It might not be the biggest name in the festival game, but Atlanta’s Wrecking Ball is the stuff of legends for a certain music scene. Now in its second year, the fest is dedicated to celebrating emo, a genre that never really went away. The weekend hosted reunions, massive final shows, and most importantly, young bands ready to take the place of acts that inspired them to get into guitar-based whine in the first place. From Motion City Soundtrack’s goodbye show to Thursday’s triumphant return, here are the best things we saw down at the impossibly hot Georgia festival.
Emo legends host an intimate DJ night
There are two different DJ groups in both Los Angeles and Brooklyn referred to as “Emo Nite.” These teams of impossibly good looking young people make a financial killing by playing the mall punk stuff of the late ‘00s – think Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance. Before Wrecking Ball kicked off, Thursday’s frontman Geoff Rickly and drummer Tucker Rule put on their own version of the party, spinning tunes from an earlier era, like those by The Get Up Kids and Saves the Day. But their sets didn’t stop another DJ from pressing play on a 2004 In Love and Death track by The Used, something Rickly would later deemed an accident.
Diarrhea Planet’s universe
It’s never easy to play first at an all-day outdoor fest—especially in Southern summer heat in the dead of August. Diarrhea Planet managed to overcome all the elements (the thematic ones, too—they’re not technically an emo band) for a shred-tastic Saturday afternoon set. If you can manage to get past their bathroom humor name, it’s easy to appreciate three guitar players from Nashville doing their thing on a tiny stage. There’s something to these guys’ technical prowess, which shows complicated guitar riffs are still king.
The Obsessives represent with Philly pride
Philadelphia is enjoying an emo music renaissance: some of the biggest new names in the genre (Modern Baseball, The Wonder Years) hail from the City of Brotherly Love. The Obsessives, a duo teetering the line between straightforward indie rock and superhero sentimentality, are one of the newer bands taking over the city, but when they played a tiny outdoor stage they managed to make it feel much bigger with one of the tightest, most fun sets of the weekend.
Hey Mercedes’ reunion
Wrecking Ball is a festival for reunions—and no one knows the gambit of comebacks quite like emo bands in 2016. Hey Mercedes might not be the most recognizable name in the game—they only put out two records, the first of which turned 15 this year, the tragically underrated Everynight Fire Works—but they held their own. Frontman Bob Nanna spent most of the set smiling ear-to-ear, fielding requests for his other band Braid’s songs and interjecting only to say things like, “You guys sound really great!” It was impossible not to believe him.
Piebald’s reinvigorated passion
“Hey, you’re part of it!” is the single most recognizable Piebald lyric. It’s found on the Massachusetts’ bands 2002 LP, We Are the Only Friends We Have, and exists now as something of an emo mantra; even if this music is dictated by sad dudes with guitars, there’s something inherently communal about it. Hey, you’re a part of it. The band announced reunion gigs earlier this year prepping in New York City’s Webster Hall before making it South to Wrecking Ball. They were easily one of the biggest draws at the festival, enjoying what acts like Hey Mercedes know to be true: If you’re a part of this scene, the kids want you back.
Sorority Noise’s mainstage mentality
Sorority Noise is a newer band, the kind that’s learned and memorized the gospel of some of the iconic acts at Wrecking Ball. Because they’re well-researched gents, they know what they’re doing, pulling from the onstage ferocity of a band like Brand New and delivering it with a new, 2016-bred sense of sincerity. Before launching into their last song, “Using,” one with a violently simplistic chorus of “I stopped wishing I was dead,” frontman Cam Boucher made a point to address his own battles with mental difference, telling the crowd that even if they didn’t believe it then, they are “worth it.” It was a celebration of the bleak side of emo, reminding kids that even if this music is their escape, they should inspire bravery to do something about it.
Bully’s no bulls—
Emo is known for being a male-dominated game — Warped Tour has been criticized for its lack of female-fronted bands on lineups – and the genre can be a breeding ground misogyny. But Bully is a band that succeeds at battling emo’s patriarchy. Their power is delivered in one-to-two minute songs by frontwoman Alicia Bognanno who scream-sings her way through the band’s entire repertoire. There’s something especially powerful about the hopelessness of their song “I Remember” when Bognanno chants, “I remember my old habits / I remember getting too f—ed up / And I remember throwing up in your car.” It’s not something to glamorize, and the band makes sure to, well, remember, that feeling.
Culture Abuse’s pushes for accessibility
Culture Abuse recently got off the road with Nothing, a band that blends shoegaze and metal for sounds that rival Nirvana. But Culture Abuse sound nothing like the ‘90s grunge gods; they’re all about downtown punk. David Kelling, who lives with cerebral palsy, fronts the band and his presence feels revelatory since rock music has always been a place for able-bodied folks to thrive. As one of the most intoxicating front people, Kelling’s performance reminded fans to make spaces more accessible and secure, while shredding’ ‘til were dead.
Motion City Soundtrack’s final bow
While Wrecking Ball seemed to be a place for bands to get back together, Motion City Soundtrack used the experience to say farewell. Currently on their last tour ever, the Minneapolis group called it quits after nearly two decades, highlighted by their beloved 2005 album, Commit This to Memory. During Sunday’s evening set, frontman Justin Pierre seemed to be a man of few words, stopping his impossible falsetto to thank the crowd and little more. If this performance was his swan song, we’re all better for it—they went out with real delicacy and an especially graceful exit. Their 2005 tune “Everything Is Alright” has never felt more poignant.
Thursday’s huge return
Thursday might not be the biggest band in the emo scene—for a while, their frontman Geoff Rickly was referred to as “Tone Geoff” for his incredible lack of musical. But that was decades ago and the group got it together to put out six full-length albums, none sounding quite like the last. Wrecking Ball was their first time together in five years and throughout the hour-long set, Rickly smiled ear-to-ear when blasting through hits like “Cross Out the Eyes” and “Understanding in a Car Crash.” Feminist anthem “Signals Over the Air” hasn’t changed in the 13 years since it was released, and at one point, Rickly directed his attention to all the women in the crowd, asking them to start bands. Emo gets a bad rap of not being progressive, but in that moment it seemed like every girl was going to leave right then and there and grab a guitar.