Today's pop culture is rooted in remakes, reboots, and comebacks. From entertainment (Jurassic World, Fuller House, and Queer Eye) to fashion (Tommy Hilfiger, dad sneakers, and fanny packs) it seems that everything old is new again. Nowhere is the cyclical nature of trends more evident than in music. As hip hop continues to dominate the charts, old school icons Cher, Robyn, and Janet Jackson still get airtime with each long overdue release. However, for 500 fans cruising along New York’s Hudson River, it's all about emo.
The boat is filled to capacity with 21-35-year-olds, clad in their Hot Topic attire rummaged from the back of their closets or shipped from their parents’ houses in suburbia, heads banging, sweat pouring, voices screaming to Linkin Park’s “In the End.” Welcome to Emo Night Brooklyn, the nostalgia-fueled, monthly party that has taken over NYC hotspots Brooklyn Bowl and Irving Plaza, Los Angeles, London, Berlin, and now, cruising, with their Emo Night Brooklyn Booze Cruise.
With most bars and clubs throughout the city pumping house music or Top 40 remixes, Emo Night Brooklyn (ENB) blasts its namesake genre, attracting thousands of retired emo kids from around the world. I sat down with one of the party’s founders, Alex Badanes, to discuss dorm parties, social media marketing, and the nostalgia of music.
Tell us about your background. How did you initially get into the music scene?
Ethan Maccoby, my co-founder and main partner, and I grew up together in the UK, just outside of London. We’ve always loved music, especially emo music, going to concerts, and being a part of the scene. We both went to college in Boston, I went to Berklee College of Music and Ethan went to Tufts, and brought the parties that started in our parents’ houses back home to our dorm rooms. Nothing like listening to music and moshing in a dorm! If there wasn’t a concert to go to that night, we’d just be blasting music from our rooms until all hours.
After college, Ethan and I moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn and continued the parties in our new apartment. Once they got too big for a residential space, we moved the celebration, now officially dubbed Emo Night Brooklyn, to a tiny bar across from our place called Cameo, which in true Williamsburg fashion, is now an empty lot across from an Urban Outfitters. We hadn’t been sure what to expect, but the first event, in January 2015, went really well. So well in fact, that Cameo asked us to move it to their larger event space upstairs.
From January until March of 2015, we promoted the next ENB across social media and blasted it out to our friends. The night of, we ended up having more than 1,000 people clamoring to get into the 250-person venue. It’s still one of our most successful ENB’s to date. After the second event, Brooklyn Bowl heard about what we were up to and invited us to begin hosting parties with them.
Photo courtesy: Nick Karp
Describe the experience at Emo Night Brooklyn.
It’s something a little bit different, which has probably contributed to its success. Usually, clubs in New York play EDM, hip-hop, or dance music. It’s hard to find a bar that plays emo bands like Taking Back Sunday or Underoath and we discovered that people were looking for that sound. Also, we do it big. ENB is a unique experience where you don’t have to care what anyone else thinks. Some people come by themselves and end up making friends at the event, creating a really thriving community.
What role does nostalgia play for your guests?
Nostalgia is definitely a big driver. The early to mid-2000s was when emo music peaked — dozens of bands really exploded. Fans of the genre in middle school and high school are in their late 20s and early 30s and enjoy taking the trip down memory lane. However, we also get some younger emo fans whose nostalgia stems from 2012 or 2013, which isn’t that long ago! But, the music from five years ago reminds them of their teenage years, which is nostalgic for young adults now out of college.
Then, there are also people who are just fans of the genre in general. Every week, they’re going out to see whichever band is in town, whether they’re fresh on the scene or old bands reuniting, they just love the genre, so it’s definitely a mix.
What role does social media play in your advertising and promotion?
Social media is a big part of our promotion. Both Ethan and I were newbies to social media marketing when we started who didn’t even know how to make an Instagram account, but we’ve learned a lot. Instagram seems to be our main promotion platform where we have the most followers. It’s become a great tool for communicating when we have new shows coming up, new merch, or just want to share something else we think our followers may enjoy. We get great engagement and it’s a platform that so many people are on.
Photo courtesy: Nick Karp
Why did you decide to expand to a cruise around NYC?
We’re always trying to think of different, fun ideas to keep things fresh, especially in New York where we’ve been doing shows every month for the last three years. Last summer, a friend reached out to us about a boat that some of our favorite bands had performed on. We reached out to the boat’s owners and began discussing rental fees, which included an open bar for all guests throughout the cruise. From there, we debated whether or not our attendees would be willing to pay a higher price for bar access — ticket sales would be higher, but offer more value, so we decided to use the bar access as a component of the marketing plan.
The first Emo Night Brooklyn Booze Cruise was on a 350-person capacity boat. We advertised the night as an intimate experience among a small group of emo fans, but our promotion of the cruise on our social media pages went viral and we sold out much more quickly than anticipated. It was a huge success and an amazing night. The boat sailed from 12am-4am. The thing about a boat cruise is you can’t leave, so it ended up being a pretty wild night.
Learning from that experience helped us plan this summer’s Booze Cruise. We rented a 500-person boat and put the tickets on sale in March for a June excursion, which sold out in about two weeks. Knowing so many fans wanted to participate, we added a second boat cruise for August.
If you were to advise another entrepreneur wanting to create their own music experience, what advice would you give them?
Start small, don’t try to go too massive too quickly. We did a good job of gradually building up the ENB experience, so it was never overwhelming or beyond what we could handle. You don’t have to be an expert right away. Learn things, ask questions, and try to soak in as much knowledge from other people as possible.
Of all of the Emo Night Brooklyn’s you’ve experienced, which one stands out the most and why?
There have been so many stand out moments. Last summer’s inaugural cruise was really special and wild. We’ve also had the opportunity to do multiple shows with Ryan Key from Yellowcard, which is one of my all-time favorite bands, particularly, our ENB three-year anniversary show which was held this past January at Irving Plaza in NYC. Ryan was there alongside Derek Sanders from the band Mayday Parade and it was an amazing night. But there are so many stand out moments it’s hard to keep track.
We’ve had tons of amazing guests show up for the fans. As mentioned, Ryan and Derek, but also bands New Found Glory, Bayside, and Underoath, just to name a few. However, we’re still waited on famous emo fans Jimmy Fallon, John Mayer, Lena Dunham, and Aziz Ansari. If any of you are reading this, we’d love to have you!
Photo courtesy: Nick Karp
What’s new for Emo Night Brooklyn in 2019?
We’ve just recently announced a few different shows. We have a big show in LA in September at the Teragram Ballroom and another coming up in NYC that we’ll officially announce after Friday night’s boat cruise. The biggest news however, is that Ethan and I have written and recorded a song with Ryan Key — Emo Night Brooklyn’s first original song. It went live on all streaming platforms last Friday with an awesome music video to come. We’re always busy and there’s always something going on.
What do you love about running Emo Night Brooklyn?
It’s really exciting to see the crowds and their reactions. There’s always something going on and opportunity for creative thinking and new ideas. It’s a lot of work — the easiest part about this job are the show themselves.