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How the world became obsessed with ’emo night’

More than just a phase.


Samantha Grasso


Posted on Jul 27, 2016   Updated on May 26, 2021, 9:40 am CDT

The Daily Dot is observing Emo Week with a nostalgic trip down the oft-derided genre’s most influential, infamous alleys. Cue up your favorite CD-R and hug it out with us.

It’s a Friday night in Brooklyn, New York, and the crowd inside the Bell House is losing it. Deep inside the venue, women are wearing black garb from emo holdovers Panic! at the Disco and the Academy Is; men sporting Deftones-emblazoned caps and Alternative Press magazine merch jump and air-punch wildly. Long Island-bred emo band Brand New plays from the stage—it’s “Seventy Times 7,” a clear crowd favorite tinged with angsty overtones of hatred and betrayal.

When the instrumentals cut out the audience continues to scream along with the sacred words of frontman Jesse Lacey: “I hope there’s ice on all the roads. And you can think of me when you forget your seatbelt…” Friends grab and shake each other by the shoulders as the audience presses against the barrier, overtaken by the power of nostalgia—the feeling of being 15, angry, and wanting the world to know.

When a pair of men onstage start playing Blink-182’s “Bored to Death” from the DJ stand, the magic momentarily falters, the crowd snapping awake from their mindless trance. But only seconds into the next song the crowd again buys into the faux performance. The magic takes hold of the venue again.

These New Yorkers are here to listen to their favorite bands. But Blink, Brand New, Saves the Day, Thursday, Jimmy Eat World, the list of the emo music genre’s most poignant acts goes on and on—they aren’t headlining. Instead the audience is gathered for Emo Night Brooklyn, a monthly evening dedicated to partying hard with fellow “emo kids” to emo-classified hits from the last two decades.

“This last half hour of my life has been amazing,” James Tamburino tells the Daily Dot. He and his best friend Mark Radi are a pair of 35-year-olds from Long Island, New York. Before jobs, wives, and kids, Tamburino and Radi says they used to get ready to this kind of music when they were both 18—Tamburino first saw Brand New perform at a backyard show back home, which promptly led him to find the band’s music on Napster. This night was designed for them.

“Since senior year, when you’re cruising the pike, looking for girls at 10pm on a Friday night, and Blink-182 comes on in the car, and now you hear it 10 years later—it’s about your life,” Radi says. “It’s your memories, it’s your life. It’s about friendship. It might sound silly, but…” 

Radi trails off as two other friends, perhaps also Long Island family men, push him and Tamburino back toward the main hall. Sugarcult’s “Memory” is on.

Jason Reed

Though it was Tamburino and Radi’s first time experiencing Emo Night Brooklyn, the event was established in January 2015 by Ethan Maccoby and Alex Badanes. Best friends since they were toddlers, the pair grew up together in England, attended college in Boston, and settled in New York. Maccoby and Badanes decided to host emo nights after doing so repeatedly for the better part of their post-adolescent lives, just in the company of friends. Their first event at the club down the street from Maccoby’s apartment sold out, and while the venues and crowds have grown to being thousands strong, their shows sell out consistently. Tonight is no exception.

“People our age, I think we have gotten to this point where this is the music we grew up with, and you hit kind of this quarter-life crisis moment—I know I definitely did… Now I have all these tough decisions to make about my life,” Maccoby says. “It’s overwhelming…[The teen years] were times I didn’t have to worry about any of this crap… so [Emo Night is] just kind of a way for people to be kids again.”

Since the event’s conception, Maccoby and Badanes have taken Emo Night Brooklyn to Tampa, Florida; Miami; Las Vegas; and internationally to Toronto and London. They’ve brought guest DJs to the stage such as Ryan Key from Yellowcard, and tonight Nick Ghanbarian from Bayside. But the duo’s Brooklyn’s party isn’t the first of its kind—they’re not the only group hosting emo nights, and theirs is not the only emo night in town.

Music blog Washed Up Emo started Emo Night NYC in 2011, show promoter East Coast Collective started a Long Island emo night in December, Jersey has an emo night. Jimmy Eat Wednesdays are a staple in Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio, has Sad Boyz.

Chicago, Boston, Cleveland, Nashville, and Philadelphia, among other cities, all have emo nights. As do Cape Town, South Africa, and Singapore. 

And then there’s the famous Emo Nite LA that brings guest DJs like Blink’s Mark Hoppus and Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba. It’s commonly referred to as Taking Back Tuesday—though organizers have abandoned the semi-controversial moniker this year after catching heat from band Taking Back Sunday. 

This emo hysteria has spun off into fully produced mashups combining ’90s and early ’00s emo tunes with rap and pop hits from 2015, the most impressive being from frequent Emo Night LA DJ trio, Captain Cuts. Their mashup mixtape is aptly titled If You’re Listening It’s Never Too Late, a smooth hat tip to Jimmy Eat World and Drake.

Part of this magic comes from the fact that event hosts like Maccoby and Badanes sell the experience so well. They don’t stand behind a Macbook and press play—the Brooklyn duo don’t claim to be DJs in the first place. With Maccoby in a black Yellowcard T-shirt and Badanes in a Hawaiian print, button-up shortsleeve, they thrash about onstage air-drumming to Fall Out Boy’s “Saturday” and egging the crowd on during Head Automatica’s “Beating Hearts Baby.”

They’re shouting lyrics at the crowd like brazen preachers at Sunday service, they’re pouring beer into people’s mouths—the stage is their pulpit and emo be thine daily bread.

Emo Night Brooklyn

“[At Emo Nite LA the DJs are] almost performing as the lead singer of whatever band is playing. Like, some guy is screaming his lungs out to ‘Taste of Ink’ but he’s not [lead singer of the Used] Bert McCracken, but the kids in front are treating him like Bert McCracken cause they’re going bonkers,” Leslie Simon says. “It’s a little weird because at first you think, ‘This is so cool.’ And then you think, ‘But this isn’t real.’ But then you realize, ‘Does it have to? Does it matter? Everyone is having such a good time.’”

With her fingers on the pulse of emo culture since 2001, Simon is the former managing editor of Alternative Press magazine and co-authored Everybody Hurts: An Essential Guide To Emo Culture. She recalled pitching emo anniversary stories between 2013 and 2015, but no one even responded to her ideas. It’s much different this year.

“It’s still just very weird to me the whole [thing]—why now? Why not last year or two years ago? We’ve been having anniversaries of pretty seminal records ever since 2002, and yet it hasn’t really permeated through the core group of fans until 2015 so, that part, I can’t do the math on it,” Simon says. “I don’t know why.”

Maybe it’s that recent emo anniversaries from Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance are marking not just 10-year releases from key albums, but anniversaries of giant, mainstream pop from a connected era of Myspace-fueled social networking. Texas Is the Reason never won an MTV Video Music Award—Panic! At the Disco did.

For older fans like Tamburino and Radi, this decade-long anticipated resurgence makes sense. Having been consumed with the mundanities of being a screenwriter and lawyer, respectively, the pair came to Emo Night Brooklyn with the expectation to relive some of their favorite memories from high school. Then there are fellow Long Islanders, sisters Casey and Kelly Fordham.

“I’m never going out again unless it’s emo night because why would I want to listen to music I don’t care about?… It’s better than going to a bar and listening to the latest weird remixes,” Kelly, 22, says. She confesses to being a huge fan of the Front Bottoms, but both she and Casey, 21, are into bands that were still dishing emo hits when they were in elementary school.

That’s not to say that all hits on this emo night playlist are popular, or even recognizable, to the younger audience. Casey and Kelly take the opportunity to wait in line for the bathroom as a screamo tune plays through the venue. “I don’t know this song,” Casey says.

Photo courtesy Emo Night Brooklyn

The sisters sport Coachella-inspired, stylish double French braids and midriff-revealing clothing, they wear solid-colored shirts with little scene-inspired fanfare. Yet they still bond over the same music. 

This, Simon argues, is exactly what the emo scene was built on—a community where At the Drive-In and Cute Is What We Aim For are sonic throughlines that bring people together.

“[At L.A. emo night] everyone was in there for sort of a mutual admiration for this music that can be so polarizing, but it can also unite a lot of people who feel ordinarily pretty isolated and alone. That’s the reason that I think people were attracted to the subculture in the first place, that sometimes it’s better to be alone with other people than it is to be by yourself,” Simon says.

There’s no telling how long this culture cycle will last, Simon points out. In the mid-2000s every American city had an ’80s night, after all. But emo night is different because it toasts a genre, not just an era.

“I’ll be excited to see if we get new bands. Playing stuff like this made people revisit some of these albums,” Simon says. “It goes to show that emo’s shelf life is not as short as some people expected.”

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*First Published: Jul 27, 2016, 8:30 am CDT