading other people’s space with no respect, and bands all sounded the same. We wanted to break with that.”
What follows is a list of seven bands from seven different countries who embody different styles of emo. From the carefree twinkly riffs of Comic Sans in Spain to the melancholy moods of St. Petersburg’s Nevasca, these acts are a testament to the good health the genre enjoys in Europe at the moment.
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At first glance, Stegosauro’s debut self-titled EP seems easy to figure out: first track, “Jap’n Cazz,” which turns the seminal emo band‘s name into an Italian swear word, and the opening riff hints at very clear influences. Yet the Vicenza band’s exquisitely crafted math rock is combined with an expressive urgency that has more to do with hardcore punk, a direct connection to the origin of emo music.
Hailing from Donostia in the Basque Country of Spain, Comic Sans sing in Spanish, dream of Scandinavia (in one of their songs, they repeatedly sing with a humorous undertone that they want to go to Sweden to eat surströmming), and sound like Midwest emo bands, with twinkly riffs and anthemic qualities that immediately evoke American groups like Tiny Moving Parts. On their debut full-length Éramos felices y no lo sabíamos, the band is nerdy and nostalgic at the same time, exemplified by song titles like “Gogeta Super Sayan 4” and “Pro Evolution Soccer 6.”
Va Fa Napoli are a self-defined “Midwest Vienna Emo” band, taking into account both their influences and the location of their practice room within the Austrian capital. Their debut EP embraces the fun and energetic side of emo, although they make room for a more bittersweet note. The third track “Menneske,” for example, begins slowly, with delicate, nostalgia-tinged guitars that evoke a sense of self-pity, but soon speeds up, bringing out anthemic gang vocals that belong to dusty basements and house shows. Singing along is inevitable.
Emo and winter imagery work well together, and Nevasca know that well. The band was founded in 2013 in Murmansk, Russia, the world’s largest city north of the Arctic Circle, and though they eventually relocated to Saint Petersburg, their music remains imbued with a sense of coldness. On their latest album Горки, sharp guitars sound like they are scratching against the walls of an ice fortress, while melodic vocals and dream pop atmospheres offer a glimmer of hope.
Formed in Jönköping, Sweden, in 2012, I Love your Lifestyle are one of the bands that lend credibility to the hypothesis that Scandinavia is the Midwest of Europe, even though that makes no sense geographically. On album after album, the quintet crafts a perfect blend of whiny and ironic teenage emo enriched by a mature pop sensibility. As sparkling guitars chase each other and go berserk, Lukas Feurst’s ever-sarcastic lyrics make failure sound more appealing and catchier than ever—check the beginning of “Car,” where he nonchalantly blurts: “Exciting times/ No job, yet everything to lose.”
It’s hard to find a band that sounds more nostalgic than Flight Mode. The Oslo, Norway-based outfit’s small discography works like a tale in three acts (three EPs of four songs each), where songwriter and frontman Sjur Lyseid takes the listener to specific places and times in his own life. It is an autobiographical confession written patiently and filtered through the lens of time. Gentle and soothing vocal melodies are carried along by a glacial guitar tapping that often evaporates into ethereal fragility.
On Moshimoshi’s debut album GREEN LP, the precision of seamlessly intertwining math riffs collides with the distorted chaos surrounding them in an explosive rhythmic frenzy. The result is 12 tracks of post-hardcore where all elements, from the jazzy dynamics of the drums to the screaming vocals, end up balancing each other out to perfection. Like an already experienced band, the Finnish quartet knows exactly when to slow down, when to stop, and when to burst all over again.