When I arrive at Schimanski in Brooklyn on a Friday night in early October, I immediately wonder if I’ve made a grave mistake. It is a nightclub, and I don’t go to nightclubs. It’s also 10:30pm and the woman at the door shows me the night’s set times and I see that Ghastly won’t go on until 1:30am. I leave with the intent of finding somewhere to kill time but then realize two things: number one, any restaurant or coffee shop will be closed by now; and number two, if I’m going to do this and experience this show I’m going to do it right and be there for the whole night- and so I head inside.

Before I go further, I should mention that my prior experiences with EDM hadn’t always been positive. I’ve been a part of a few EDM tours through working for a nonprofit sponsor, and while they’ve all been successful events for outreach, the environment has never felt like one I had a place in. The music, the lights, and the production were overwhelming and rave fashion was so different from my plain t-shirt and jeans look. I was intrigued by the culture though: if these events consistently sold out around the globe, there must be something to it. I attended a few EDM shows as a journalist and photographer and almost began to enjoy it, until it came time to cover a major DJ’s show at Madison Square Garden. Seeing twenty-thousand people dressed in neon and banging their heads was overwhelming and I felt so out of place that I had a full-blown panic attack thirty minutes in to his set, and took an early train home. After that experience, I so much as closed the door on the entire genre and decided it just wasn’t for me. I figured I would never understand it, and having decided this I gave up trying altogether.

Then something changed. Earlier this year I heard Ghastly’s “We Might Fall” for the first time and I began wondering if there wasn’t something more to this genre that I had yet to explore. Never before had electronic dance music made me feel much of anything but something about this one song resonated with me. Maybe it wasn’t that I didn’t have a place in this world; maybe I just hadn’t found mine yet- maybe there was in fact a home for me in a genre I hadn’t really explored because of all my anxieties. I dove in and began listening to more and more DJs, and would hear friends tell stories of their experiences at all the raves and festivals and shows they attended. Their tales were overwhelmingly positive and I wanted to experience this music for myself but I was also terribly anxious about doing so: how would it actually feel when I was there? Would it be so obvious to everyone around me that I was out of place?

I saw a few DJs at Billboard Hot 100 Festival this summer, but I knew that an EDM headliner would be an entirely different experience. “You need non-festival shows,” a friend told me- and what better show to experience for my first as a true EDM fan than a Ghastly show in New York? I bought a ticket but as the days drew closer, my anxiety kept building. What would the crowd be like? Would it be okay that I was there alone? I was used to attending shows alone but most times times I was almost guaranteed to run in to a friend; here, I knew no one. And what the hell would I wear? Should I dress like a raver, or like I was going to a typical New York City night club? Or should I take a cue from Ghastly himself and wear a band shirt?

Schimanski is relatively empty when I enter, save for a few people chatting by the bar. Everyone seems to be here with a friend and I’m certain I stick out by being all alone. I find myself inspecting the outfits of everyone around me to see if mine blends in when I notice a large, three-dimensional sequin shark hanging over the bar. I’m so confused at seeing this shark that I wonder if I’m just too far out of my element but then I realize we all are, and maybe that’s part of the point.

I go to the bathroom with the intent of reapplying my lipstick when it strikes me that I could be inhibited, so inhibited I decide to just leave, and that it wouldn’t be at all out of character for me to do so. But maybe I don’t need to. I take a breath and go back to the dance floor, and then this opening DJ pumps his fist and I can’t remember his name or anything about the music he was playing at that moment, but I remember very clearly the look on his face and the feeling I had: that fist pump was like permission to dance or at least feel free.

On a Friday night in Williamsburg there are plenty of things to do. Schimanski is located a block or so off the water and with so many restaurants, bars, and other clubs nearby the place itself doesn’t stand out much from the street. There are plenty of people here that are just here to dance but there are several- the ones in Monstercat shirts and the couple with kandi covering their arms- that are here because they are fans of Ghastly. Not everyone in attendance wants to be here specifically- some people just want to dance- but in a way that’s the beauty of it all: as long as you’re here, it doesn’t matter why. You’re here as much as anyone else is here regardless of the reason or intent.

Parker was the first act of note, and when he goes on I’m suddenly glad I’m here alone because it means I can focus on my own thoughts and experiences. Even if they’re overwhelming and not always positive, they’re there and they’re real and without a friend to stick next to, all that’s on my mind is what’s on my mind, and there’s something beautiful about that. Parker says he wants to “get a little harder” and he plays “Everytime We Touch” and claps his hands. A few minutes after midnight the real ravers start rolling in and I’m suddenly grateful I’ve been here since 10:30: I knew what the room was like without the big crowd (big crowds, full of people who are drunk and more well-dressed than me, are overwhelming in the worst way) and I knew it was a space where, at least in theory, I could dance.

Spock is next; he has long hair and could be any guy off the street, he just happens to be behind the DJ booth. In fact before he went on, I saw him walking around and thought he was just some guy on the street. That’s the thing I’ve realized about EDM: while especially at festivals, the production is often next-level, the performers themselves tend to be very regular people wearing very regular clothes. And that makes it more relatable, and much more human. Spock’s set isn’t as interactive as Parker’s and the first half hour is nonstop loudness and thumping beats. The music is so loud and it’s a reminder of why the thought of EDM used to give me anxiety till suddenly I find myself so absorbed in the music to the point that I have trouble thinking about said anxieties and the whole event starts to make sense in my mind.

I’m wearing a knee brace to the show and when I sit down to adjust the velcro straps, a nice and probably drunk guy asks me what happened to my leg. I explain that I had ACL reconstruction surgery back in March and he makes a face and says, “That sucks.”

“But I’m okay,” I tell him. “I mean, I have to wear this brace, but when I put it on I can do anything. I can go out- I can see Ghastly and I can dance and I won’t get hurt. I don’t have to worry.”

The room is so crowded that I’m grateful for the knee brace, as it offers protection from people trying to shove past to get a drink or get closer to the stage. It’s hard to move and when a beer is spilled on my head I wonder what I’ve gotten myself in to. Do I really have a place here? Everyone around me is dancing and having fun and enjoying the vibe and here I am worrying about being here alone; worrying about my smudged lipstick; worrying if people are judging me for not having a drink in hand; worrying if I’m not dancing enough or if I’m dancing too much. With my inhibitions, I’m sure I don’t belong.

And then as Spock spins his remix of “We Might Fall” to close his set something incredible hits me: chances are, everyone else has their own inhibitions and worries too, they’re just choosing to sink in to the music and dance. I could let my anxieties hold me back from becoming a part of this, or I could face my fears and dive right in. I realize it’s a terrible time to overthink and be scared of what other people think of me, but then I realize I don’t have to be scared. I love “We Might Fall” and how cool was it that another DJ was doing a remix and I was hearing it and it was so real? My problems and worries and fears haven’t gone away but for a few minutes they don’t matter. I feel free.

There’s always a certain anticipation that builds before seeing a favorite artist perform for the first time; I wanted Ghastly to be good but mostly I wanted to feel something and I wanted to walk out of the show with the knowledge that I could come back any time I like.

I would write more about all of the songs he played, but when Ghastly went on I found my eyes and my mind glued to the stage. Nine minutes in to his set he plays a remix of “Forever Young” and the immediate thought that comes to mind is that this the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. “Where the fuck are my weirdos at right now?” he asks, and it strikes me that he asks that because he knows every single person in the room is a weirdo. I guess I don’t stick out so much after all.

Ghastly played all of my favorite songs- his newest release, “Geisha”, and “The Spiders Symphony” and so many others- and one that I wasn’t familiar with which he introduced as “a brand new song off my album.” Considering that he played in alternative bands before becoming a DJ, it felt more than appropriate that his set at Schimanski included Bring Me The Horizon’s “Diamonds Aren’t Forever” and My Chemical Romance’s “Welcome To The Black Parade.” I’ve spent more than half my life as a fan of alternative music, and when I heard those songs in a new setting, I felt at home, and realized that at the end of the day, maybe all music fans are just the same.

And so when it came time for Ghastly to play “We Might Fall”, I had reached a point where I felt like I was a part of something. I was in a room full of people that I didn’t know, who were entirely different from myself but who were also just the same: they were there to dance and to let go after a long and stressful week. We may have all had different things to let go of, and different things on our minds, but we all wanted to feel free. Recent tragedies were certainly heavy on everyone’s mind and while not speaking directly of these events, Ghastly did acknowledge that “We live in probably the craziest time of the last thirty of forty years,” and thanked everyone for being there.

Still I wonder if I’m overthinking this whole thing- I wonder if the “real” Ghastly fans in the crowd were just there without pondering much over why- but I believe I’ve learned two things. One, my fears don’t have to hold me back from trying something new; and two, my fears and anxieties and worries don’t mean I don’t have a home in EDM. In fact, a Ghastly show just might be the perfect place to let go of everything I’m scared of. I know that I can face my fears and chances are, I’ll be more than okay- and even if I can’t get past them entirely, for a few hours on a Friday night I can stop worrying about whatever is on my mind, and just dance.

Ghastly is featured in the current print issue of Substream, available now in stores and online.