on orgcore: the worst genre name since skramz
In which I define what orgcore is for my fellow under 30s and discuss how the internet has changed in the last 10 years.
Recently on the podcast I do (go listen to endless scroll and hey maybe subscribe to the patreon to hear us do stuff like rank Jeff Rosenstock songs!) we did an episode with the delightful Hugo Reyes about Chicago emo. There was a point where I brought up orgcore in reference to the G-Man Tavern and The Lawrence Arms. It was a very funny joke because I'm very funny but nobody laughed. One of my co-hosts, Eli, told me I had to explain what that meant and it occurred to me that, while I know what orgcore is, I found it difficult in the moment to convey to someone else. From a sonic point of view, it's just like melodic punk mostly in the vein of Hot Water Music, but the next question is.. why would you call something that? Because orgcore reflects something more that makes it harder to convey easily. The quick explanation is simply that the origin of the term doesn’t reference the music directly, like emo or hardcore. It also doesn’t reference a way of releasing music like other cultural based genre definers like indie or DIY. The term takes a sort of non-serious descriptor and uses it to reflect the way certain music was discussed online and a collective taste of an online sphere. For that reason, it's sort of a third thing.
Of course, that third thing is punknews dot org. Orgcore gets defined simply as “music enjoyed by users of punknews” in a lot of places. On the episode I humorously reference it as living more as a type of person than a true musical genre. I think I also called it FestCore and Beard Punk. I believe all of those things are important to my understanding of it, but it would be kind of ridiculous to allege there isn’t a sound or shared reference despite none of those terms truly being a descriptor or indicator of sound unless you already know.
The term itself feels like such a relic of another time online and for that reason I think it's really interesting to try to understand what the ecosystem of the earlier social internet looked like and felt like. So in my infinite desire to be yelled at by 35 year old men, I’m here to do two things:
- when was orgcore, the term, first used?
- what really is orgcore?
And in a broader sense:
- how have changes on the social internet impacted online scene development?
So those are the objectives. Let’s explore the music fandom of internet’s past and try to pin down exactly when orgcore became a term and hopefully discover at least a few really funny posts in the process.
So if it's not a real genre... what bands are orgcore?
To answer this question, I think it's best we do not start on punknews itself. I think this journey starts on rateyourmusic. Let's get a base idea.
User bonus_oceans on RYM gives us a pretty good definition of the genre as well as an exhaustive list of things they believe to be orgcore or influences on orgcore:
"Orgcore" is a self-aware faux-genre whose name stems from Punknews.org. The readers of the site tend to gravitate towards, melodic, "gruff" punk rock. Typically, these bands pull influence from post-hardcore, folk punk and Americana, but occasionally also from ska, emo, synth punk and noise rock.
Both bands and fans in the orgcore scene typically have beards (hence the derogatory phrase "beardpunk"), wear flannel, and drink PBR. Almost all of the bands on this list have played The Fest, an annual punk rock festival in Gainesville. Prominent labels in the orgcore scene include No Idea Records (who sponsors The Fest), Asian Man Records, Red Scare Industries, Dead Broke Rekerds, A-F Records and Recess Records, among others.
Cities with notable orgcore scenes include Gainesville, Richmond, Chicago, Minneapolis, and San Jose, among others.
Bonus_Oceans, I respect your dedication to an exhaustive list, but I'm gonna pare this down. It's music that follows a lineage close to Jawbreaker and Avail and Lifetime and The Replacements, but we'll focus on the three main sections in my head.
First up, in the late 90s to early 2000s iteration, you truly see the fact that this isn't so much a genre really at all. Anyone who thinks The Weakerthans and Dillinger Four are bands to be lumped together is wrong except in the "oh I know a guy in a black denim jacket who likes both of them" sort of way. That's kind of just what orgcore is at it's.. uh.. core. Mostly these things seem to pre-date the term orgcore and heavily influence the later bands, but don't predate the site.
I once tweeted "does Dillinger Four like.. matter?" or something like that. Big mistake. I don't think I've ever received more angry messages except maybe when I said I didn't like the Coen Brothers. Fine, Dillinger Four matters and since then I've developed an affection for Midwestern Songs Of The Americas. True dudes rock summer vibes. If you're gonna yell at me for something in this article make it the fact that doublewiskeycokenoice simply isn't the song you should be telling people to listen to. Just okay at best. I'll give everyone one free pass to yell at me for that but I think I'm right.
But on the topic of D4, in my quest to find the earliest mention of orgcore on punknews, one of my favorite things I've found was Christmas Eve 2005 when punknews.org posted a gift for the users of their website in the form of a download of a Dillinger Four full live set. Devastatingly, I can't seem to download the set now, but the comment section is such a cute relic of a different time on the internet.
Okay I'm done. I just love this specific comment section so much. The other bands in this section are like Hot Water Music and Alkaline Trio before they got bad and The Bouncing Souls and Strike Anywhere, a band I know almost exclusively through knowing people get tattoos of the logo. Some bands are tattoo bands and Strike Anywhere is one of them. Our friend bonus_oceans also put Atom and His Package in this tier. Some bands say so much about a person. If you like Atom and His Package I feel like I know everything I could ever need to about you. There's nothing else I need to know.
One note on art, I think it's really interesting when an album art style begins to really feel like one genre. Pop punk and emo do a lot of houses, interior or exterior. Or like fake film photo looking stuff. Nothing says orgcore to me as much as the vibe of Death by Television by The Lillingtons.
I don't know that that is totally fair, but as a presently 23 year old fan of The Menzingers, it just feels like a lot of the bands in this sphere decided to go with really punchy illustrated covers in a way other genres didn't. It feels a little bit campy and definitely mid-2000s. As we move into what our friend Bonus_Oceans dubbed the "Golden Age" of orgcore, (note: it was about here it started feeling incredibly silly to keep typing the word "orgcore") The Lawrence Arms' Apathy and Exhaustion has a similar vibe. Earlier Menzingers records and The Copyrights records– they all do that illustrated thing that has the same vibe. I don't know that I like it aesthetically, but I do know what I'll get if I turn on a record with that kind of cover.
And now, as we enter the "golden age" of orgcore, I have to talk about The Lawrence Arms and also Against Me! I think if I was a person with slightly different life experiences, maybe I could like The Lawrence Arms. I don't particularly like that people call them "Larry Arms" like I get it, but I find it .. upsetting? I don't know. I will not be calling them that from here on out. Anyway, The Lawrence Arms feel to me like a man in Chicago being mean to me and not in a fun way. It's like a man checking my ID at the door when I'm 19 and being overly harsh about telling me I am not to move from the venue in the back. It feels threatening. Do I want that man to think I'm cool? Unfortunately, and confusingly, yes. But I know he never will and for that I cannot listen to The Lawrence Arms. (Though I will listen to Brendan Kelly's podcast with notable nice man, Tim Crisp.)
We move on. Against Me! is a band I enjoy perfectly fine, but in the framing of orgcore they're fundamental. One of the most jarring things about reading punknews from back then is just how far we've strayed from the concept of "selling out." I read a thread from 2016 when Laura Jane Grace's memoir was going to be published that was still referencing and debating the trajectory of Against Me!'s career. We very much live in a post-sellout world now. You're supposed to want your favorite bands to make more money. I've never really considered anything otherwise, so to read people talking about a band that they purport to love in these harsh, staunching oppositional terms was so jarring. Against Me! gets all of the vitriol I saw on punknews but I guess thats how you know they had some success.
It's here we also can talk about best pop punk band ever, The Ergs. After all, orgcore is mostly just pop punk that prefers to not be called that. We've also got Latterman and The Flatliners (whose album Cavalcade is a brilliant example of orgcore album art) and Teenage Bottlerocket and Shinobu and Lemuria and some folk punk stuff like AJJ (with the caveat of before Christmas Island). It's also here that Bomb The Music Industry! gets mentioned. Important for us to note as this is where our fearless leader in discovering orgcore, bonus_oceans, derives their name from (but if you're reading this I'm sure you knew that).
Ska punk and folk punk both have solid showings within orgcore. Neither are my thing, but it's undeniable so I'm acknowledging it now. I just don't like having fun so I don't like ska and my personal punk barometer tilts more beard than crust, if you know what I mean.
Before we move on, it's important to acknowledge yourscenesucks.com because if what I've been talking about doesn't really make a lot of sense to you, I imagine you at least know this guy. You've seen this guy.
This specific scenester was posted in 2007. That whole website.. what a relic. I'll be crushed if Rob Dobi ever stops paying for the site.
Now, we can move onto what bonus_oceans calls the "silver age" and I'll admit this is more stuff I have firsthand experience with. It's also where I see orgcore, in truth, ending.
These are your Springsteen worship bands. The Gaslight Anthem. Iron Chic. RVIVR. The Copyrights. The Menzingers. These are titans of the silver age. In 2010, The Menzingers' Chamberlain Waits was named best album of the year. An honor The Gaslight Anthem received the year prior for The '59 Sound. The Sidekicks are also members of the storied halls of punknews AOTY.
Then, in 2011, Joyce Manor (unfairly) beat Bomb The Music Industry! for album of the year. Now, is Joyce Manor orgcore? No, it's not. The defining factor of orgcore is not being respected by bigger publications. While Joyce Manor fit that description in 2011, that was their first album and in the early 2010s something happened. I can hear you yelling, "what killed orgcore?!" And I will tell you.
Emo Revival. Emo Revival killed orgcore.
How is that possible, you ask? I can't believe you brought this all back to emo, I can hear my friends say as they close this tab. But hear me out, when we discuss bands like Title Fight or Joyce Manor or Tigers Jaw or Into it. Over it. or Spraynard, we (The Youth that I will claim being part of until I'm 24) discuss them in context of emo. That's kind of the problem with a "genre" that's not about how music sounds.
I do think orgcore is often emo adjacent, but it's definitely not emo. In my opinion Joyce Manor isn't emo for all the same reasons Jawbreaker isn't emo. But because emo revival had such a huge critical moment, a lot of those bands end up being lumped into emo revival. Maybe you don't agree with that, but I am right.
Well, what about those that didn't ever get the E Word designation? Well, I'm sure someone will tell me "it's all just punk in my eyes" or something like that and that's fine if you want to just take that. You could also say it became overshadowed a little by the big pop-punk/emo crossover stuff like Modern Baseball. Bands like The Menzingers and The Sidekicks and Jeff Rosenstock would grow into new things with new reputations among younger people.
I do think that legacy exists and matters, especially the legacy of Jeff Rosenstock's previous bands and power pop as a whole, even if the word gets lost. The word is stupid anyway. I know, I've typed it about a thousand times.
Wait, weren't you supposed to find out when orgcore was first used?
You're right I was. Through many hours deepdiving into ten years of comment sections and long dead forums only accessible via Wayback Machine, the earliest example I can find of "orgcore" being said on punknews.org was in March of 2006.
It was an article about some band I've never heard of signing to Punk News Records which is kind of hilarious on its own.
I imagine the term had been used many times before, but I do like that they put it in quotes. I think that's cute.
Anyway, this post also has one of my favorite comments I read while doing this.
It's just, like, a really cute comment. This kind of stuff only exists in Facebook groups now which takes me, 2500 words into this, to something that matters a little more than defining a word that does a bad job describing a scene. I started looking into when orgcore was first used sort of as a joke that I thought would be funny to write about. Then I looked through punknews comments and desperately tried to find any trace of the old AsbolutePunk forums and looked through very old archived parts of the plan-it-x forums (yikes) and at one point found myself reading Weakerthans discourse on The Hold Steady's forums (Is the hold steady orgcore? ARE THE WEAKERTHANS PUNK?! Let me know what you think.) And after all that I found myself thinking more about the way the internet has changed in the last 15 years than anything.
I don't want to say that forums are dead or internet in this vein is gone, it's not, but it is different! And it just feels so strange to read people be so forcefully mean to each other! I think about what it would be like if on Twitter someone tried to say that they just fucking hated a band and thought you were stupid if you liked them and it's just.. it couldn't happen. You can hardly say you're not sold on a band without a wave of teenagers telling you to just let people enjoy things.
There's reddit, obviously, but the baseline way to use the internet is not reddit. The baseline way to experience music writing isn't really blogs like this either. Using forums and chatrooms and highly active comment sections is sort of a relic. Even just the premise of the word punknews where you'd go on a website and like scroll through posts to find out Dillinger Four or whoever announced they're working on new music but definitely not anywhere near announcing release, that feels like something of the past. Now that's a tweet.
The internet just isn't anonymous like this anymore. When we talk about "discourse" online it's usually stupid, but it's more about the way people are treating each other or how they're feeling about being excluded or how they're mad about Spotify than it is about, I don't know, arguing publicly over whether a band is good. The relative feeling of anonymity is what I loved about tumblr and why I found that site to be really comfortable for me as a teenager and I think that's mostly gone unless you really intentionally cultivate anonymity specifically to be rude online. Those people do exist, I just think the social internet in its dominant form isn't far enough from the musicians for it to just be fans chatting about what they like and what they think sucks unless the thing they think sucks is, like, allowed to be ragged on. I've thought for a long time that there not really being fan space online is a loss. Social media sites are geared toward people making content or hopefully buying something, not people talking to each other.
Fifth wave emo isn't unlike orgcore in its unity being more based online and about the people who like it (I'd even separate it into three sounds like I would orgcore!) but it's called emo and that's so distracting to me.
I'd be remiss to not mention that hyperpop and certain subsects of emo rap or soundcloud rap seem to come from much more insular internet communities and I think that's wonderful. Hyperpop has even fallen into a storied pattern of arguing about semantics which is the real marker of an ill-defined, internet based genre or scene.
Beyond that, most music blogs just don't have a strong enough identity anymore to cultivate even jokingly calling a group of bands something like orgcore. I don't think that kind of definition is possible at least surrounding punk. I don't know that it's a bad thing, necessarily, but I do think some of the cattiness of the old forums and stuff is just fun. Stupid, obviously, but also kinda fun!
Just, you know, don't be mean to me. Obviously.
Thank you for going with me on this journey to understanding orgcore. Big thank you to RateYourMusic user bonus_oceans. If anybody knows who that is please pass along the message.
I'm just gonna end this with some of my favorite comments and discussions:
Both these comments are great. User sleepwalker just being like "this year was ok. good not great." is an objectively hilarious way to respond to a best of list. And user skankbook is predicting the future! Just the following year 50% of people would be commenting on the punknews exclusive stream of On The Impossible Past with how much they hate it! Can't imagine their later albums fared any better. Though the later albums probably don't have weird misogynistic arguments about whether stretchmarks ruin the album cover or not. Mixed bag there.
Miranda Reinert is a music adjacent writer, zine maker, and law school drop out based in Philadelphia. Follow me on Twitter to hear more about music and to yell at me for my one D4 opinion: @mirandareinert. I also have a paid tier of this newsletter for $5 a month or $45 a year! If you do that I'll give you at least one free zine! Wow! Might want to get in on that! You may also just send me small bits of money at @miranda-reinert on venmo if you want. But as always, thanks for reading!