“We got older, but we’re still young–we never grew out of that feeling that we won’t give up,” these lyrics from The Starting Line were echoed out at Brooklyn Bowl the other night by several hundred Brooklynites, clad in the same Converse, Vans and skintight jeans of their Hot Topic teens. They’re no longer singing these familiar lyrics in basements, or broken down cars on the way to school. Instead, they’re banding together as adults, yelling over the pins being knocked down, screaming their lungs out, Yellowcard style. It’s not a semi-required office happy hour or yet another awkward Tinder date; instead, it’s a helpful reminder that they spent their tween and teen years dreaming of growing up, and they’re finally here. The Starting Line lyrics could just as easily be “we never grew out of that feeling that we won’t grow up,” because that’s what happens monthly at Brooklyn Bowl’s always sold out Emo Night.
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Most New Yorkers, and especially Brooklynites (to take it even farther, Williamsburgers–unclear if that moniker will be adopted but stay tuned), are notorious for being cynical, social media savvy, black-wearing, trend-obsessed hipsters. Our happy moments come from overpriced mixologist approved cocktails, app dates that don’t end in disaster or a boss giving an appreciative thank you for a job well done. Conversely, Emo Night can provide memories of far simpler times. We once believed Dashboard Confessional’s “Swiss Army Romance” mantra: “We’re not 21, but the sooner we are the sooner the fun will begin.” But unfortunately, for most stressed out 20-somethings, the fun seems to be ending every night with a headache after only two drinks, and each birthday bringing us farther away from 21. Fake eyelashes and fake IDs and real disasters were far more exhilarating than mortgages and Facebook announcing that everyone you knew in elementary school is somehow suddenly engaged.
But it isn’t just Emo Night that signals a comeback of the much-maligned genre. Brand New Beyoncéd us all when they released a surprise single after seven years, and they’re playing a sold out show this summer at Madison Square Garden. Dashboard Confessional recently released a new song, taking Chris Carrabba away from his indie folk outfit Twin Forks and back to his old school yelling. And as far as Emo is concerned, getting older is no reason to give up.
Growing up in the hopelessly sunny suburb of Boca Raton, Florida, I discovered the genre through hometown hero Chris Carrabba, better known as Dashboard Confessional. I wasn’t exactly a “cool teen,” and knowing other people, and especially ultra-handsome, tattooed, pompadoured, slightly rebellious 20-something men sometimes felt like outsiders too gave me hope that one day I would not just be well-adjusted, but be able to leave my preppy beachside town behind. I would get impossible angry when the “popular girls” decided they liked bands like the All-American Rejects. (Although, let’s be honest, everyone liked Tyson Ritter.) After all, emo was about being an outsider, and they should at least have let me have that.
At 12, I experienced my first Dashboard Confessional show, and it felt like a campfire for emo kids. The entire crowd, soaking wet with sweat and smelly from the unforgiving South Florida sun, sang along to every single lyric; the exact same way they do at Brooklyn Bowl. Only now, there are no Hot Topic studded belts and jelly bracelets that parents were sure signified sex acts…but there are still all the same feels. It’s like Warped Tour, only monthly, indoors and with deodorant.
The middle school scene kids might be all grown up, but they’re still looking for a reminder that moving to New York is just as important and impressive as it seemed a decade ago. They’re also looking for for a reminder of life before you had to figure out exactly how to sign up for your own health insurance as a freelancer.
“Everyone wants to connect to their former years and the music they grew up with,” Ethan Maccoby, one of the founders of Emo Night Brooklyn, told me at Burnside in Williamsburg. He had just returned from a trip to Las Vegas to DJ an Emo Night there with his best friend Alex Badanes, who he started the event with. The pair grew up together outside of London and have never lived more than ten minutes apart for the past 25 years.
“Once I heard Blink-182, it kind of got me into the scene, like Taking Back Sunday, Brand New, Yellowcard, New Found Glory, Simple Plan,” he told me, naming a roster of bands that fall under the emo and pop-punk umbrellas. “We grew up with more of the punk rock emo, and a lot of people are like ‘That’s not really emo,’” Maccoby said about detractors during the evenings.
The duo would go to shows in London, and then Boston, where they attended college, and pre-game them with an emo playlist. “In our dorm rooms, we would just blast awesome emo/screamo rock music and go out, and it was like the perfect pregame,” Ethan said, bro-ing out over his obvious love for the genre.
The first ever event was at the now defunct (RIP) Cameo Gallery in Williamsburg–memorable for its Neiman Marcus worthy decor, where the only requirement and “big goal” was getting free drinks. There was no cover, and by the end of the night the 100 capacity basement was overflowing–some couldn’t get in (including me). “It was an amazing night,” Maccoby exclaimed. “It went until 4 AM, everyone got really drunk and yelled, screamed, sang. And we absolutely got our free drinks, which was great.”
Emo Night Brooklyn then moved to Cameo’s upstairs venue, and then in May 2015 moved to Brooklyn Bowl after it became even more popular. Eventually, the Facebook event grew until there were 1,000+ people RSVPed for the 250 capacity venue. “The night came and there was a huge line across the block from North 6th all the way to around Bedford Avenue. People couldn’t even get in. it was this epic, crazy night,” Maccoby said.
He has two theories about why emo is experiencing a resurgence. “It’s the 10 year anniversary of a lot of band’s albums, their heydays were the mid-2000s so people are doing reunion tours,” Maccoby explained. And he’s absolutely right–Boys Like Girls, Brand New, Cobra Starship, Cute Is What We Aim For, Taking Back Sunday and Gym Class Heroes are all celebrating anniversaries this year.