Trevor Baker on fans of emo

For emo fans at this weekend's Download fest mud is the least of their worries. Trevor Baker highlights a more pressing concern

Messageboards for Download, this weekend's festival of all things "wuuuugh!", "gruggggh!" and "uuuuuuurgh!" have been lighting up in the last month or so with discussions about the latest hot issue in the scary world of sinister death cult emo. That's right: is there anywhere at the site that you can plug in hair straighteners? And, if not, how effective are those little gas-powered ones that you can buy from Argos for £39.99? This discussion will come as no surprise to fans of other, grubbier, substratas of the rock universe where modern emo, far from being seen as dark or sinister, is regularly derided as a shallow, image-obsessed genre with about as much in common with "real" emo as McFly have with the Sex Pistols. That real emo was only ever listened to by about five people in Washington DC in 1986 doesn't seem to matter. Even on the Download website there were numerous posters scornfully pointing out that it's a festival, dude. You're going to spend all weekend rolling about in a mixture of mud and cider. You don't need to stress about what your hair looks like.

They've got a point but it's not hard to feel sorry for emo fans at the moment. When they do the normal things that teenagers do - you know, dressing up, worrying about their appearance and, erm, arranging to meet friends to borrow their hair-straighteners - they're attacked by their peers for being shallow. At the same time they're also depicted as sad loners who supposedly spend all their time sitting indoors cutting themselves. Clearly these descriptions can't both be true.

The Daily Mail, from whom of course the description of emo as a "sinister cult" is borrowed, even went so far as to say that an emo band, My Chemical Romance, could be held partly responsible for the suicide of a teenage girl, Hannah Bond. "Hannah was a happy 13-year-old until she became an 'emo' - part of a sinister teenage craze that romanticises death," it claimed. This despite the fact that My Chemical Romance's lyrics are so full of exhortations to carry on, don't give up and generally be the best damn emo you can be that they sound like they're auditioning for a coaching role in Rocky VII.

In reality emo has now reached the point where it means almost nothing except a particular style of clothes and hair. So fans can listen to the catchy but middle-of-the-road indie-pop of Jimmy Eat World, My Chemical Romance's dramatic glam rock or even the singer-songwriter moaning of Dashboard Confessional and, as long as they've got straightened black hair and the right trainers, they're emo.

This happens to all youth cults when they reach a certain level. If you've got a Mohican and a studded belt you're a punk in the eyes of the mainstream, even if your favourite music is Celine Dion. Fashions which are supposed to let members of the same tribe recognise each other don't work if the tribe gets too big - and the emo tribe is now so big that the label is meaningless. Any hairstyle which can be worn by fans of the self-explanatory sub-genre "screamo" and the musically upbeat, poppy likes of My Chemical Romance isn't really telling you much about what's going on inside the wearer's head.

Surely it can't be long before emo is just another of Britain's forgotten youth tribes, with its own table in the corner of every town's "alternative" pub and a small revival every dozen or so years. However, maybe not everybody is content to let the genre slip away so quietly.

The Daily Mail's tirades about emo can only have been a heroic attempt to try and save it. They wanted the kids to know that emo is not just about hair straighteners. It's about death, the heartbreak of suicide, missing someone you love, the pain and trauma of growing up in a world that doesn't understand you. My Chemical Romance, and the rest of the emo pack, couldn't have put it better themselves *

· Download, Donington Park, Derby, Sat & Sun

Festie foul ups: Sartorially speaking, emo kids are preparing for a difficult season. So who else is going to suffer?

· Nu-ravers Vast amounts of accessories, whistles, colourful shades, pendants and glow sticks may weigh down wearer in the event of mud, leading to The Great Klaxons Submergence Of 2008 in which 115 pink-clad people lose their lives.

· Happy house ravers Bikini top and hotpants combination. Perfect for mid-afternoon foam party, not quite so good when totally lost at 4am and literally freezing your tits off. · New folkies Beards and vast hemp ponchos not suited to post-global warming UK. Expect mass dehydration and death or, worse than that, widespread nudity.

· Liberteenies Skintight jeans ill-suited to the "quick in, quick out" demands of the portaloos. May give rise to self-soiling or, in particularly bad toilets, toxic shock syndrome. · B-Boys Will find vast, low-hanging jeans unsuited to festival environment. Hems will accumulate discarded falafel, beer cans and children, leading to restricted movement and inability to do the running man dance.

· New Sloanes Whatever you wear, Peaches, it's not going to look too great when people start throwing bottles of piss at you.

Pete Cashmore


Trevor Baker

The GuardianTramp

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