How to Be Cool: A Primer On Kittencore

I know what you’re thinking. “I already read your State of the Scene Address, and I’ve already done my best to copy the Skramz Elitist in your emo dork article; how much cooler can I be? When will I ever be true enough to not be regarded as a poser?”

The truth is, you will always be a poser. At least until you get into kittencore.

I can see you already, scratching your head, eminently puzzled. “What on earth is kittencore?” you ask, on the verge of tears because of your own poser-dom. Allow me to explain, gentle reader, what kittencore is.

(Timeline by Grizz).

Kittencore is, to put it in the most simple terms, screamo music made by young kids– usually around 16 to 18 years of age– who haven’t broken in their screams yet. Therefore, they sound high-pitched and mewly, like kittens.

The progenitors of kittencore are widely agreed to be Portraits of Past, who put out a demo in 1993 as well as a split with Bleed, which featured agonizingly high shrieks that remain unmatched to this day. “Journeyman” and “NYC” are probably the apex of these screams. In many ways, it could be argued that Portraits of Past invented the archetypical screamo vocal style. The Reach Out/Honeywell split is also widely regarded as influential in the invention of kittencore-esque vocals.

The style was developed further throughout 1998-2000, featuring a who’s-who of popular, well-remembered skramz bands, such as The Spirit of Versailles, I Have Dreams, In Loving Memory (whose ferocious style often gets them tagged as “kittenviolence”), …Of Death, Rue Morgue, and the debut album of Love Lost But Not Forgotten, all of which feature this type of vocal style as well as quite young members.

However, kittencore didn’t really come into its own as a genre until 2002, with the advent of what I like to call kittencore’s Holy Trinity: Oh, You Skeleton!, Phasma Phasmatis, and Seeing Means More (disclaimer: I am friends with Alex Bigman, but that has no bearing on Seeing Means More’s place within the kittencore pantheon).

I’ve always loved the part at the end where you can’t tell whether the vocalist is shrieking or it’s just piercing feedback.

screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-3-23-12-pm

Only 341 listeners on last.fm? Now that’s what I call elite kittencore!

Oh, You Skeleton! are probably the most “kvlt” of the kittencore bands. Not much is actually known about them; laughably, it has been postulated on last.fm that they are from Germany (they are from Philadelphia). It’s unfortunate that they are so unknown, because they could actually write some killer fucking riffs. Their demo is worth tracking down; eight or so years ago I had it on a burned CD-R (along with a comp track by September, some random songs from Atmosphere’s Overcast!, and some Tenacious D bootlegs from ’96), but I think it’s relatively easy to find now.

Phasma Phasmatis are one of those bands that the CMHWAK forums always cream over; this may be because Chris, their singer/guitarist, used to post a lot there, circa 2010 (jigsawchris, what up). Funny enough, they were set to record a split with Oh, You Skeleton!, but it fell through completely and both bands broke up less than a year after forming. Short-lived bands are easily the norm in screamo, but kittencore bands usually bring it a completely new level. More to the point, Phasma were excellent songwriters, which is probably the key to their lasting popularity.

If you can get ahold of any material Seeing Means More put out before 2006, it’s apparent that their earlier stuff is far less indebted to metalcore than their later stuff. Seeing Means More were basically just babies when they began in 2002 (they even had a keyboardist, how cute), and so slotted in neatly to the kittencore scene. I’ll be honest, their later material, especially their Clouds Obscured to Hearts LP, is far superior, but their early scrappy energy is enjoyable and fun. Also, Bigmin went on to some fucking great bands, including the highly elite power pop outfit Fight Fair (“Jeromes Dream Orchid 10-inch skull split UH”) and his new project, Ghost Spirit, which hasn’t released anything yet, but I can personally tell you absolutely fucking rips.

If there was any kittencore band that vied for the status of the three I’ve just mentioned, it’s Vincent Black Shadow. Nowadays they are so woefully obscure that even YouTube can’t find them, but if you manage to track any of their stuff down, “Dearest Despondency” and “Broken Promises” are sick.

There’s also a ton of other bands that never got anywhere and then disappeared: Eclipse of Eden, She Notes the Chariots, and Deadseraphim, for example. Besides the Spirit of Versailles, the entire Init Records roster could qualify, as well, especially Dispensing of False Halos. And of course, no discussion of kittencore is complete without mentioning the popular Johnny-come-latelys in iwrotehaikusaboutcannibalisminyouryearbook.

This is absolutely fucking dreadful.

At some point, this terrible prog band called Oscar Explores the World Outside hijacked the term “kittencore” to refer to their awful, pretentious brand of pappy shit, and it’s somehow become the most widely-recognized application of the word. This is absurd and disappointing, and my hope is that by publishing this article, the classical meaning of kittencore will become more popular and better-known. Sure, it means that I am now a bit less elite for sharing my knowledge, but if that’s the price to pay for re-popularizing the term kittencore, I’m willing to do it.

Starting around 2013, there’s been somewhat of a kittencore revival: bands from the San Diego clique like Flowers Taped to Pens, Nayru, and Meryl Streaker; RVA bands like Swan of Tuonela and Kaoru Nagisa, who somewhat overlap with blackened skramz; close neighbors Weak Wrists; and many, many more, who are reviving this absurd vocal style, although not all of the members meet the requisite age requirement. This is perhaps because 16 year olds nowadays are smart enough not to listen to terrible music like skramz. Either way, I’m just happy that whispy shrieks are back in vogue once more. If you’re underage and are unlucky/miserable enough to be into skramz, do everyone a favor and start the next kittencore band. Maybe you too will one day have 341 listeners on last.fm. One can hope, right?

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