For those of us who were confused by the onset of adolescence in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, there was an outlet: emo music. Though once a shorthand for the “emotional hardcore” of Guy Picciotto’s pre-Fugazi act Rites of Spring in the 80’s or a descriptor for the alt-rock navel-gazing of Sunny Day Real Estate in the 90’s, the Hot Topic heyday of the mid-2000’s saw the term come to represent an entire subculture. It served as not only a soundtrack for the first pangs of heartbreak, but a place to fit in (via the ascendancy of MySpace) for those who struggled to find acceptance IRL. Emo’s sound ranged from the acoustic lamentations of Dashboard Confessional to the pop punk yearnings of New Found Glory to the self-loathing screamo of From Autumn to Ashes. No matter what form it took, it was music that felt like a lifeline.
Once we started Going Away to College and eventually joined the real world, many of us drifted away from emo as our perspective expanded beyond the realm of our immediate experiences. But that doesn’t mean we have to completely abandon the way that music made us feel.
Just ask Alex Badanes and Ethan Maccoby. The two lifelong friends and current adults with day jobs (Alex works in music publishing and Ethan helps build and grow the sales teams of tech startups) launched Emo Night Brooklyn in early 2015 on a whim. From humble beginnings, Emo Night Brooklyn grew into a now-monthly event that serves as a safe space for sincerity in a borough known for its love of all things ironic. As Maccoby sees it, there’s a whole army of young adults who want to celebrate the music that helped them survive their teenage years at a time when real life is just as fraught with peril: “People at our shows tend to be at a bit of a quarter life crisis stage. They seem to love having the chance to reconnect with their old selves and just go back to screaming their hearts out and being with a bunch of awesome, like-minded people.” With Badanes and Maccoby both taking Emo Night Brooklyn international and selling out Irving Plaza across the East River from where it all started, it’s hard to argue with the appeal of what they’re doing in the here and now.
We caught up with Ethan and Alex to talk about their emo origins, how they keep the audience on their toes, and how they reconcile nostalgia with the present at a time when new bands are breathing life into a revitalized scene.
[Interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length]
Thirsty & Miserable: So how did you get your start listening to emo? What bands helped lead you into that world, and what were you feeling when you heard them?
Alex Badanes: It started when my older sister went to a Blink 182 concert and she came home with a shirt. That brought me onto Blink 182. From there, I discovered New Found Glory and Saves the Day and then eventually Taking Back Sunday. The rest is history.
Ethan Maccoby: I got Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory as my first CD and I thought it was an incredible album. Obviously it’s nu metal, but it had a lot of the same elements as emo and screamo stuff, with the breakdowns and that sort of stuff. I’m full of energy so it fit me. As we grew up together in England with our friends, Alex and I got into a ton of new music. Simple Plan, New Found Glory, Blink 182, Taking Back Sunday, Green Day earlier on, and it kind of led toward that new scene.
TxM: Any memorable shows from that time period?
Alex: One of my first shows was Blink 182 at Wembley Arena with Sugarcult opening, and then one of me and Ethan’s first shows together was Underoath and Silverstein in December of 2004.
Ethan: Yeah, it was at a tiny, tiny pub.
Alex: Not even in London, out in the suburbs.
Ethan: 150 people, absolutely insane. They’re Only Chasing Safety just came out, so they played that whole thing. Silverstein had come out with When Broken is Easily Fixed, so they were playing that. Other memorable ones for me: Enter Shikari, at the Barfly in London, Taking Back Sunday at The Angel Islington, and Four Year Strong with The Color Fred was pretty sweet. The British music scene was really great, too. We loved Funeral for a Friend, especially when they played with Bullet for My Valentine.
Alex: I could just go on and on about Taking Back Sunday. I saw them like ten times in the course of one year.
Ethan: When American bands came to England, it felt like an event. Everyone in the crowd would be pumped. Everyone would go to the off-license (like a beer store), stand in line for an hour, drink beers in the street, get kinda drunk, everyone just starts singing the songs of the bands you were going to see.
Alex: It was like tailgating.
Ethan: There’s not the same air of excitement or solidarity over here. I think Emo Night Brooklyn reminds me of growing up in England and waiting in line with everyone. You’re all there, you’re all in love with the band, everyone’s drinking a little bit and singing. So that’s what I really loved about those shows, and the bands just went all out.
TxM: So when you guys both came to New York, was that the inspiration for putting something like this together?
Alex: Ethan and I have known each other since we were two years old. We were rocking out to emo and drinking beers was our favorite Friday night activity in our parent’s basements together in England, and then we both moved to Boston and took the party to our dorm rooms. Then it turned into our apartments when we moved to New York, and that just kept happening every Friday. Eventually, we decided to try to put it on at a bar across the street from my apartment, at Cameo Gallery. Their basement bar held 100 people. We said “Hey, can we go blast emo from our laptops and have people come out?” We just thought “Ok, we’ll bring a few friends, have a few beers…”
Ethan: Free drinks was literally the motivator for the start of this.
Alex: That’s all that we thought it could be, but the place was absolutely packed. People couldn’t even get in. The venue reached out to us and said “We have a real venue upstairs that holds 250 people. You think you could fill that?” So they gave us two months to promote it. We spent two months going nuts on social media with the promotion, everything we could possibly do. We were two weeks out from the date, and we saw there were 500 people going, 600 people going, 700… for a venue that only holds 250 people! That was just crazy. From there, it was history. Brooklyn Bowl reached out to us and so we started doing it there.
TxM: So how long did it take to get to that point where it really caught on?
Ethan: Every single show in New York has been sold out since. It just goes to show that we’re not the only ones that love this music and want to connect back to our youth and the music that made us. So we started doing it at Brooklyn Bowl every other month, and now it’s moved to every month. It’s in demand, and we love doing it.
Alex: What we’ve done has exceeded our expectations so many times. And if it dies completely, that’s totally fine.
Ethan: Fuck it, we’ll do it in our apartment again with beers. It’s evolved to the point that we can do it in Vegas every couple months, and that’s been amazing. We did our first show in London a couple weekends ago with Ryan Key of Yellowcard, and then last weekend we did it in Toronto, and Shane from Silverstein was our guest DJ. We got to chat with him about that first show we saw them at with Underoath, and he totally remembered it. That aspect of it’s been pretty cool.
TxM: So how did getting the artists involved start? What’s it like getting to know some of the people whose music you grew up listening to?
Alex: It started pretty organically. Our first guest DJ we just hit up on twitter. He’d heard about it and just from meeting people and establishing relationships has really helped us. Doing things like going to London with Ryan Key (of Yellowcard) was amazing. We hit him up, like “Hey, wanna come to London with us?” He was like “Sure, why not?” Playing Ocean Avenue and all of the classics was so cool, and he was having as much fun as we were.
TxM: As it’s grown and expanded, how do you ensure that it evolves in a way that’s still fun for you?
Alex: We’ve tried to just keep everyone on their toes. We changed to Irving Plaza and we have a ton of new stuff planned for this one. This year we stopped announcing who the guest DJ would be before the show, so each time it’s a complete surprise. People really don’t know what they’re gonna get when they show up.
Ethan: For us, I don’t think it will get old. We used to be so excited just in our rooms blasting music just the two of us. But we’re trying to make it more epic for everyone each time.
TxM: Right now with emo, there’s a bit of a resurgence with bands like Modern Baseball and Into it. Over it. that were raised on this kind of music now making some of their own. Do you think your audience is interested in emo purely for the nostalgia, or is there music being made in the present that you might start to incorporate?
Ethan: All Time Low
Alex: London especially loves the new stuff. For that show, they enjoyed the nostalgic stuff, but then there were also asking us to play stuff like Neck Deep. To them, it’s all emo, not just the mid-2000’s. I think there’s a bit of demand for that here in New York and I’d love to explore it more.
TxM: So you’ve been taking Emo Night Brooklyn to places like Las Vegas, London and Toronto. Has the response varied from place to place or is there something universal about it?
Alex: I think there’s something universal about it. But London, I think, especially just loves rock. It’s not as much of an underground thing for them.
Ethan: It’s also cool playing different music that’s local to each city. When we were in Toronto, we played a lot more Alexisonfire, Moneen and Simple Plan. In London we got to play more Enter Shikari and Funeral for a Friend. But the overall formula for success isn’t any kind of crazy secret. We just play what we would love, and it turns out there a bunch of other people that love the same thing.
TxM: It sounds like constructing a set happens pretty organically, then.
Ethan: Oh totally. I would say fifteen minutes before we start is when we’re like “alright, let’s do this” (laughs). We probably only set up the first five to ten songs, and then the rest is what we’re feeling in the moment.
Alex: And what the crowd is feeling too.
TxM: Speaking of crowds, what’s the wildest thing you’ve seen happen in the audience?
Alex: There was one event where there was a guy who was confused. He saw “E-M-O” and thought it was a form of EDM, and he was pissed off. He was like “what’s E-M-O?”1Maybe famous From First to Last side project Skrillex??? and he ran up on stage and pushed our guest DJ and got kicked out. I think he was a little drunk too (laughs).
Ethan: At Brooklyn Bowl we’re the late show. Sometimes there’s a live hip hop band before us. So the crowd changes rapidly. It’s funny to see that dichotomy.
Alex: Some people are just there to bowl and are like “I don’t know what I got myself into…” And the crowd from 3:30 to 4:00 AM is… interesting. They’re emo-ing out for sure.
TxM: So what do you want people to take away from Emo Night Brooklyn? Anything specific?
Alex: My goal is for people to wake up the next morning and just say “Oh my god. That was so epic.” Just to have the time of their lives. We want the same thing for ourselves. That’s the goal.
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|1.||↵||Maybe famous From First to Last side project Skrillex???|