Ride or Cry: How Three Kids Brought Emo Back to Life in Echo Park

A monthly party at a Sunset Boulevard dive has become so much more.

Just around sundown, just past Sunset Boulevard, on the first Tuesday of the month, every month—for the past year—if you passed the Echoplex on Glendale, you’d think it was 2004. You hear the line that stretches nearly around the block to Echo Park Lake dropping names like Connor Oberst and discussing bands such as Glassjaw, or Thursday. From the look of things: My Chemical Romance, or Taking Back Sunday, or Saves the Day is playing a show.

“Nope, just three kids and an iPad," Barbara “Babs” Szabo, of Emo Night LA and Ride or Cry, tells The KIND.

Craig Owens of Chiodos and The Sound of Animals Fighting guest DJs. Photo: Gil Riego

On a Friday afternoon in November, in an office just above Sunset, Szabo and her partners, Morgan Freed and T.J. Petracca are planning the 1 Year Anniversary of Emo Night Los Angeles, a/k/a Taking Back Tuesday. They’ve come a long way in a short period of time, hosting a monthly party where the music of an entire generations’ angsty youth finds new life. And now, much more than that.

“When we first started, we just wanted a place where we could have fun and listen to the music we loved growing up, while getting drunk with our friends,” says Szabo.

It all began after a Dashboard Confessional-inspired karaoke session led Szabo and Petracca to throw the first L.A. emo night at the Short Stop, another bar just down Sunset. Szabo had previously hosted similar events up north while in school, but never anything on this scale. In the time since, they’ve ditched the iPad for real DJ decks, moved up the street, and filled the venue to capacity month after month. 

The crowd is usually a mix of east siders, west siders, kids from The Valley, alternative new media types, Suicide Girls, YouTubers, musicians, and lifelong emo/screamo enthusiasts. Most participants arrive on a wave of nostalgia and  leave drunk on drinks named after bands, and the music that inspired the whole thing. 

People rush to crowd the stage as if the artists whose music is blasting from the PA are actually up there—which is more likely than not—and the rest of the scene plays out similarly to most emo shows: Pulsing from wall-to-wall, occasionally devolving into a mosh pit, circled by groups of post-hardcore kids acting too cool to sing along, but whom certainly know the lyrics.

TJ Petracca, Barbara Szabo, and Morgan Freed at Emo Night Los Angeles. Photo: Gil Riego

Cut to nearly 12 months later: Because of how popular it's become on social media, and the non-stop grinding of Szabo and team, Emo Night continues to grow. The crew took the show on tour to Seattle, Portland, Omaha, and will take it to Denver and San Francisco in December. They've booked DJs such as Mark Hoppus of Blink 182 and Craig Owens of Chiodos.

“Oh shit!” Petracca zooms across the room on one of those glider board things to turn around a poster stand.

“Did you see it?” They ask, wondering if we caught a glimpse of the lineup for the 1 Year of Tears party.

“We’ve booked someone that has taken us, well, all year to book. And we’re super stoked about it,” Morgan Freed tells us.

Freed, who grew up playing in bands and met Szabo and Petracca when the three previously worked in the same office at a creative agency just down the road from where we are today, chimes in on the process of booking guest DJs. Which, following Hoppus, has been a rotating list of Alternative Press cover shots. 

Left: Morgan Freed at the Ride or Cry office, Echo Park. Right: TJ Petracca. Photo: Ben Karris

“Now people are reaching out and want to be a part of it, but at first, we would just hit them up in any way possible. We would even DM them through Instagram.” 

“It was a lot of networking and reaching out to people we knew, who knew other people in the scene. Now, it’s really fun to work with the artists before the show and help them build a set on our equipment,” Petracca says. “That’s actually my favorite part of it, because a lot of the artists are not used to the idea of DJ’ing.”

Hoppus—who will be returning to play a set at the 1 Year of Tears Anniversary—told Rolling Stone earlier this month:

 “[Emo Night] was the first time I had the experience to see a bunch of people cheering on a DJ as much as they did a band at a live show.” 

But more than that, the success of Emo Night gave Szabo, Freed and Petracca the confidence and contacts to quit their full-time jobs and form their own digital strategy agency—Ride or Cry. In this new capacity, they work with artists, bands and brands on social media, web design, music videos and event planning.

Barbara 'Babs' Szabo at the Ride or Cry office, Echo Park. Photo: Ben Karris

Inside the office, everyone occupies a desk in different corners of the space, and they’ve just hired another young woman to work with them on the new endeavor. The brand recently partnered up with L.A. based streetwear staple, OBEY Clothing to produce its own line of merchandise, and later, a limited edition series of military jackets, of which the proceeds will be donated to charity.

I can’t even imagine working our other jobs and doing this at the same time.

A slew of emo night carbon copies have sprung up across the country, and these three don’t necessarily claim theirs as the first, though they’re certainly recognized as the most authentic.

Much like any successful band recording their sophomore album, these three are faced with a moment. It’s the moment when you realize the difference between a wish and a real goal. Once you’re on the precipice of achieving the latter, it’s all comes down to how hard you’re willing to work, and what you’re willing to sacrifice in order to make it happen. And how much fun you can have doing it. 

Photo: Gil Riego

“I can’t even imagine working our other jobs and doing this at the same time. With everything that we have planned for this upcoming year, there would be no way of achieving it unless we were dedicated to it full-time,” Szabo tells The Kind. The others echo her sentiment.

This drive to follow a personal passion and give oneself over completely to the things that make one happy, is a defining narrative of the Emo Generation—dream it, build it, blow it up online, but make it your own and own it. Even if it happens one Tuesday at a time.

Catch the One Year of Tears Emo Night Anniversary party Dec. 1, at The Echoplex in Echo Park, Los Angeles.