On a Tuesday night in February, the line to get into the Echoplex stretched all the way down Glendale Boulevard. Hundreds of mid-20s to early-30-somethings waited with huge grins on their faces, ready to hear the music that changed their young lives. Once inside, they crowd-surfed, moshed and hoisted beers with their best friends. They hadn't felt this good about rock 'n' roll in years.
The band? There was no band. There were three young DJs spinning weepy emo-rock songs off a laptop. But that night still probably drew the most enthusiastic club crowd in L.A.
"Strangers were holding each other and singing," said Morgan Freed, the 30-year-old co-founder of Taking Back Tuesday. "It was overwhelming. I've never seen so many happy people in one place."
Since debuting in December, the recent-retro club night Taking Back Tuesday (named after the early-00s emo band Taking Back Sunday) has become a monthly phenomenon on par with any elitist warehouse party. Yet its founders got there by championing a genre — sad-sack suburban pop-punk — that's perhaps the last taboo in taste-conscious hipsterdom.
"We wanted to make it OK to listen to this music and not have to roll your window up when you passed someone you knew on Sunset," Freed said.
The party's hosts — Freed, 27-year-old Barbara Szabo and 25-year-old T.J. Petracca — were raised in different parts of the country (Szabo was born in Hungary and spent her early life there). But each had an angsty teenage period when he or she turned to melodramatic rock bands like Dashboard Confessional, Brand New and the Get Up Kids. For mopey youths looking for catharsis in a pre-social-media era, this was the scene to get into.
"Music changes so quickly now, and there's such pressure to stay up with everything new. But these were the songs we listened to hundreds of times," Petracca said.
Szabo agreed. "Without fail, I'd go to an Underoath or Yellowcard show every Friday," she said. "You knew you'd meet people like you and come home with three band T-shirts."
They all grew up, moved to L.A. and got jobs at boutique Silver Lake media and marketing firms, where they met in a shared office space. But they still craved the sincere, unaffected emotions of those old songs and the camaraderie of an underground music culture (even one that might be a little hokey in hindsight). Szabo had hosted a similar emo DJ night with friends while in college in San Francisco, and she had a hunch that it could have similar appeal in L.A.
On Internet time, these decade-old songs now qualify as classic rock worthy of a revival. And the night's tone was perfectly tuned to milliennial ears: self-aware, '90s-kid-nostalgic and lubricated with funny drink specials like "The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me" (a PBR tallboy and shot of cinnamon whiskey, named for the 2006 Brand New album).
While their peers were acting like they'd all grown up listening to Suicide or obscure Berlin techno, the trio turned the Echo Park bar Short Stop into communal therapy for former choppy-banged scene kids now finding their way in L.A. The party hit capacity on its opening Tuesday night.
When Liz Garo, the talent buyer for Spaceland Presents (which books venues like the Echo, Echoplex and the new Regent Theater downtown) got word of Taking Back Tuesday, she didn't quite get its appeal.
"I was a little skeptical," she said. "It appealed to such a specific age group, like if you're one or two years too old or too young, you won't get it."
But at the behest of colleagues in that demographic, she gave the trio a shot in the 700-capacity Echoplex. The first night, Garo was driving by the venue and noticed the daunting line at the door. She immediately pulled over. "I was blown away," she said. "It was clear that for so many young people on their first or second jobs in the music industry in L.A., this was the music that really tied them together."
For February's edition, the trio landed its first booking coup: guest DJ Mark Hoppus, the singer and bassist for emo progenitors Blink-182. Hoppus had never formally DJed before, but video clips show a teary-eyed audience as he whipped up snotty teen-punk classics.
Now the trio has to figure out what to do with this unlikely hit. With lines stretching hundreds deep to get in, the novelty of an emo DJ night for adults might soon wear off. It's the 2015 edition of the question that haunted emo bands like Thursday and the Used in 2003 — can they make the jump to the majors without losing their appeal?
The organizers plan to expand their bills with more guest DJs and live bands (both reunion tours and young acts inspired by this era of emo). They're fielding calls from vintage Warped Tour heroes angling for this crack in the hipster veneer, where old star tattoos and lip ring holes are scars earned in the pop-punk trenches. "It's kind of crazy to have people contacting us through their agents now," Szabo said. "It's like, 'I've seen your old MySpace page pictures, dude, come on.'"
The irony is not lost on the trio, who originally turned to albums like Saves the Day's "Through Being Cool" as a balm for being weirdos. But then again, their teenage selves would probably lose their minds if they could see their lives now.
"If 17-year-old Barbara knew that one day she'd be FaceTiming with Adam Lazzara of Taking Back Sunday," Szabo said, "oh, my God, I would have just died."
Taking Back Tuesday
When: 9 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month
Where: Echoplex, 1154 Glendale Blvd., L.A.
Tickets: Free before 10 p.m.