Emo culture revived at Emo Nite at Gabe’s

Emo Nite brings together people of all ages to celebrate past and present emo culture.


Spectators dance at Emo Nite at Gabe’s in Iowa City on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2022. People celebrated their communal love of emo music.

Jami Martin-Trainor, Arts Reporter

Once again, Gabe’s transported its corner of Iowa City to the early 2000s at Emo Nite on Feb. 26. Dark makeup, fishnet clothing, and dyed hair filled the crowd, setting the scene for a revival of emo culture.

Emo Nite originated in 2014 at a small dive bar in Los Angeles. Since then, the show has grown to host events across the U.S. On its website, Emo Nite is described as “Not a band. Not DJ’s. We throw parties for the music we love.” That sentiment couldn’t be truer.

As Gabes’ patrons waited in line in the frigid cold outside the bar, attendants reminisced about old “emo-phases” could be heard. Laughing over old music they listened to and past stylistic choices, the anticipation to enter the bar and join the fun was high.

Inside the bar, loud music thumped throughout the room. Smoke and bright lights filled the space, shimmering on the surface of the black and white balloons scattered about. The space felt intimate, up-close, and personal.

The crowd screamed along to the music, including classic emo hits like “Dirty Little Secret” by the All-American Rejects and “Sugar, We’re Goin Down” by Fall Out Boy. The music occasionally cut out, allowing those in attendance to fill in the lyrics.

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Emo Nite was a diverse scene, with a variety of ages in attendance. College students and older adults joined together, listening to music that had a great impact on their lives at some point in time.

The team presenting Emo Nite had a deep love and passion for emo culture, which could be seen in how it interacted with the  audience. The onstage hosts held the microphone into the audience, allowing individuals to sing out into the crowd.

At the end of every song, the audience would scream and cheer, utter joy filling the space. The event was one of the few moments that a DJ playing music got the same applause a live performer would have. One of the hosts donned a tall mohawk and studded leather jacket, possessing an undeniable passion for his work. At one point, he grabbed onto part of the ceiling at Gabe’s and lifted himself up.

Near the beginning of the night, one of the hosts said that Emo Nite belonged to the audience, inviting the crowd to the stage. Several members of the crowd were hoisted up, surrounding the DJ’s table and dancing together.

The space itself was packed, with people thrashing and bumping into each other as the music played. The loud thumping of the bass and large number of people contributed to the exciting energy in the room. There was a sense of camaraderie, with participants ensuring that the people around them were safe, happy, and having fun.

At one point, the hosts asked for the lights to be completely cut, and the bar was doused in darkness. Then, the song “Fireflies” by Owl City played, and phone flashlights immediately clicked on to dot the dark.

Above all, Emo Nite had the ability to bring together a diverse group of people that were able to bond over their love of music. Even if the emo lifestyle did end up being “just a phase,” that culture brought undeniable joy and solidarity to many people.