Music History

In 1986, Ian MacKaye Dismissed the Term ‘Emo’: “The Stupidest Fucking Thing I’ve Ever Heard”

A quick history lesson on the most maligned genre name ever.

ian mackaye

Pat Graham/Dischord Records

The term ’emo’ originated from D.C. post-hardcore bands like Rites of Spring, Beefeater, and Embrace (featuring Minor Threat vet Ian MacKaye). The problems with the maligned term ’emo’ were best summarized by McKaye shortly after he read the January, 1986 issue of Thrasher magazine. That Thrasher issue contained perhaps the first print appearance of the term emo-core. From the magazine:

“It goes by the name of Emo-Core or Emotional Core. Bands like Embrace (featuring Ian MacKaye), Rites of Spring, Beefeater, among others, are taking the severe intensity of an emotional projection and adding it totally into their respective live sets. Crowds are said to be left in tears from the intensity. This sort of a gig is not a frequent affair as the bands are fully drained after their performances.” (source: Thrasher, January 1986)

MacKaye felt compelled to comment on the subject while onstage with Embrace at D.C.’s 9:30 Club in 1986. MacKaye announced, “I must say – ‘emo-core’ must be the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life. But, just in case you’re wondering – I read in my Thrasher the other day – that in fact, what my band along with what other bands in the city [are] playing is ‘emo-core’… Emotional hardcore. As if hardcore wasn’t emotional to begin with.

Doesn’t nearly all music aim to be emotional to some degree or another? It is an absurd term, but the descriptor is not altogether untrue: the genre that MacKaye helped pioneer became known for bands that wear their hearts on their sleeves. Even in 1986, emo was being mythologized and romanticized as a style of music that left audiences in tears and left performers “fully drained.”

Listen to the best
podcast in music.

Subscribe to the Culture Creature podcast:
Apple Podcasts | Android | Stitcher | RSS