Who’s Making Bank from Millennial Music Nostalgia?

If you’re of a certain age and musical disposition, and happen to find yourself in Brooklyn, or Las Vegas, or Charlotte, or Dallas, on the right weekend, you’re now able to find the exact party you were looking for in 2006.

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Parties hosted by Emo Night Brooklyn draw crowds with their nostalgic pop-punk playlists. Photo by Nick Karp.

That was the commercial peak of “emo” rock, the unofficial umbrella label stretched over the alternative punk-pop scene that hijacked the fragmented, Napster-fueled mainstream of the early 2000s.

There was an emo act for every prepubescent style and sensibility–Brand New for jockish poets, My Chemical Romance for those of theater glam, Panic! at the Disco for the vaudevillianly dramatic. Some emo bands danced, some whined, some fetishized death. But most–the best of them, at least–won over mostly teenage fans with a shared recipe of infectious hooks, angsty confessions and their willingness to validate the disillusioned, adolescent settings within which they were most experienced: alone, in bedrooms, on school nights.

And then they all kind of went away.

But now they’re back. Emo is experiencing a revival right now. The movement is headlined by anniversary tours of bands once commercially tossed away, like Good Charlotte, Mayday Parade and Simple Plan. But its been fueled, at its grassroots level, by companies serving dance nights set to these nostalgic, wistful riffs, to a generation of preteens now grown up.

‘That nostalgic feeling’

At the center of this revival is Emo Night Brooklyn, a touring DJ event founded by Ethan Maccoby and Alex Badanes, two grown-up scene kids with corporate day jobs.

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Emo Night Brooklyn founders Alex Badanes (left) and Ethan Maccoby rock out on the emo cruise. Photo by Nick Karp.

Based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Emo Night Brooklyn began in 2015 as a basement party for like-minded friends who missed the music they grew up with, in a 100-person capacity bar. Now it sells out venues that hold 10 times that in New York monthly, hosts shows all across the country and recently teamed up with New Found Glory, a late ’90s genre pioneer that once defined the Warped Tour circuit alongside Blink-182, to be the official afterparty of the band’s most recent tour. Most attendees range between the ages of 25 and 35.

“There is that nostalgic feeling,” said Mike Gunzelman, a radio personality who DJs for Emo Night Brooklyn. “But I also think people want guitars again. They want to experience. They want to scream. People call it the ’emo revival.’ I’d take it another step forward–I’d say ‘real music revival.’ Where you can mosh, where you can crowd surf, where you can sweat. You might not be able to get that at a rap concert or an EDM show.”

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Emo Night Brooklyn is at the forefront of a growing market based on millennial music nostalgia. Photo by Nick Karp.

Emo Night Brooklyn shows are beer-soaked and sweaty. They play the hits, and they are spreading. Emo Night Brooklyn has done more than 50 shows this year, and has taken its enterprise as far as London. Similar companies have found success in Los Angeles and Boston. But the scene stems from New York, where it’s leading the nostalgia music market.

Earlier this summer, an emo lover could have spent an entire weekend at emo-themed events, from concerts to after-show DJ sets to brunches–yes, brunches!–set to the soundtrack of Taking Back Sunday. Last week, Emo Night Brooklyn attempted their most ambitious event yet–a emo-themed booze cruise along the East River.

“It was open bar that made things a lot more fun, and nobody fell overboard!” Gunzelman said. “It was a win-win all around.”

Falling in Love Again (with emo)

Maccoby and Badanes feel the same way, both about how Emo Night Brooklyn has spread and what it’s come to represent. They didn’t start the pop-punk nostalgia scene, but in a way they’ve spearheaded it’s rebirth, making it more accessible and creating cathartic opportunity for abandoned fans and commercial opportunity for long-dismissed artists.

Rewire sat down with the young entrepreneurs to talk turning high school parties into (misery) business, new emo and growing up into the quasi-rock stars they always dreamed of being.

Rewire: How did Emo Night Brooklyn start?

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Grown-up emo lovers take a break during a floating dance party hosted by Emo Night Brooklyn. Photo by Nick Karp.

Ethan Maccoby: We’ve found people who really liked the music as much as we did. We bonded over the same love for emo and pop-punk and all our favorite bands. In 2012 we moved from Boston to Brooklyn, where we got these parties going in our apartments. After a year or so we were having these huge parties in our apartments, raging and listening to emo. The perfect pregame. A couple of them got a little out of hand, so we decided to try out this bar now out of business. It was this 100-person basement bar. We said, “Can we throw this party in your basement?” It was just us and a laptop in the corner. Our only expectation of the night was to get free beer and have some friends come. We told our friends, put it online. The first event was completely packed. People couldn’t get in. It was completely wild. It was the best night of our lives up to that point.

Rewire: Why do you think classic pop-punk has become so popular again?

EM: This is the music we grew up with in middle school, high school. Now once you get our age, mid- (to) late 20s, early 30s, you hit this quarter-life crisis. “What am I going to do with my life? What job am I going to get?” You start to get a bit nostalgic for that time growing up, when you were just going to shows. When you hear some of these songs, it brings you back to that time. I think that’s also been bringing the revival.

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Twenty- and 30-somethings remember the good old days of not-so-distant past by dancing all night to the soundtrack of their teenage years. Photo by Nick Karp.

Alex Badanes: People have responsibilities and maybe (don’t) really know how to manage them. People miss doing what they love and listening to the music they love and having a great time.

EM: My mom loves the Beatles. That’s who she grew up with. They’ll come on the radio and she’ll be singing like she always did. It’s the same concept. You never forget the music that made you who you are.

Rewire: I was made fun of for listening to emo growing up. But I always said: in 20 years, this will be the classic rock. We’ll be the adults and we’ll get to decide what was great once.

EM: So many people would make fun of us for listening to this music. We’re like, “What do you think about it now?” Emo has a bad rep. Everyone is like, “Cheer up, emo kid.” We don’t see it like that at all. Sure, some songs are sad and some are happy. But they’ve always made me feel happy. Emo Night Brooklyn is one of the happiest places someone who likes this music can be.

Rewire: Many emo artists have worked with you. But others, like Adam Lazzara of Taking Back Sunday, have actively spoke out against what you and similar companies do, for several reasons. How do you respond to their criticism?

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“People call it the ’emo revival.’ I’d take it another step forward–I’d say ‘real music revival.’ Where you can mosh, where you can crowd surf, where you can sweat. You might not be able to get that at a rap concert or an EDM show.” Photo by Nick Karp.

EM: Some of the criticism, like in Adam’s case, is fair because he was referencing (another emo night) that was capitalizing specifically off of their name. Our night isn’t named after a Taking Back Sunday lyric.

AB: I think some people might confuse what we’re doing with trying to capitalize or take credit for this music. But that’s entirely not what its about. It’s about celebrating the music as much as we can, and embracing it to the biggest degree that we can.

Rewire: The emo revival has been just that–a movement that’s sparking new, modern emo bands to pop up. You don’t play much of them at your events, choosing instead to focus on the nostalgia bands. But are there any new ones you’re into?

EM: On the (emo cruise) we had State Champs. They are crushing it right now. Other bands we like are Story So Far, KnucklePuck, Real Friends. There are so many.

AB: The Wonder Years. Moose Blood.

Rewire: How big can emo nights get? What’s the ceiling?

EM: It’s started this really great network. How big can it go? Who knows? But the thing that’s always important to us is we only do it if we think its fun. If everyone gets bored of it, and it just turned out to be us back our apartment, I’m totally cool with that too.

Joe Trezza