Three People in LA Are Trying to Trademark Emo

The Emo Wars rage on.

Mar 13 2015, 5:00pm

Founders of Taking Back Tuesdays, Morgan Freed, Barbara Szabo, and T.J. Petracca. Original photo by Gil Riego Photography, LA Times.

An “emo night” is an event celebrating musical and cultural nostalgia for the genre’s heyday which, depending on your preference, was either the American Footballs and Promise Rings of the late 90s or the My Chemical Romances and Brand News of the mid-aughts. (The former technically being The Correct Opinion, by the way.) Usually taking place at a bar or small venue, an emo night will feature DJs, often including emo notables, spinning the angsty sad-bastard classic tunes of yesteryear to stir the drunken weeknight feels among the mid-20s to early-30s crowd of scene-kids-turned-day-jobbers who attend.

Notice the operative word in that description—an emo night. There is no the emo night, singular. There are many emo nights happening around the country—in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, DC, Philadelphia, etc.—all operating independently from one another. No one person owns the concept of an emo night any more than any one person owns emo itself. But now, three hosts of an emo night in Los Angeles are looking to trademark the phrase “Emo Night” for their own.

Last month, Emo Night LLC, a California-based compa—sorry. Hang on. Let’s all take a minute to let the hilarity of the phrase “Emo Night LLC” set in. Bigtime LOLz at the sound of our subculture’s bubble officially popping. Anyway, the emotional limited liability company submitted an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to trademark the phrase “Emo Night.” Emo Night LLC is responsible for Taking Back Tuesday, a monthly Los Angeles emo night created and hosted by Morgan Freed, Barbara Szabo, and T.J. Petracca, three LA transplants, aged 25 to 30, who met through their respective jobs at media and marketing firms in Silver Lake.

If you forgot to hit up the merch booth last night - we just launched our online store! we're restocking sizes soon! Thanks again to @absolutemerch making these.

A photo posted by Emo Night LA (@emonightla) on

Taking Back Tuesday started in December and has seen a rise in popularity and profile recently, with a Los Angeles Times feature last week and appearances by guest DJs like blink-182’s Mark Hoppus, whose qualifications include once writing a song called “Emo.”

The Times described the line to get in to their February emo night at the Echoplex as stretching “all the way down Glendale Boulevard,” with “hundreds of mid-20s to early-30-somethings” moshing, crowdsurfing, and—this is just a guess—having flashes of that breakup they went through in freshman year of college.

Their trademark claim, filed on February 4 by Petracca, is not a particularly strong one—using vague language about what exactly they’re seeking. “We booked and curated the artists for this event as Emo Night. Thats how people know it is us presenting the event,” reads the application, which was filed through LegalZoom. Along with their application, they submitted flyers to their event with their logo—the words Taking Back Tuesday (after the band Taking Back Sunday) over the Black Flag bars overlayed on the cover of Jimmy Eat World's Clarity.

It’s fairly likely that it will end up being rejected according to multiple lawyers I asked. But regardless, the request has still been filed. If it were to go through, Petracca and Emo Night LLC (still hilariously awkward) would legally be the sole owners of the phrase “Emo Night,” making all other live events across the country who use the phrase “emo night” in their title to be infringing of the trademark and subject to anything from a cease and desist order to paying monetary damages.

“Did Ian Mackaye trademark indie rock?” Tom Mullen asks rhetorically. Mullen, of Washed Up Emo, co-hosts Do You Know Who You Are?, New York’s longest running emo night, started in 2011, and is more or less America’s de facto emo historian. “It just seems so superficial. The scene moves and breathes on its own and no one owns it. It's not yours, it’s everybody’s.” It’s worth mentioning that Mullen once invited me to guest DJ in 2013, which I did. I played a bunch of hardcore records and have not been asked back since.

Do You Know Who You Are?'s four-year anniversary party. Photo by noted emo enthusiast, Heather Shae Hynes.

Separate factions of emo have long bickered in their little circles about whether real emo belongs to the eyeliner bands like Panic! at the Disco or the Ben Sherman-wearers like Mineral. And while arguing over who is the most emo is like two virgins fighting over who’s gonna get pantsed by the football team first, the warring sides both agree on one thing: trying to legally own emo is fucking lame.

“It’s sort of a selfish flex,” notes Lina Abascal, who formerly hosted Taking Back Friday, a similarly named New York-based emo night, which focused more heavily on the Myspace generation of the genre. “They don’t need a trademark to continue pursuing their night to make it bigger and more successful,” she says of the LA emo night. “They’ve done such a good job of branding it. They’ve made merch and t-shirts and were selling them at the night. I think the only reason they’d be [seeking a trademark] would be to merchandise or monetize the concept. But I don’t think it would be necessary.”

Taking Back Tuesday has begun selling shirts with the phrases “EMO NIGHT” and “SAD AS FUCK,” modeled on their Facebook page by three women who look the part (sad!). In addition to their Facebook page, which is teaming with jokes about LiveJournals and Sidekicks (nostalgia!), they're also on Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr, YouTube, and Instagram. They have a Dash Radio show and own a huge vinyl banner reading “#EMONIGHTLA.” According to Josh Bakaitus, who runs Emo Night Pittsburgh, Petracca reached out to him in an unsuccessful attempt to purchase the domain from him. Say what you will about Emo Night LLC, but they know how to brand themselves.

Emo fashion, on sale from Emo Night LLC. Photo via their Facebook.

But this goes beyond trying to brand and monetize a popular creation—a term which I use in the loosest sense of the word given that not a single thing about Taking Back Tuesday is original. They didn’t invent the concept of DJing, nor did they write the songs they’re playing, or even come up with the idea for an emo night. That dubious honor arguably goes to Diary, a San Francisco emo night started in 2009 by Pitchfork writer Patric Fallon. “Diary was always and only called ‘Diary,’” he says. “People started saying ‘emo night’ or ‘emo party’ just to help explain what Diary was about to anyone unfamiliar with us. From what I can tell, those phrases have become buzzy terms, which of course are easier to generally market.”

The larger problem here is that there’s an inherent selfishness to the idea of seeking a trademark for any genre of music, especially an offshoot of punk and its anti-corporate ethos. “Strangely enough, it actually parallels the course that the genre itself took from its first incarnations in the punk/hardcore underground's DIY community to the shelves of Hot Topic,” says Fallon. “Once a handful of people tap into music that resonates with a large swath of passionate listeners, there's surely going to be someone close behind with the perfect plan to cash in quickly and easily.”

Emo Night Boston agrees. “It seems antithetical to the idea of punk and hardcore and emo that you would try to trademark such an obvious name, never mind one that you didn't even do first,” says Luke O’Neil, Noisey contributor and founder of a Boston-based emo night. “Like anything else, this seems to me like someone taking a great idea and trying to cash in on it, which, as I recall, is why emo got such a bad name back in the emo-goes-hair-metal days in the first place.”

After several emails requesting an interview, the founders of Emo Night LLC finally responded and declined to speak on the phone, only saying "we do it because we love the music, we love having fun with people and raising money for charity," and noting that they give the door money from events to a charity of the guest DJ's choice. The Echoplex's website lists February's Taking Back Tuesday event as free before 10:30 PM and five dollars after. When asked why they are seeking a trademark, communication went dark. Shortly after, I was contacted by their publicist (they also have a publicist), who told me that for the time being, they are going to "push pause" (that's a thing that DJs do!) on interview requests.

So it’s unclear what exactly they plan on doing with “Emo Night,” should they become the owners of it. Maybe they’ll seek to monopolize the concept of emo-based entertainment, crushing competitors with the legal iron fist of Disney or Apple. Or maybe they’ll do the altruistic thing and donate it to a local charity for underprivileged emo youths.

But one thing is for sure. Trying to trademark a genre is fucking sad. Even for emo.

Dan Ozzi is on Twitter and will DJ your emo night for money. Hope you like Reversal of Man. - @danozzi