The last time I saw Underoath, I was a gangly teenager in San Francisco and I got the taper kicked out of my right ear in the pit. At the time, I remember feeling vaguely proud – after all, injuries in the pit were a rite of passage.
It’s 2018, and now I’m just worried one of these jostling humans is going to spill my glass of wine.
The first time I went to Emo Nite – I believe it was still flirting with the much beleaguered and since abandoned “Taking Back Tuesday” moniker at the time – my friend Lizzie took me to the Marquis Theatre in Denver. I’d heard rumblings about Emo Nite, of course, but I’d never actually made it to the party – leave it to me to have to cross state lines in order to actually go. Here’s what I knew: I was a bona fide reformed scene kid and some of my near and dear friends swore by it. I also knew I was skeptical. After all, couldn’t I listen to my old favorite songs in the comforts of my own home and my comfy sweat pants? A few hours later, here’s what else I knew: I’d had the time of my life.
Emo Nite has certainly changed since its inception. The core concept has remained the same: the work of Babs Szabo, TJ Petracca and Morgan Freed, it’s a (now touring) party, celebrating the songs we grew up loving and screaming along to (pre-2007 only, please) with rotating DJ’s creating each evening’s playlist. However, what was once an emo club night of sorts now regularly has a line around the block, is peppered with famous faces and features up-and-coming bands playing live sets – with the occasional heavy-hitter band from the good ol’ days of the mid-2000’s emo revival gracing the main stage. Additionally, what started as a once-monthly event tours the nation, bringing #RideorCry to venues across the United States.
“Emo Nite was the one party I didn’t want to miss,” says photographer and CalArts MFA candidate Courtney Coles. “I knew that if I didn’t see a friend throughout the month for whatever reason, we’d see each other at Emo Nite and we’d sing along to our favorite songs.” She smiles. “Even though we were isolated as teenagers, we were able to come together as a community of 20-somethings. It was part nostalgia, but not entirely because I still actively listened to the music that was being played.”
She’s not alone in that. Although some of the bands have dropped off my radar in the year of our Lorde 2018, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that some of the tracks played aren’t still in regular rotation on my car stereo. In a way, the nostalgia associated with Emo Nite is almost like muscle memory – even when I haven’t listened to a band or a song in years, the second of the resident DJ’s puts it on, I’m singing along to every word like I just memorized it yesterday.
Emo Nite isn’t the same everywhere – nostalgia doesn’t work that way. “Some cities like harder music, some like more pop, some like older stuff,” notes co-founder Petracca. “The subgenres within the umbrella of what people consider emo is so broad and a lot of different areas like different things. But one thing that is really consistent across the board is that the people who come to Emo Nites are the best. There is something about this genre – belting along to music with complete strangers somehow triggers instant friendship.”
So then – where did Emo Nite come from?
“Babs and I met at a mutual friends birthday party. We sang Dashboard Confessional karaoke and immediately bonded,” muses Petracca. “We love the friendship and community that has always existed around this music. We started Emo Nite because we wanted to get together at a bar and listen to music we actually liked with like-minded people.”
To see whether or not something like Emo Nite was something people wanted, one need look no farther than the success record of this ever-growing phenomenon: now in its fourth year of existence, the bar has never been higher. Last December, the organizers put on their first ever Emo Nite Day, a 1-day live music festival featuring sets from scene favorites like The Used, Aaron Gillespie and Escape the Fate, as well as up-and-coming newer bands like Tigers Jaw, Dales and Doll Skin. “We’re in our fourth year of Emo Nites now, which is really crazy,” says Petracca. “We just keep trying to raise the bar with what we do – how we program the events, what kind of experiences we are providing for people, what kind of merch we make. We want to keep pushing the boundaries of what an event can be and definitely try to stay away from being pigeonholed as purely a nostalgia event. We try to make everything current and creative and relevant.” The event is certainly exciting enough from the perspective of an attendee – the roving photographers and surprise guests (such as April’s surprise, Underoath) manage to make being part of a scene often associated with feeling alienated or alone feel instead – well, cool.
Retaining relevance in a time when interests can have the same lifespan as a trending topic on Twitter is no small feat, but it’s one that Emo Nite is actively striving for – and you can see the fruits of their efforts. The upstairs stage (where up-and-coming acts sing their hearts out to Emo Nite-goers) is nothing short of a stroke of brilliance. Emo Nite’s built in audience is there solely because of their propensity for creating bonds with music that quite literally stand the test of time, and both smaller indie labels and larger established scene labels alike have had their young artists featured on the stage. “I think Emo Nite has the potential to grow into something much bigger than a monthly club night – it’s always changing,” comments Petracca. While nothing can ever be everyone’s cup of tea, Emo Nite’s seemingly unique position in the scene at the crossroads of nostalgia and relevance lends them the potential to launch new artists moving forward, and that’s something nobody can discount.
As for what’s next for Emo Nite: they’ve just released their new wave of tour dates, including bigger venues, new cities, and their international debut as hosts of London’s Slam Dunk Festival’s pre-party at O2 Islington Academy. For a list of dates and advance tickets, head on over to their website.