One year ago, Barbara Szabo, T.J. Petracca and Morgan Freed simply wanted to host an emo-themed bar party with their friends. "We made a Facebook event, and all of a sudden, 500 people showed up," Petracca recalls. "We did another one at [Echo Park dive bar] the Short Stop, and the same thing happened, but there were twice as many people trying to get in."
By the third event, the trio had secured Blink-182's Mark Hoppus as a guest DJ and began to see their tiny event escalate into a musical congregation. On December 1st, they'll celebrate #1YearofTears and the first anniversary of Emo Night LA, also known as Taking Back Tuesday. Emo Night has become an emotional traveling circus of sorts, visiting everywhere from Seattle to Omaha and gathering a diverse crowd of emo fans and scene legends to perform and attend.
"[Emo Night] was the first time I had the experience to see a bunch of people cheering on a DJ as much as they did a band at a live show," Hoppus recalls. At the one-year-anniversary event taking place at the Echo and the Echoplex, Hoppus will DJ alongside All Time Low's Jack Barakat, My Chemical Romance's Mikey Way and members of Fidlar, Sugarcult and We Are the In Crowd. Dashboard Confessional, Seahaven, Fakers and Have Mercy will be performing live sets across the four stages, offering the full spectrum of the emo aesthetic for the event's biggest celebration yet.
"I had no idea how to DJ," Hoppus explains, sharing a similar sentiment to many of the other rock artists who have taken the Emo Night stage. "I sat in my room and practiced for a few weeks trying very hard to concentrate on crossfades with one song blending into the next and putting together a super-cool playlist. As it turns out, people there didn't care at all about the crossfades or cool DJ moves. All they cared about was listening to the music."
The founders of Emo Night grew up in different parts of the country, but it was a mutual admiration for the scene that brought them together. Petracca recalls meeting Szabo at a mutual friend's party. The pair bonded when Petracca encouraged Szabo to sing Dashboard Confessional's "Hands Down." Now, Dashboard's Chris Carrabba will be making his Emo Night debut at the anniversary party.
"What made our scene so unique was the bonding of the bands just like the bonding of the fans," Carrabba says. "All the bands that started out together, from My Chemical Romance to Thursday to Saves the Day to the Get Up Kids, still talk all the time, tour all time. We have that special bond together after building a whole scene up with all the heavy-lifting of the fans."
My Chemical Romance's Mikey Way, who makes his Emo Night debut in a joint DJ set with All Time Low's Jack Barakat, thinks the night will be like a "class reunion." "The last tour [My Chemical Romance] did, us and Blink co-headlined," he muses. "When I was coming up in the scene, I worked at Eyeball Records, and Chris Carrabba used to crash at the owner of Eyeball's house sometimes. We put on one of his first Jersey shows. It's like It's a Wonderful Life of emo."
Carrabba also notes his particular excitement in seeing Hoppus DJ the event. "Blink had a big influence on the emo scene. I'm so glad he'll be there because I know that they're considered pop-punk and legends, but they were the step in the middle between Sunny Day Real Estate and all of us. They did the Descendents thing. They sang with great melody over great music. They sang about their lives in the moment instead of about politics or something greater."
The diversity in the lineup shows how fluid the definition of the term has become. Once the scene expanded, the word did as well, making it harder for bands like My Chemical Romance and Dashboard Confession to feel comfortable with the label. "We used to detest the word," Way remembers with a laugh. "We were pretty against it for a while because we thought it was a dishonest term record labels were using at the time to get them to buy things they were selling. If the band had the right hair or the right look, they would call them emo. If they were on a specific label, they would call them emo. That's why we had kind of a negative take on it for a while. It's aging nicely."
"It's like It's a Wonderful Life of emo." —Mikey Way
Carrabba felt similarly uncomfortable with the label. "I'm proud to be called an emo band, but I can be honest and say that I wasn't for a little while," he says. "I wasn't embarrassed; I was just indifferent. I thought, 'This no longer applies to whatever it is that we sound like.'"
The looseness of the definition also made the term confusing for those involved in the mid-2000s pop-punk scene that All Time Low came up in — and even more so for outsiders. "People who don't listen to our kind of music probably consider our band emo because of the way we dress and whatnot," Barakat offers, though he does not identify All Time Low as emo. "I do think that what makes music genres [exist] is the people who listen to the songs or a band. I do think that a lot of emo and pop-punk bands have had the same fanbase, which is what blurred the lines."
As the definition of "emo" remains up for debate, there is no doubt that the classic idea of the genre has made a comeback following reunions of marquee acts like Dashboard and Sunny Day Real Estate in the past several years. Much as the scene did during its height, Emo Night has brought together hordes of like-minded people across the country to scream along to songs by the bands they grew up with. "The way that the founders bonded over music is the way these bands did as well," Carrabba says. "I'm going as a fan as well."