On Sunday night, Emo Night Philly, a prominent local dance party, posted a tweet promoting an event Friday at the Philadelphia venue and dive bar Kung Fu Necktie. The caption read: "Kung Fu Necktie is open at a limited capacity. This is not a dance party. Please be COVID-19 cooperative." When Emo Night Philly founder David Cassidy, aka DJ Deejay, woke up, he saw dozens of angry messages protesting the idea of hosting a party in an indoor bar when coronavirus could further spread. One Twitter post said, "Cancel. This. Now. You’re risking shows from actually coming back next year. Your playlist is not more important then [sic] the bands you play actually playing a show." Another said, "Would like to see bands boycott Kung Fu Necktie if shows ever happen again."
While DJ Deejay canceled the event and deleted all his tweets promoting the party, the controversy shouldn't have been surprising. In September, Emo Night Brooklyn, which is not affiliated with Emo Night Philly or the popular Emo Nite LA, attempted to host a limited capacity party in Oklahoma City but the backlash was so relentless they canceled the ticketed show and pivoted solely to livestreams. Given that bands are out of work and unable to safely tour, having bonafide playlist makers profit from other people's songs in a pandemic, the outrage was understandable. This isn't quite the same thing for DJ Deejay's proposed Emo Night Philly event at Kung Fu Necktie, which he tells VICE was not a ticketed event and would've taken place at a venue a third the size of the Oklahoma City Emo Night.
For some perspective, Pennsylvania and Philadelphia law has allowed indoor bars and restaurants to open at 50% capacity, which for a 99 cap venue like Kung Fu Necktie would mean about 50 people would be allowed in the three-story dive bar at most. Local and state COVID restrictions also require bars to ensure customers are masked when not eating and drinking, that all alcohol sales are also served with food, and that they stop serving alcohol after 11 p.m. and close by midnight. To get his side of the controversy, VICE talked to DJ Deejay to find out what he was thinking promoting an Emo Night Philly event in a pandemic.
How were you imagining this event?
Let's backtrack a little bit. It's not really an event. What happened was I put a tweet out last night that I didn't even really think too much about. And I went to bed. When I woke up I realized how the tweet was misleading. It looks like the type of event that I began throwing 10 years ago when I started throwing Emo Nights. But that's not the case at all. The venue was just like, Hey, "we need somebody physically to stand here while we're open. Do you want to do it?" But as far as jumping up and down, singing, stage-diving, and crowd surfing, none of that would be happening. People got the wrong impression. I also have multiple sclerosis, I'm immunocompromised and I'm not gonna do anything to jeopardize that or flaunt social distancing.
So you're saying this wasn't going to be anything like what people typically associate with Emo Nights.
There were no tickets. There's no cover. I started doing these nights in 2011 and there definitely was crowd-surfing, dancing, and screaming, which is what society recognizes Emo Nights as. This wasn't going to be that but I take the blame for people thinking it would be because of the tweet I posted. The idea that I was just going to be like, "Come on in. Fill the room. Ignore social distancing" isn't true. We're gonna have somebody there playing My Chemical Romance song quietly and a Mayday Parade song quietly on stage. You have to wear masks when you're not eating or drinking and you have to order food with your drinks. You have to follow all of the guidelines, which we could even push further in my opinion. I don't control the state of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia government.
Have you been to Kung Fu Necktie, since it opened back up to the public? I'm just trying to figure out what the vibe is there on a night with limited capacity.
I personally have not. I'm in communication with the powers that be and we're just trying to figure out what can happen based on the guidelines that the government is giving that's safe and productive. We're working together and working with the bartenders, the door guys. It's a whole managed situation. It's not just me trying to open up the doors and have everyone pay X amount of dollars to bring in as many bodies unsafely as possible. That has nothing to do with it. It's very obviously a limited capacity venue. I'm told people are sitting and eating food there now. [ Kung Fu Necktie did not return VICE's request for comment. While VICE couldn't confirm that Kung Fu Necktie is serving food, it is required to do so by Pennsylvania law]
I saw someone on Twitter claim that you or Emo Night Philly had posted on Facebook asking if hosting something at Kung Fu Necktie was something your fans would be comfortable and the overwhelming response was "no" and yet you guys still went along with it.
I don't know. That's possible. I personally don't run the Facebook page. I should know. I should be paying close attention because it is my thing.
People want live events back but only when it's safe to do so. Much of the pushback you got worried that hosting a thing that used to be a dance party like this in any context could become a place for the virus to spread.
One thing that is happening is I'm having people contact me, local Philadelphia people saying, "when are you going to do this party? Or bring this DJ night back?" I always, "Look, I've been doing Twitch DJ sets for like six months now and you can't really do parties like you used to." I'm sorry that you want to party down and you want to have fun or whatever but we cannot do it as a people. I can't control somebody from running down the street and deciding to spit on somebody, something preposterous like that. But I can control every aspect of what I do as a DJ. It wasn't going to be an Emo Night like how people normally understand it. I think the tweet sort of started this firestorm that I had no intention of igniting whatsoever. So I apologize to everybody for that.
There's a bit more nuance to the situation than DJ Deejay’s Emo Night Philly tweet and the reaction to it suggests. It would be unsafe for a non-masked or distanced potential dance party in an indoor bar, that’s not what the event was supposed to be at all. If we’re taking DJ Deejay at his word, it would’ve been a guy on a stage playing music during regular bar service. This is effectively what happens at every open indoor bar nationwide. Whether or not bars and restaurants should be open for indoor service is a different debate, and independent venues like Kung Fu Necktie, which reopened for the first time in September, are fighting for scraps to stay afloat.
Live music isn’t going to come back in earnest until there’s a vaccine, and there's no bailout coming for independent venues that have been forced to close without any revenue for months. The only other way for concerts to return is if we decrease our case numbers to such a low level that the virus is effectively eliminated, which isn't happening any time soon. According to the New York Times database, there were 64,218 new reported positive cases of COVID-19 in the United States on October 19. According to the public health research site COVIDExitStrategy, a majority of states are experiencing “uncontrolled spread” of COVID-19 and only two states are “trending better.” The virus isn’t going anywhere. But distanced DJ night at a 50-person limited capacity seems no more dangerous than having an indoor bar or restaurant open.
These problems facing out-of-work touring artists and the future of live music are much bigger than one hypothetical DJ night. The industry is already facing an extinction-level threat. If restaurants, bars, and venues aren’t given the government assistance they need to stay afloat and safely stay closed, they have no choice but to open and try to run their business in accordance with the local and state laws. Emo Night Philly and Kung Fu Necktie aren’t the villains here.