The popularity of the scene subculture was one of the more distinctive moments in the history of alternative fashion and subculture. Defined by its bright coloured clothing, racoon tail-inspired hair dyeing, and musical groups as stylistically different as All Time Low, Asking Alexandria, and 3OH!3, it entered the mainstream in the mid-2000s through influencers and musicians who gained attention via MySpace.
Although scene kids were associated with musical styles like metalcore, crunkcore, and neon pop-punk, there was never a “scene” genre the way there was for other subcultures like punk, emo or goth. Because of this, scene subculture’s origins aren’t as clean-cut as other parts of alternative music history, going back to a time when emo was still associated with hardcore.
To understand the origins of the scene, we need to look at the history of its parent subculture: emo. Despite emo music originating from the mid-’80s’ Washington D.C. hardcore scene, the earliest signs of the emo subculture were seen around San Diego in the mid-’90s, with emo and screamo bands like Heroin, Antioch Arrow, and Swing Kids. Many members of these bands wore their hair dyed black with a straight fringe, which led to them being termed as “Spock rock”, in reference to Leonard Nimoy’s portrayal of the character in Star Trek.
During his time as the vocalist of Swing Kids, Justin Pearson developed this style to have choppy spikes protruding from the back of the head, creating an early form of the “shotgun blast” hairstyle, which would become a popular scene haircut. Additionally, the music video for Swedish hardcore band Refused’s 1998 song, “New Noise”, popularised the side-swept fringe, a defining point in both emo and scene. However, emo fashion during this time was more in line with “geek cheque”, than what it became known for: Buddy Holly glasses, buttoned-up shirts, cardigans and sweater vests were “the look” in emo during the ‘90s.
This only changed because of the influence from Orange County metalcore band Eighteen Visions. With members studying cosmetology and working jobs at fashion boutiques and hairdressers, they brought a sense of style to emo and hardcore that came to be called “fashioncore”. Their image was an active effort to look striking and distinctive amongst the hyper-masculine look of late-’90s hardcore, by swapping army and sports clothes with skinny jeans, eyeliner, and hairstyles influenced by Orgy and Unbroken.
“The fashioncore thing did definitely pick up steam in our scene around 2002,” says Madeline Pendleton in our email exchange in March of this year. Pendleton, an early-2000s emo and current designer for Tunnel Vision, says “Camo cargo shorts and hoodies got replaced with girl jeans, white belts, collared black shirts, and flat-ironed hair. It hit fast and was obvious.” However, Eighteen Visions were not in a cultural vacuum, the de-brutalisation of hardcore was a bit of a movement at the time, with AFI, American Nightmare, and Poison the Well all presenting themselves much less hyper-masculine than most of the scene.
Javier Van Huss from Eighteen Visions experimented heavily with the hair of his band, by dyeing streaks and blocks and cutting swooping fringes, influencing many in the scene to do the same. “We used the social media site Madradhair and there was kind of a culture around ‘weird hair’ developing on the whole,” says Pendleton, “the hair trend had gone from black-bob-with-bangs into an A-Line haircut… this was pretty popular everywhere — like even with normies — the only difference was the hardcore kids dyed ours black.”
The A-line cut’s emphasis on layering led to increased customization: “we slowly just started getting more extreme with ours — cutting the top ultra-short and ultimately doing asymmetric bangs, too” says Pendleton, “We thought of it more like a ‘razor haircut’, and I even started giving people donation-based razor cuts in my living room”..
One of the more unorthodox attributes, for a punk movement, that came to define scene was the interest in electronic music. This was most prominent in two related but hugely different musical styles: electronicore, which saw bands like Attack Attack, Asking Alexandria, and I See Stars merge trance and rave parts into metalcore songs; and crunkcore, where groups like brokeNCYDE, Hollywood Undead, and Dot Dot Curve incorporate screamed vocals into pop and crunk rap instrumentals.
“The movement towards electronica probably can be most attributed to the Faint,” says Pendleton “[they are] what got a lot of emo kids actually into electroclash, since they kind of blurred the lines. Bright Eyes even released a techno-ish album after that, Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, in 2005… [they were] the most popular emo act at the time”.
At around the same time sass music was rising. It’s a very short-lived subgenre of emo that was characterised by lisped vocals, homoerotic lyrics, and dance parts. Played by groups like An Albatross, the Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower and later-Orchid, the white belt became so emblematic of this particular style that hardcore purists derided it by calling it “white belt hardcore”. Synths, though not integral to sass, were one of the most obvious points of division between it and other emo of the time. The fashion style of sass musicians, particular Johnny Whitney of sass frontrunners the Blood Brothers, very closely resembled what would come to define the MySpace scene in the following years.
This period is the point when scene began solidifying itself as a legitimate sub-style of emo. “The first time I heard ‘scene’ get used was in the context of the hardcore scene. Like ‘kids in the scene’ or ‘what’s happening to the scene’… That led to the emergence [around 2002] of the term “Scene Queen”, usually used to derisively describe hot popular girls in the hardcore scene,” says Pendleton. “It was kind of a jab, but we were all still at the same shows and all hung out together for the most part”.
In the following years, many scene kids began to use social networks like Buzznet, hi5, and, most notably, MySpace. Here the next generation of scene cemented itself as a subculture completely disconnected from hardcore. “The music started to gravitate more towards metalcore and slowly the old school hardcore shows started to get booked separately from the new metalcore-adjacent emo/screamo sound,” says Pendleton, “It just kind of naturally happened, but there wasn’t actual animosity or anything. I still went to both shows.”
As scene entered the mainstream via metalcore, and eventually pop punk, “screamo” became a term used, but not entirely understood, leading to the invention of the term “skramz”, generally used jokingly. “Skramz was a term I didn’t hear until around 2006, when I met my college boyfriend who was in the band Loma Prieta,” says Pendleton “he politely described how the hardcore kids started using that term for their version of screamo so people didn’t get it confused with fashiony metalcore ‘screamo’.”
As it progressed, the subculture became a melting pot of wildly different aesthetic influences. Most renowned was those who merged the subculture with brightly coloured party fashion, defined by New York dance pop group Cobra Starship. By the time the band formed, frontman Gabe Saporta was a veteran of the New Jersey pop punk scene, and had become disheartened with its growing obsession with all-black scene fashion. Because of this, the band crafted a colourful, Harajuku and rave-influenced aesthetic, incorporating neon-shell suits, snapbacks, shutter shades, and gold foil shirts. Another sect was those who embraced ‘80s glam metal aesthetics, most associated with Escape the Fate, Black Veil Brides and Falling in Reverse, this seems to have begun with Blessed by a Broken Heart, however they did it pseudo-ironically.
During most of the 2010s, it seemed like scene had been a flash-in-the-pan with no overwhelming influence. However, towards the end of the decade, its legacy did finally manifest itself. This can most notably be seen through the emergence of e-boys and e-girls, whose style heavily harkens back to scene. Additionally, emo rap, which was one of the most successful genres of the late-2010s, had numerous practitioners who frequently cited scene bands as influences. Lil Aaron and Lil Lotus and non-emo rappers Mod Sun, Post Malone, and Blackbear even began their musical careers as members of scene bands.
The scene metalcore revival, which emerged from both the hardcore and emo rap scenes, is also in full swing, led by SeeYouSpaceCowboy, Static Dress, If I Die First, and CrazyEightyEight. The current hot genre, hyperpop, bears undoubted resemblances to crunkcore. This, along with the success of scene fashion on TikTok and the popularity of the MySpace-inspired social network FriendProject ultimately hints towards a possible future for the subculture in the 2020s.
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Vadnal, Julie. “Gave Saporta: The Cobra Starship front man will buy the shoes off your feet”. Elle. 4 November 2009.
Wiederhorn, John and Katherine Turman, Katherine. “How Eighteen Visions Became the OC Metal Band Know for Inventing ‘Fashioncore'”. OC Weekly. 17 July 2013.