Emo Nite founders T.J. Petracca and Morgan Freed give a deeply personal account of their love for emo culture and how it’s not so different from EDM.
Nearly ten years ago, T.J. Petracca and Morgan Freed ignited a celebration in Echo Park, paying homage to the pop-punk bands that shaped a generation. Armed with nothing more than an iPad and a meticulously crafted playlist, Emo Nite was born. Little did they know, they were laying the foundation for a legacy that would span over a decade, filling dive bars and venues to capacity across the breadth of North America with elder emos.
As Emo Nite’s parties swelled in size and popularity, they piqued the interest of an unexpected fan, Pasquale Rotella. This led to a unique partnership with Insomniac, aimed at blending both genres in perfect harmony and creating a safe space for both communities to party together. Since the announcement, their GRAVE RAVE series has taken off, with their most massive event yet, Grave at the Torch, set to take place on December 15 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Ahead of this massive show, we were fortunate enough to sit down for a candid conversation with the masterminds behind Emo Nite, delving into every aspect of their journey. Join us as we venture into the psyche of its creators, diving into the thoughts behind their relentless success, seamless transition into electronic dance music, and unwavering love for the community.
Hi T.J. and Morgan! Thanks for chatting with us today. To start things off, can you give us some backstory about what made you both love emo music so much?
Morgan Freed: I think that in middle school and high school, I was not good at the things that you were supposed to be good at; the alternative culture drew me into it because you got to be a little bit different and a little bit of an outcast, and I kind of enjoyed that. The culture embraced me, and ever since then, I embraced it. And playing in a band sounds much more interesting than going to basketball practice.
T.J. Petracca: For me, it was a similar thing. I felt like I didn’t fit in with the mainstream crowd at school but didn’t fit in with the punks at school. I was too soft. Then I found Dashboard Confessional and emo music. I had just gone through a breakup with my girlfriend, and it actually hit how I felt. I had never really connected with any music like that before. When you’re 14, having those experiences for the first time, and finding music that matches exactly how you feel, it connects with you forever.
So, how did that transpire into you guys creating Emo Nite?
T.J.: Well, we both worked together at a different company. Morgan worked at a creative agency, and I did digital social media strategy. We were in the same office building, and Morgan sort of forced me to be his friend. We bonded over emo music pretty quickly and connected over some of these bands.
We had the idea to talk to one of Morgan’s friends who was a bartender, and we thought, ‘What if we just play the music we love when we’re hanging out at home pre-gaming at the bar instead? Why don’t we listen to the music that we actually enjoy?’ So that was the first thought we had for it.
We convinced The Shortstop in Echo Park to give us a Tuesday night, and we had never promoted parties before or anything like that. I literally brought my iPad with me and plugged it into the aux cable. We just started picking songs from the DJ booth, and then it kept going.
We thought, alright, maybe we should start using a laptop and get a DJ controller, and maybe we should learn how to use CDJs, or maybe we should start reaching out to these bands that we love, and let’s see how crazy we can make this thing. And every month since we started, we’ve consistently tried to make it better and bigger and see how far we can push it.
Taking us back to that first night in that East LA dive bar and hearing about your vision for that night, what has it been like watching that vision grow and evolve into what it is today? Did you expect this level of success?
Morgan: No, not at all. The thing about Emo Nite is that the success came from a very organic place. We didn’t go into that first party thinking we were going to make a lot of money. We just thought we liked this, and we’re doing it. That carried us to where we are now, and I think that the audience that comes to our events can see that.
This was something that has been important to us since we were very little, and it continues to be important to us every day. People bring up the success of it, but it still doesn’t feel like that because we’re so involved and in the middle of everything that it’s hard to take a step back and look at all of the things we have done and accomplished. But we did our part in helping new artists become artists and bands that didn’t think they were ever going to tour again, tour again, and give back to the culture. I hope that when people think about Emo Nite, they see that.
You played such a massive part in reintroducing emo music back into the culture, and now it’s this huge phenomenon.
T.J.: Yeah, we did a lot of work from 2014 to now. We set many rules for ourselves early on about our branding, who we would book, and how many female artists we needed to include. All these things about the scene that we saw were wrong when we first started this, and we wanted to get away from the corny stuff.
Let’s get away from the swoopy hair and the studded belts and get the scene back on track to what it used to be about. It’s about community and friendship. And for me, this scene was a place where I went to make friends.
Friday nights were spent waiting in line for bands that I loved with the people who are some of my lifelong friends now. That sentiment got lost. I don’t want to toot our own horn too much, but you did hint at it, and I think we definitely did a lot of things to try to make ’emo’ not such a dirty word and make it cool again.
And you’ve succeeded.
Morgan: Since we started doing this in 2014, there have been plenty of people who thought this was stupid and that it was never going to be a thing. A concert promoter who had been in the scene for a long time once told me that LA parties had a life shelf life of two years and to be prepared to fall off.
Now, going into our 10th year of doing it, it’s bigger than ever. We had a lot of people who felt like this, and now they want to know how we do it. So it is really interesting. We stuck to what we really believed in and continued to do it even when things were grim.
I want to know more about why you blended EDM and emo music. You touched on feeling like outcasts, and EDM culture also embraces the outcasts. I want to hear from your perspective what made you decide this was the next direction for Emo Nite.
T.J.: We got invited by Kayzo to do his art car at EDC in 2021. Neither of us were ravers or anything like that growing up, but it felt similar to everything we liked about the emo scene. The music was totally different, but that sense of community and everyone taking care of each other was the same. If somebody falls in the mosh pit, you fucking pick them up. That’s the punk rock PLUR.
Seeing the similarities between the two cultures really inspired us to think about how we could take it to the next level. Where do we go next with this whole thing? And then we met Pasquale [Rotella] and started talking to him. He doesn’t know much about emo music, and we don’t know much about EDM, but we see eye to eye on many things. We’re both learning all the time.
Morgan: We even have a slogan that we’ve put on merch that says before you liked EDM, you liked emo music, and we’ve found that to be incredibly true after meeting and talking with many people in the electronic music scene. You can even date it all the way back to Skrillex.
Oh, yes! He was in a band before he was even a DJ.
Morgan: There’s just so much crossover, which is intriguing to explore. We’re the oddballs when we play these electronic festivals, but we’re met with so much love and excitement, so it was just one of those things where it shouldn’t make sense, but it does.
I was able to attend the first Grave Rave at Academy LA. The production level and the talent completely blew me away. I’m curious how you picked the artists to play on these lineups. Did they have to be elder emos themselves? What was that process like?
T.J.: Academy just has amazing production, but we did work a lot on the visuals ourselves, and we made some pretty cool stuff for that night we’re pretty proud of. And it’s about finding those producers who are elder emos or have respect for the scene.
We’re pretty good friends with Kayzo, so he was obviously our first ask. He samples Papa Roach, A Day To Remember, and stuff like that all the time in his sets, so we hit him up. Ghastly was more of a DM situation. We had never met him before.
But I think it’s exciting for these artists because it’s different than what they normally get asked to do. Especially at a club like Academy, it’s going to be a great production and a great show no matter what, and this is something that they get to have fun with that’s out of the norm and different.
Morgan: Whyel also DJs our monthly shows all the time, and he’s very familiar with our space, so I was impressed with his set as well. It was just a lot of fun overall.
T.J.: Yeah, we’ve seen it bubbling under the surface for years at Emo Nite. Many of these DJs like Kayzo have come to Emo Nite before, and I have to tell them, ‘Hey, dude, you got to just play the songs. Don’t do any mashups or anything like that.’ But Grave Rave creates a separate home for it. It gives everybody a new sandbox to play in.
How has blending those two genres been for you both creatively and then as a business?
T.J.: Well, we’re doing this show in the middle of December called Grave At The Torch with Said The Sky. He’s been fusing the two genres together for a minute. Motion City Soundtrack, State Champs, We The Kings, and many of these emo, pop punk artists were featured on his latest album.
So, he is the headliner for the night. We The Kings, State Champs, and then Nurko, who comes from that sort of scene with Illenium, as well. Those Denver sadboys. The coolest thing about this lineup is that they actually have music that they’ve collaborated on together. So, hopefully, there will be some cross-pollination here across the sets.
What would you say has been the most mind-blowing part of this whole transition? Or even the entire journey in general?
Morgan: There’s been a lot of stuff over the last nine years where I’ll consistently look back and think, god damn, I can’t believe that happened. But this transition, working with Insomniac now, it’s seeing how receptive the audience is to us.
We just played Escape, and that might have been one of the best shows we’ve ever played in our entire lives. That was so fucking awesome. Like I said before, being the oddballs but seeing the audience be completely dialed in, doing what they do at an EDM show, and welcoming us with open arms has been really sweet. It’s like getting a brand new crowd that we care about. And hopefully, they care about us.
Speaking for both the EDM and emo community, we care deeply. I’m very excited to see where this goes from Grave Rave to beyond! What’s next for Emo Nite, and how will you stay true to your roots as you continue to evolve?
T.J.: Yeah, it’s a really interesting time for the scene with When We Were Young festival and these bands getting together to do these album tours next year. I’m really excited and happy that these bands are doing this. A rising tide lifts all ships.
That being said, there is still some stuff missing in the scene. I want to try to bring back that spirit of Warped Tour, where everybody’s your friend. That’s what we wanted to make in the nightlife space with Emo Nite. Moving forward, we have a little bit of a challenge ahead of us as we grow to try to find some of that stuff again. But we’re going to definitely keep trying.
Morgan: I have always felt it’s more about creating a feeling, which can be a hard task, but I think that we’re up for the challenge.