One of these days I am going to write a long piece about Kevin Lyman, the titanic punk purveyor whom I had occasion to run into during the course of Emo Nite’s two-year anniversary festivities and whose Goliath image the event itself is in the shadow of. It is laboring beneath the vast shade cast by this monumental musical figure and all-time marketer that the founders of Emo Nite (née Taking Back Tuesday) find themselves. Two years in and with several cities conquered, they aren’t doing a terrible job of finding their spot in the sun despite that great shade.
But the David-esque story that the event seems to tell itself is not the full story.
– Besides being generally somewhat curmudgeonly when it comes to the scene and the importance of music, I find myself a staunch traditionalist in most respects. The concept of DJ-ing itself is one that I have a difficult time wrapping my head around. I dearly love live music in pretty much any form as long as it’s passionate, but DJ-ing seems like a strange middle ground between listening at home and actually seeing music.
– I work full time and staying out until 2AM on a weeknight was never going to happen, so all of my observations and impressions are built on the first three hours of the event and ruminations on the event itself, as well as testimony from friends and people I spoke to at the event.
– I am not looking to just deride Emo Nite by any means. I have an incredible amount of respect for the founders and the cleverness of the event itself, but its conception and execution present problems that I put a lot of thought into and felt compelled to, at the very least, write down.
Emo Nite, for the uninitiated, seeks to bridge the vast chasm that exists between punk music and your basic rave. That alone is not a small goal to set for oneself. For the last two years, Emo Nite has been gathering a community of people who come to monthly events at which members of some of the most prominent bands in the early to mid-2000s emo scene spin the hits of the genre. As the events gathered steam and a following, the bands themselves, including Dashboard Confessional, Good Charlotte, and The Wonder Years, started putting on performances.
For three people to grow a single DJ night for their friends into a modest marketing empire powered by live shows featuring their musical heroes is an incredibly noteworthy feat and a distant echo of Kevin Lyman’s trajectory from gathering a couple punk stalwarts for a tour to running a massive marketing empire.
Emo Nite’s two-year anniversary was in keeping with this upward trajectory, boasting a bevy of emo’s best and brightest spinning the hits as well as acoustic performances by Underoath and The Almost’s Aaron Gillespie, as well as The All American Rejects. I managed to catch Set Your Goals, Neck Deep, and The Rocket Summer’s DJ sets before turning into a pumpkin, and it played out just about how I would expect. After a video highlight reel detailing Emo Nite’s history and importance that left the founders in tears, Set Your Goals took the stage, hit the spacebar, and let the music play.
It was about the playlist you would expect as well. I very quickly noticed a pretty clear pattern amid the various DJ sets and the songs they piped throughout the club between sets. It was all the easiest selection of emo and pop-punk songs imaginable. My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, Good Charlotte, Panic at the Disco…the deepest cut I noticed in three hours was Saves The Day. The Starting Line got a surprisingly passionate response, with the crowd clambering over one another to get to the stage and scream their hearts out, but not a whole lot else.
Being the connoisseur (aka “snob”) I am, this already left me with somewhat of a bad taste in my mouth — this was emo for tourists. This was the highest and mightiest of the emo crop, to be sure, but didn’t even scratch the surface of what the genre really meant and could be. Granted, expecting American Football, Mineral, or The Promise Ring to come in over the loudspeakers during what amounted to a rave setting was perhaps unrealistic and somewhat at odds with the festive nature of the event itself. But there is an important distinction between what Emo Nite is and what Emo Nite says it is. And that, perhaps, is both Emo Nite’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness.
Emo Nite, quite simply, isn’t what it says it is.
It is, above all things, incredibly clever. I have an endless amount of respect for the shrewdness of the founders. From top to bottom, Emo Nite is a masterful exercise in marketing, branding, and intelligent design. From its conception, to its execution, to its name, to the merch — step by step, it fulfills a desire that was obvious yet somehow no one but these three thought to tackle.
They managed to wrap nostalgia up in a pretty package, playing on the name of a maligned genre that inspires a degree of loyalty simply by dint of its outsider nature. Emo was not “cool” — and that, in turn, is part of why it meant so much to people. More than incredible music, it became a rallying cry and remained so, even as it faded from the limelight or became a punchline.
Emo Nite has taken this punchline and carries it like a badge of honor — nearly everything at the event, from balloons and t-shirts to foreheads and chests, was scribbled with the handwritten moniker “SAD AS FUCK.” There is something incredibly empowering in reclaiming this self-aware and oft-used criticism. And it totally, absolutely, works in the favor of Emo Nite. It, along with the event’s matter-of-fact name, necessarily begs people to leave their hang-ups at the door and accept the self-aware goofiness of a genre that was awash in its own fragile humanity…and nasally singing voice.
SO…inhibitions have been checked at the door, nostalgia has been ramped up, drinks have been poured, and drugs (given the rave-like trappings of the event) have more than likely been imbibed all BEFORE some quality fine-ass music is put on.
Yet Emo Nite is a double-edged sword. While it’s infinitely clever, its detractors (among them, rather vocally, Taking Back Sunday’s Adam Lazzara) hasten to point out its flaws, the biggest perceived ones being its benefiting off the hard work of others and its lack of authenticity. So let’s examine those in turn.
First, it is, without doubt, benefiting off the hard work of others. Emo Nite’s popularity hinges on the former popularity of an entire genre’s worth of hardworking, full-time musicians. It’s sense of nostalgia and self-imposed mission to “preserve” this genre seems to imply that the genre itself has passed, which is false.
While emo’s popularity in mainstream culture has certainly waned, as I noted in a former piece, most of these bands (with a couple notable exceptions) are still around and, in many cases, releasing better music than they ever have before. These bands tour incessantly, and for a bunch of twenty-somethings, $40 would get you two shows where your dollars would go much further in bettering the lives of the musicians themselves than a pale shade of what the scene is supposedly like.
That being said, having some of the musicians who recorded the music and created the scene to begin with hit the spacebar at these events should indeed benefit those artists somehow, so that’s nice.
This, however, is where we get into the lack of authenticity problem. I have no doubt Emo Nite was started, perpetuated, and attended by genuine fans of the music played — their tears and passion certainly attest to that– but what Emo Nite actually is is a largely empty shell of the scene itself. While they are certainly making huge strides to correct this by organizing actual live performances by the musicians rather than relying on computer playlists, the event itself is largely a DJ night. Live music is not the feature of every event, but a bonus for attendance. It wears all the flashy trappings of the mid-00s emo scene, but it is not it — it’s the Hot Topic version pumped through mall speakers.
But is there anything so wrong with that? Emo Nite is barely technically emo. For those devout, sure, Fall Out Boy and My Chem and All Time Low are what emo came to be known and ridiculed as, but these bands had more in common with pop punk than traditional emo bands. They are just the tip of the iceberg, and it’s the wrong iceberg anyway. This, like I said, is emo for tourists — a “NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL EMO” greatest hits list. A relatively surface-level exploration of the genre touching on largely only its most commercial output.
And you can’t even fault them for it because it makes so much damn sense to do it that way. If you’re gonna get high and/or drunk and pay $40 to get into a club with your friends to hear music that you probably still play for yourself on a semi-regular basis while your headphones are in at work, you better be getting a fun-ass time out of it. Call it whatever else you will, but Emo Nite can be a fun-ass time. Screaming your heart out to “Welcome to the Black Parade” with your best friend is, I believe, the textbook definition of fun.
Getting a bunch of excited drunk people in a crowded room with flashing lights and blasting Sunny Day Real Estate or Elliott doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. Bands like SDRE or Texas is the Reason are too angular and have too much in common with Dischord bands to be fun to most people, and listening to Elliot or American Football is really just too sad for a club setting.
So what are we left with?
Emo Nite is a masterful marketing scheme with an extremely savvy grasp on branding. It fulfills an easy niche of nostalgia for twenty-somethings who, probably if not assuredly, no longer follow the bands that are featured most prominently and continue to tour even today. Or they never did to begin with and simply want an easily digestible experience and have some mindless fun with friends while listening to what many call “guilty pleasures.”
It has the ability to be a totally fun, if somewhat hollow, experience if taken without much thought. It’s a cleverly curated, imperfect experience that is only somewhat aware of its own flaws, yet trying to address them regardless, at least in part. It’s also going to go on the road with the man whose shadow looms large above its nearly every facet, as Kevin Lyman is set to take the experience on the brand-new Warped Rewind at Sea (which includes Emo Nite staples like The Starting Line, Good Charlotte, Cartel, Bowling for Soup, Simple Plan, and 3OH!3).
On the other hand, in Emo Nite’s own words, Emo Nite isn’t about the music. It’s about the party. And it’s damn tough to fault them for doing that which is perhaps most emo and wearing their hearts on their sleeves.
I was graciously granted the opportunity to ask one of Emo Nite’s founders a couple of questions. Check out the interview below:
What was your first exposure to the emo scene? How did you come to be so involved in this music?
T.J.: I think I downloaded some Dashboard Confessional songs off of Limewire because I heard about them from a friend. I went and saw them, got introduced to The Get Up Kids and then just started digging more and more into bands that had similar sounds on Myspace.
The deliberateness of Emo Nite’s branding and marketing has been something I have admired for a long time, even if this is the first event I’ve attended, and I’m sure it’s no small part of your success. I was wondering if you could talk about your professional background at all? How did you manage to shape Emo Nite into the event it has become?
T.J.: Together, the three of us own a creative company called Ride Or Cry — we make music videos, run social media, do stage design, branding for a bunch of artists & companies. Prior to starting Ride Or Cry, Babs and I both worked in digital strategy and social media management. Morgan worked at a creative agency.
Who are your personal top 5 “emo” bands? Or personal top 5 favorite records?
T.J.: Brand New, Dashboard Confessional, Bright Eyes… I don’t know, it’s hard to pick five, but those are top 3 for sure.
While the genuine tears in your and the other founders’ eyes last night were authentic, you guys have not been without your fair share of criticism from within the scene. Taking Back Sunday’s Adam Lazzara’s words come to mind. I was wondering what your answer to your detractors might be?
T.J.: We try not to spend a lot of time thinking about that kind of stuff. We just want to keep making our party and our community better and better.
Do you approach these events with a personal philosophy?
T.J.: Yeah, I think a lot of what we do is about putting the experience and community first before personalities. In the past two years, we’ve only ever announced the guest artists for our anniversary parties. For our monthly parties, we don’t want people coming out and expecting a show. We want people to come and make new friends and sing along to the music they love.
How do you feel it went off at the two-year anniversary event?
Pretty fuckin’ great.
Two years in, what is next for Emo Nite?
We will see! There’s a lot in the works, and we’re going to keep evolving and growing and seeing where the road takes us!