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BEN & JIM: Pop-Punk & Emo vs. Indie Rock

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Let me introduce you to Ben.

Ben is my sister-in-law’s brother, and ever since we met, we’ve talked about music. The first time I met Ben, he approached me with various questions on what I’ve seen and done in the music industry. Being a former VJ for a well-known music television station, I’ll occasionally find myself knee-deep in these types of situations.

Many times, it seems, people will prod a little to see if I’m really into music, or if I am just a talking head with no clue. More times than not, the conversation will cut straight to the heart of independent music.

That’s where I thought Ben was headed with his series of questions. No doubt the kid had a vast knowledge of music, but I was surprised to find out–when the conversation went full tilt–that Ben was throwing out names embraced by the pop-punk and emo rock world. As I vigorously and passionately threw out names familiar to the readers of Pitchfork Media, Ben did the same for frequent visitors to Absolute Punk. What we had here wasn’t necessarily an argument about whose taste in music was better, it was a dialog about each other’s musical interests, likes, and dislikes.

Do I favor indie-minded acts over bands that frequent the Bamboozle Festival? Absolutely. However, am I still interested in what’s happening on that side of the world? Indeed I am–I just don’t have the patience to sift through piles of albums until I find that one pop-punk gem that I love.

So that’s where Ben comes in. Since we’ve known each other, he has become my one-man, Warped Tour-lovin’ focus group. Because we usually end up talking about music every time we see each other, I thought it would be a good idea–and beneficial to some of our indie music die-hards who don’t know what’s going on outside their own music circles–to share our back-and-forth discourse with all of you:

I stopped going to the Warped Tour a few years ago. The tight-jean, over-grown bang wearing bands became a little too much for me to handle. I’m assuming you attend regularly? Right now, sell me on the Warped Tour. Why should I go?

I went to Warped Tour in ’06 and ’07, but I didn’t go this year. I didn’t go because I wasn’t happy with the lineup playing at my date. I’m not going to spend all day outside listening to bands I don’t enjoy and neither should you. The only reason anybody should go is if they like who is playing.

Bamboozle is a freakin’ 3-day commitment, how are you going to get me to go to that?

First, I am going to make you walk outside of your apartment, because once you do you are practically there. Then I’ll probably tell you that Bamboozle is not neccesarily a 3-day commitment. Bamboozle takes place on Saturday and Sunday, and the festival called “Hoodwink” takes place Friday night. Hoodwink is a group of about 20 bands that play under fake names. You can also buy tickets for just Sunday or Saturday.

Anyway the reason you should go is simple–there are nine stages with incredibly talented bands from all different genres. If you went this year you would have been able to see everything from The Hush Sound and Every Time I Die to Jimmy Eat World, Snoop Dogg, Bret Michaels, Thrice, Lydia, Valencia, etc. There is something for everybody.

When I was in college–crap, you were probably only four or five years old–emo music was an underground thing that occasionally popped up on college radio. A handful of years ago it surfaced to the mainstream. Just for clarification, I’m going to say that “emo” is a brand of music featuring sweet, sing-songy-high-pitched verses, with gruff, Cookie Monster-like choruses–or just to keep with the theme here–emotive choruses. I have a few questions for you, here’s my first, why do you think so many emo bands never wanted to embrace the term emo?

A while ago some kid made a myspace called “Emo Sucks,” or something like that. He friended Hawthorne Heights and then made a blog post bashing them for being friends with someone who hates “Emo”. Hawthorne Heights responded with a blog explaining that they don’t consider themselves emo, because they don’t make “emo” music. They said that emo is basically a subgenre of hardcore punk that became popular in the mid 80’s and ended in the early 90’s. So Hawthorne Heights didn’t want to be defined as something they are not, and I’m sure other bands don’t as well. It also doesn’t help that the word “emo” has such a negative aura about it.

Yeah, but you gotta admit that just a few years ago there was a surplus of bands that had the formula of sing-songy verses with hardcore-choruses, Hawthorne Heights included. Like it or not, they were playing what was defined as “emo” music. Gangsta Rap has a zillion negative connotations and you never heard Dr. Dre or Ice Cube complaining about it.

Yeah, but can’t you say that about every music genre? Turn on any mainstream rock radio station and try to tell me the majority of those bands don’t sound very, very similar.

And I would classify most of those bands as “modern rock radio” groups, but we’ll save the Hinder and Saving Abel conversation for another day. Here’s my second part of the question, is the term “emo” even applicable anymore? If an indie music critic wanted to quickly write off a band by using the term “emo,” would that be lazy of him or her?

I don’t think it’s an appropriate term anymore. It can be used to describe so many different bands in so many different genres. It would definitely be lazy to lump a band into a group with a bunch of other bands that it doesn’t sound like.

Over the last few years, what groups do you think were unjustly given the “emo” tag?

Pretty much every band that has gained the tag after the mid ’90’s. Emo was originally used to describe bands like Rites of Spring and Inkwell. Then it was used to describe post-hardcore/indie bands like Sunny Day Real Estate and Mineral. Now in the 21st century it is used to describe pretty much every single pop-punk/pop-rock band that has somewhat emotional lyrics.

Back to indie critics, I know many of them would consider a lot of the bands you listen to as training wheels for more important bands that you’ll get into once your musical education develops. What would you say to this?

I would say that sounds pretty elitist. I may one day enjoy bands that people deem to be “important,” but that would never mean the talented bands I listen to now aren’t important. I’d also say that those people need to open their eyes and ears because there are a lot of talented bands out there that may not be important or mainstream enough for them to enjoy.

Believe it or not, I have not lost my love for pop-punk. If done right, I can appreciate any type of music. In your opinion, what pop-punk or emo (post-emo?) bands should I be listening to right now?

Fall Out Boy, Take This To Your Grave
Valencia, We All Need a Reason to Believe
Hit The Lights, This is a Stick Up…Don’t Make it a Murder
Four Year Strong, Rise or Die Trying

Alright, what bands are rubbish?

Well generally speaking I dislike it when bands do everything in their power to market their music to pre-teen girls. Bands like Boys Like Girls, Metro Station, and Cute Is What We Aim For certainly fall under that category.

Are there any bands hailed in certain indie rock circles that you think are pure rubbish right now?

There are definitely indie bands I am not a fan of, but I don’t have the knowledge of indie music to be able to neccessarily distinguish the great from not so great. I’ve listened to enough pop-rock/pop-punk/whatever-you-want-to-call-it, to be able to tell you that one band does it much better than another.

But isn’t there one or two hailed indie bands that you’ve heard and thought, “Wow, this totally doesn’t do it for me”?

Radiohead’s Kid A doesn’t do it for me

Me neither, although “Idioteque” is a pretty damn good song.

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Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

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Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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