The Non-Binary Faces of Screamo

Foxtails has become an integral part of an emerging, welcoming social movement in screamo, centered around a Facebook group they moderate – skramcave.

October 30, 2019

Across the nation, emo has kept alive, typically in geographically-clustered communities that often become tight-knit and warm for those who are included. But emo music is in an era of scandal, as many frontmen (Dylan Mattheisen, Cameron Boucher, Jesse Lacey, etc.) have been accused of sexual assault and harassment. These are only the crimes that are publicized – plenty of emo show attendants can attest to the general state of emo as a “notoriously sexist commodity,” as Jenn Pelly wrote for Pitchfork, filled by casual misogyny and harassment. As Foxtails’ frontperson Megan Cadena-Fernandez puts it, “I was harassed/fetishized at shows for being this ‘alternative’ afab [assigned-female-at-birth] person, and people felt they had the right to make comments on how I’m cute and tiny.” These sorts of experiences are seen as commonplace for afabs at emo shows, Megan explains. “I can’t speak for every woman or afab or femme presenting person in screamo, but I’m sure they have had their fair share of weird, indirect discrimination.” Which raises the question: if we see harassment show-after-show, how can we expect to see afabs raised up to become leaders in the community?

Foxtails has become some of the most active allies in the fight against this sort of culture. The Connecticut-based screamo band is led by Megan, a non-binary bassist and vocalist of Colombian–Argentinian background, alongside Jon Benham – a non-binary amab (assigned-male-at-birth) guitarist and vocalist – and Michael Larocca, their male drummer currently based in New York at The New School. In an interview I conducted with Megan and Jon, I sensed the pride they take in being part of a new, better, more welcoming community primarily based around skramcave, a Facebook group for screamo lovers whose heros include Senza, Lord Snow, City of Caterpillar, and Foxtails.

As Megan recalls, the online community for screamo partially originated with the Facebook group Nde (non-denominational emo), which was ultimately shut down due to constant internal strife, or in Megan’s words, “[being] overrun with people being dicks for no reason, which is what kinda happens in a lot of emo/screamo groups.” Casual bullying and small arguments can spiral out of control in these communities. Megan, a former admin of Nde and current admin of skramcave, explained that after skramcave’s early stages of infighting, “the other admins and I just made a decision to shut down member requests for a while – we had it as a secret group for a long time – and then we also just started filtering through the posts, just so that if there was anything inflammatory, anything pertaining to any irrelevant situation, we’re just able to filter it out. Which ended up being really good for the group, because now it is what it’s meant to be, which is a community of musicians or people who appreciate the music, and who can talk about the music without feeling like they’ll get bullied or made fun of.”

For queer-identifying people such as Megan and Jon, growing up in the rural and suburban areas of the Lower Naugatuck Valley in Connecticut was not simple, and neither was their starting experiences in screamo. The second time that Jon says he wanted to quit music “was because I was getting bullied pretty hard at my [high school] for wanting to make music.” The time never seemed right until meeting Megan and Michael, at which point Foxtails was formed.

The otherness of being queer and a person-of-color consciously and unconsciously seeps into Megan’s lyrics, including a track on Foxtails’ latest record, Querida Hija, that is written entirely in Spanish (“Querida”). “One of the things I’ve always admired about other POC in the scene is that they aren’t afraid to place themselves in the middle. They aren’t afraid to be loud, and as an effect, other POC feel more empowered to join,” says Megan. “It’s easier said than done obviously, when the experience can feel kind of alienating.”

And yet, Querida Hija presents, in its very name, an identity that the whiteness of the scene threatens to erase. Megan, who names all of Foxtails’ songs and writes all of their lyrics, explains that “when I first started in the scene, I did find myself coding/erasing myself for white people in order to feel more included, or taken more seriously. I realize now that that’s bullshit.”

The presentation of Spanish lyrics in screamo is a movement within the scene that is beginning to see traction. Megan says that “I live for bands like Amygdala, Lord Snow, Entierralos, and Massa Nera that bring Latinx voices to the forefront and aren’t afraid to speak in Spanish! It’s crazy to me that with all the Latinx people in screamo that exist, those are the few bands that come to mind that I know to have written lyrics in Spanish.”

The confidence felt in this new online community, where harassment and cyberbullying are no longer as freely tolerated, has seeped into a confidence for Foxtails itself, manifesting on Querida Hija. Since releasing III, their previous record, they have become more “organically math-y,” coming upon the complex time signatures and irregular riffs that have become staples of their music in less forced, more comfortable ways. Megan explains the distinction the band draws between III and Querida Hija by exploring the emotions felt in the production, done by former Orchid guitarist Will Killingsworth. “[Will made] III sound like it was a tape recording, so it had that kind of atmospheric sadness inherently placed in it, whereas Querida Hija was much more sure. It’s much more confident, intense, and driven, whereas III was melancholy, glooming, and ruminating.” Jon says that the new album asserts, “this is us, embrace it or not.”

That confidence is a confidence placed not only in new music, but in the new presentation of identities previously hidden, “shoved away because people don’t get it,” says Megan. Megan and Jon’s hope is that by lifting their voices, Foxtails can be like their peers Massa Nera and Amygdala and show other POC that the bravery needed to show themselves is within reach. When I ask Megan and Jon for any last words they would like to say on Querida Hija, Megan says, “expect something different – and that’s all I can say – but it’s still us. III was an outpouring, and Querida Hija is a statement.”