ONLY NOISE: How I Turned COVID Blues Into The First Virtual Emo Nite Hosted By Non-Male DJs

The author in her childhood bedroom.

Celebrating the arrival of 2020 immediately took me to 2010. I rang in the new year at Barclays Center with a friend, seeing The Strokes for the first time. It felt appropriate, given how at the end of 2019, I had mentally regressed to feeling like my teenage self.

The year ended on a rough note. I lost my job and months later, a friend died at a very young age. After spending the year working on bettering myself by going to therapy, exercising, drinking less, and leaving toxic relationships behind, suddenly all progress was lost. I was emotionally fragile and reckless, incapable of having a positive mindset. As someone whose work is tied to her identity, I didn’t know who I was without it.

I sought validation and anything that’d distract me from my depression. In a misguided attempt to find happiness, I entered a brief, unhealthy romance with someone. What was meant to be a distraction brought more emotional distress. In a way, it made me feel like I was sixteen again. At that age, I had turned to music to cope, listening to songs that made me feel less alone while dealing with heartache. This time, I decided to do the same. I revisited old favorites that accurately described what I was dealing with, such as “Glendora” by Rilo Kiley and “Title Track” by Death Cab for Cutie. I reminded myself that there was a reason why Jenny Lewis wrote about these issues: it’s common to seek validation from the wrong people, and it doesn’t make me any less of a person to have a moment of weakness.

Music helped, and later things started to fall into place. I was hired at my dream job. I eased up on drinking to cope with grief and depression. I was exercising regularly again, focusing on using it as a designated time to clear my thoughts. My friends were supportive as I attempted to rebuild my life. But just when I was finally feeling like my old self, the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York City.

I began quarantining in early March out of precaution, before the city declared a state of emergency. My parents were very concerned, and though the pandemic was still in its early stages, my family urged me to return home with them to Puerto Rico. I initially said no, but after much convincing from my mom, I decided to temporarily move back home with my parents.

Typically, I’d avoid spending more than a week back home. It triggers painful memories from a decade ago, when I desperately wanted to leave the island. I didn’t have true friends growing up and spent much of my time isolated in my room, making internet friends and learning about bands through Tumblr and last.fm.

As a teen, I had no idea that finding solace in music through online communities would shape my future. My childhood bedroom walls are adorned with posters featuring some of the bands I’ve interviewed: Vivian Girls, Of Montreal, Best Coast, and Los Campesinos. I wish I could tell my teenage self, who felt so lost and insecure, that I’d accomplish so many things beyond my wildest dreams at that age. But being back home also felt like I was returning to feeling disconnected from the music-based community I had formed in Brooklyn.

In quarantine, I stopped hearing regularly from friends – it was reminiscent of that loneliness I felt as a teen. My depression returned and made me incapable of leaving the house; I didn’t have the energy to even take a quick walk around the block. No matter how much I accomplished at work, my depression caused me to be very hard on myself, making me think I was going to permanently lose the life I had in Brooklyn. This feeling persisted for two months, becoming worse each day.

One day, music writer Arielle Gordon tweeted about hosting a virtual emo night and after attending with my sibling, I realized I could create an online community of my own that would make me feel less alone. I told my sibling that I wanted to make my own virtual emo night, but with non-male DJs, widening the space for fellow music journalists, tour managers, artists, and anyone involved in music who, like me, were craving that sense of community they’d lost.

After tweeting about wanting to do it, I quickly received a response from Lindsey Miller and Mel Grinberg – both of whom are managers whose work I deeply admire – saying they wanted to get involved. Within two minutes, we had a concrete plan, and we invited Arielle and Rolling Stone editor Suzy Exposito to join. I named it Home, Like NoPlace Is There after The Hotelier’s album – appropriately about confronting depression and dark memories.

Before planning it, my depression was making me feel like my life had no purpose. Planning this event made me realize that others were in need of a community as much as I was, and it was exactly the positive, healthy distraction I needed. People I hadn’t met before began promoting it and were excited for it.

It was nerve-wracking, though. It was the first time I had planned a virtual event. Would it even work? What if something went wrong and the event failed? When it was time for the event to start, there were already 20-something people waiting on Zoom. The number of people kept increasing throughout the night, and the awkwardness of having a virtual emo night dissipated. The Hotelier’s Christian Holden even joined! People made new friends and found a safe space where they could talk about music and joke with each other.

Many reached out later saying it was the most fun they’d had since the pandemic began. That was true for me, too. For the five-and-a-half hours of the emo night, I felt happy and appreciated; I was overjoyed that my fellow DJs felt seen and appreciated, too. The last thing I thought I’d do in 2020 was revisit emo, a genre I have a complicated relationship with due to feeling like my writing about emo wasn’t respected as much as male colleagues’ – not to mention how the genre is often tied to bands that represent toxic masculinity. But now, emo carries a more positive meaning for me. It ties different generations together, and on Friday nights, everyone gets to feel like they belong somewhere – no matter who they are.

With this emo night, I have something to look forward to weekly that gives me an excuse to (virtually) socialize and dress up. While it’ll be some time until things are back to “normal” – if that ever even happens – I’m excited to feel like my regular self.

Follow Home, Like NoPlace Is There on Twitter for ongoing virtual emo night events.

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