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Somehow Skrillex Might Just Make Emo Great Again in 2017

Forget Lil Peep. If "emo" is making any sort of comeback this year, it's going to sound like From First to Last's "Make War."
Emma Garland
London, GB

It's been 11 years since Sonny Moore released music with post-hardcore outfit From First To Last. For those among us who were introduced to him as Skrillex first and then worked backwards, From First to Last were the poster boys of a generation raised by Myspace. Their mid-00s albums Dear Diary My Teen Angst Has a Body Count and Heroine were the cornerstones of a subculture concerned with melodrama, beatdowns and boys who did their makeup to look like they'd been punched in both eyes. In the best possible way, they were every stereotype attached to the word "emo" rolled into five hot messes in leg-strangling jeans.


When Moore left in 2007, at just 20-years-old, to become Skrillex, From First to Last felt like a different band altogether – like a Thursday without Geoff Rickly, or The Blood Brothers without Johnny Whitney. Despite guitarist Matt Good being the founding and only consistent member as well as the primary songwriter (he wrote Dear Diary in two weeks), it just wasn't the same. Which is perhaps one reason why a brand-new From First To Last song called "Make War" released yesterday, featuring vocals from Moore, caused a commotion equivalent only to that time Gerard Way and Frank Iero snogged on stage. The other reason is: it bangs just as hard as anything they released at their peak.

It may be produced to sound more like 5 Seconds of Summer than, say, From Autumn To Ashes, but other than that there's very little about "Make War" that deviates from a blueprint FFTL laid out in the beginning. The lead riff sounds like it was left on the cutting room floor for Heroine, the double kick drum pedal asserts itself in a way that says 'yes, sorry, have we not been using one all this time?', and the lyrical content… well. The official lyrics haven't been confirmed yet, but I'm fairly certain it contains the lines: "happy anniversary from the bottom of my credit card", "I wish the truth could tell what your Snapchat put me through" and "get off the bed and out the door", all of which would have been MSN screen names just waiting to happen. For all intents and purposes, it's everything we know about "mall emo" remodelled for 2017.


Then, there's the artwork, which builds on this aesthetic of bringing the past up to date with the future: a wet peach emoji caged in barbed wire, laying in the middle of a soft pink background. It's theatrical; it's sex wrapped up in violence; it's a blatant appeal to the demographic it's serving and alienating for everyone else. Similarities have been drawn between the artwork for Culture Abuse's 2016 album Peach, making it the latest battle in a rich history of Who Bit What (also featuring: The Dillinger Escape Plan vs A Ghost Inside and Bring Me The Horizon vs Coldplay). Of course, Moore has already responded, claiming the similarities are a "complete coincidence". But what's more shocking is that Sonny Moore and Matt Good managed to bridge an 11-year creative gap and, against all reasonable odds, write something that feels like a perfect continuation in the timeline of Sonny Moore-era From First To Last.

Obviously the cultural landscape today is different to how it was in 2004 – lyrics about hoping your ex-girlfriend chokes to death are, I'm pleased to say, far less likely to fly (although there is a dubious line about being "cock strong" and something about "whore kids"). But as consumers we are also less forgiving in other ways. Thanks to the same technology that elevated From First To Last in the first place, we have access to all music now. We live in an age that has transcended the barriers between the underground and the pop elite; where Sonny Moore produces for Justin Bieber and Frank Ocean collaborates with Alex G. You can't just throw out something with a beatdown and expect people to get excited, which really is all it took once.


For what it's worth, the word "emo" means absolutely nothing other than the connotations it carries. In the 90s it meant soft guitars and songs about heartbreak, in the 00s it meant two guitars doing a harmonised metal solo and songs about heartbreak, and now, apparently, it also means Soundcloud rappers with more than one bar about suicide. The term was attached to bands on both Epitaph and Drive Thru Records – bands that had absolutely nothing in common other than the fact that they all played Warped Tour, made a fucking meal out of dual vocals and, for the most part, dropped off the commercial radar in the late-00s. Like From First To Last, the majority artists of that era didn't break up. Most either adapted (Brand New, Taking Back Sunday, Fall Out Boy), quietly kept going (The Early November, Hawthorne Heights, Funeral For A Friend), or ended up going on hiatus and occasionally coming back to do anniversary shows (The Movielife, Finch, Underoath). But apart from Anthony Green returning to Saosin, to a lesser extent, no other band from that era has faced the same challenge that From First To Last face now – one where they have to articulate a band that really only existed within a two-year window, more than a decade ago, to a mixture of former scene kids and Skrillex fans. That said, there's already a Facebook group called FFTL KVLT (KVLT being the name of their former fan board), so, it's pretty much already working.

In retrospect, it's a blessing that From First To Last were never taken all that seriously. Like every other band who performed in eyeshadow and nail polish they were derided for the same reasons people traditionally deride boybands: an obvious concern for their appearance, mainstream appeal and significantly young female fan base. Today, that actually makes their job pretty easy, because any sort of revival is pure fan service for anyone who was on their side to begin with. If you thought From First To Last were shit then, you're certainly not going to think any differently of them now. But if you grew up listening to Dear Diary and don't harbour a mark of shame about it, "Make War" is the first indicator that something you once set as your Myspace profile song could ever have a place in current pop music. It may (or may not, depending on your aural preferences) benefit from Moore's years as seasoned Grammy-winning producer, but "Make War" does as much as it can to capitalise on nostalgia for a version of From First To Last we had left for dead in a box marked "hair extensions".

Most present-day emo fans are largely invested in the hits. For better or worse, anybody going to see Brand New in 2017 and shouting "Hell yeah! Play 'Mene'!" is in the minority. Perhaps because it makes a direct appeal to the sensibilities most other bands have surpassed, or perhaps because it's been so long since Sonny Moore has sung, "Make War" actually feels exciting. It's no "Populace in Two", but it's pretty fucking close. This is just one song, though, and perhaps a full album – 10 to 19 tracks couched in nostalgia – won't hold up so well. On that note, for anyone wondering if this is all we're going to get, "Make War" follows another song that was teased in November (also featuring Moore on vocals), a photo of Moore and Good in a room with producer John Feldmann and Blink-182's Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker, posted a few days ago, and now there's an official From First To Last Instagram account listing Skrillex, Matt Good, Travis Richter and Derek Bloom as members (no bassist though… enter Mark Hoppus?). So, presumably, there's more to come. If "emo" is making any sort of comeback in 2017 then this is exactly what it should sound like.

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