It works every time: Press play on a music track from your middle school or high school years, and a whirlwind of wistful emotions will rise to the surface. For my parents, it’s The Beatles’ “Hey Jude”; for me, it’s Rilo Kiley’s 2004 hit “Portions for Foxes.”
It can be therapeutic to escape into the past for a moment’s time. But for today’s youth, that poignant desire to feel nostalgia through music is not only getting stronger — it's moving at a quicker pace than ever before.
Just look at the nightlife calendar in Los Angeles lately — music nostalgia events are everywhere. More and more young people are turning out to revel in the not-so-ancient relics of music history’s recent past, including turn-of-the-millennium pop-rock, '90s hip-hop, and girl band/boy-band bubblegum pop.
At Emo Night LA (formerly known as Taking Back Tuesday), where a gaggle of millennials clad in roughed-up Converse, black eyeliner and skinny jeans assemble at the Echoplex on the first Tuesday of every month. Patrons wait in blocks-long lines for the opportunity to drink, dance and sing (or scream) along to mash-ups and remixes of confessional emo and pop-punk anthems, often played by famous guest DJs like Blink-182's Mark Hoppus. Their recent one-year anniversary party maxed out the Echo and Echoplex’s combined capacity, with over 1,400 tickets sold.
One Emo Night diehard, Victoria Jennings, 24, drives two hours from her residence in San Diego to the Echoplex every month. She and her friends, who are also from San Diego, started going to the event in June, and haven't missed one since. “It's worth the drive for us,” she says. “We don't get home until like 4 in the morning, but we're all into it.”
Emo’s commercial peak was only about 10 years ago — around 2005, when bands like AFI and My Chemical Romance were all over their fans' Myspace “Top 8,” Warped Tour attracted the masses, and alternative-themed stores like Hot Topic ironically turned mainstream. As fads tend to do, emo faded in popularity after just a few years, as popular music turned electronic and teenaged millennials transitioned into young adulthood. But the hype seems to be making a comeback no more than a decade later, as evidenced by the runaway success of Emo Night.
Co-founder T.J. Petracca believes Emo Night's popularity can be attributed in part to the music consumption habits of then versus now. “It was almost the last time that you had to discover music on your own and really spend time finding new bands,” he says of the genre's mid-'00s heyday. “And now it’s just like, you listen to a new single on SoundCloud and then you’re over it.”
Todd Richmond, professional musician and a director at the University of Southern California's entertainment industry research center, Institute for Creative Technologies, expands on this idea, noting that the recent trend of accelerated nostalgia is partly due to the fast-paced nature of today’s digitalized culture. “We have faster access to news, information … everything’s been accelerated. So I think there’s been a compression in our desire for nostalgia.”
Aside from its nostalgic aspect, Emo Night has attendees partying to old songs in new ways, as DJs are taking full advantage of today’s technology. With remixes and mash-ups of familiar emo and pop-punk tracks, these parties are re-contextualizing familiar, outdated melodies for a modern era of listeners, says KUSC digital music expert and software entrepreneur Chris Mendez.
“Thanks to the remix culture and thanks to this feeling that people have ownership of music and that they can not only take it, but then do something with it, it’s creating a new touchstone,” he says. “I think back in 2005, the technology hadn't become accessible yet for people to remix stuff the way they have done it today, and there was still a layer of fear that you might get sued.”
Emo, however, is not the only genre finding resurrection on the turntables of Los Angeles. Mainstream pop tunes, like those made famous by the bubblegum girl and boy bands of the '90s, are also making their way back to the eardrums of partygoers.
Club 90s has been setting up shop at a variety of venues across town, including Los Globos, the Regent, the Echoplex and the Lash. Similar to Emo Night, Club 90s features crowd-pleasing playlists and promotes a rowdy, nostalgic spirit. The club's Facebook event pages often encourage attendees to wear “90s inspired outfits” for each theme, as was demonstrated at their Sept. 9 “Backstreet Boys vs. *NSync Night” at the Echoplex, which met capacity with 1,000 tickets sold and a line reaching all the way to Echo Park before 10 p.m., according to resident DJ Jeffery Lyman.
As this trend continues, there's competition for millennial nostalgia among promoters. At the Satellite in Silver Lake, fans indulge their guilty pleasures on the third Friday of every month with the venue's long-running '90s-and-early-2000s-themed “Candi Pop Dance Party,” where DJs spin artists like the Spice Girls, Hanson and Destiny’s Child. The event was so successful in its initial trials that the venue opted to make it a monthly occurrence.
The feeling of nostalgia may not be unique to any generation, but Richmond says today’s millennials are experiencing it differently. The timeline between the music’s relevance and the moment we start to miss it is shorter than ever. “Whereas before, people might not have become nostalgic about their youth until their 40s or their 50s, these days, I think that’s happening a lot earlier,” he says. “So you’ve got people who are in their late 20s and early 30s, and now they're nostalgic, because the digital world and social media has really compressed time.”
At this rate, there’s no telling how soon young Angelenos may be RSVPing to a nostalgic Drake-and-Rihanna-themed dance party. The early 2010s: those were the days.
Emo Night returns to the Echo and Echoplex on Tuesday, Oct. 4. More info.