Emo is hugely popular in Tampa Bay, but DJs and record sellers have to navigate the genre's problematic artists

At the end, ‘fans take precedence.’

Tampa Bay is more emotional than ever thanks in part to a highly confessional and soul-bearing genre that is a staple in the community.

But constant access to social media has opened the genre’s musicians to allegations and accusations of misconduct, leading bands to get canceled. The allegations also force record sellers and the curators of local DJ nights devoted to emo to respond to cancel culture.

Cambridge Dictionary defines cancel culture as “a way of behaving in a society or group, especially on social media, in which it is common to completely reject and stop supporting someone because they have said or done something that offends you.”

“We definitely live in an age where information is so much more readily available and you can find things out about people. News can be spread so easily these days,” Deon Rexroat—bassist of Anberlin and Loose Talk—told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.

Rexroat, is also the co-host of the “Unfun” emo night at The Bends in St. Petersburg and added, “I don’t think the behavior is anything new as far as the ‘power positions,’ or popular positions, taking advantage of their stance.”

Although cancel culture is prevalent in every genre of music, Blake Nolen—owner of Indy Record Shop, an online record store based in Tampa—thinks that it is more common for emo fans to be vocal about the issue.

“I think a lot of emo kids kind of wear their hearts on their sleeves and are more open to expressing themselves,” Nolen told CL.

Nolen explained how this close-knit fan-base can lead to a heightened sense of community, allowing fans to band together when issues arise. She also spoke to the downside of this dynamic.

“I also think that emo music makes it more accessible for [musicians] to be predators. If that’s what they’re doing,” Nolen said.

Nolen mentioned that playing in smaller venues makes it easier for fans to interact with bands and can lead to negative, and cringey, interactions between young fans and older men. Last year, one of her favorite emo singers recently followed her on Instagram and is replying to her stories with fire emojis.

In response to the waves of allegations that have come out against emo bands over the last few years, Nolen has a designated no-sell list and DJs and hosts of local emo nights have a designated no-play list.

Theo Severson told CL that Emo Night Tampa, a monthly event he co-founded in 2015, tries to do its due diligence, but admitted that “having to do research on the entire genre is like a full-time job.” Severson—who DJs Emo Night Tampa —said last year that as soon as an allegation comes out, he looks into it in order to provide a safe-space for everyone in attendance, including folks attending tonight's event in Seminole Heights.
Someone on Rexroat’s personal no-play list also happens to be one of his favorite artists: Ryan Adams. In 2019, Adams was accused of soliciting inappropriate pictures and messages from underage girls, plus emotional and psychological abuse. These days Rexroat can barely listen to Adams’ music.

“[You think] he’s above all that bullcrap, he’s an artist. He writes great songs about love and loss, but I guess there’s always ego and pride and whatever that gets in there, regardless of what you create,” Rexroat said.

One band that made it to Emo Night Tampa, Unfun’s no-play list and Nolen’s no-sell list is Brand New. In 2017, Jesse Lacey, lead singer of the New Jersey-based emo favorite, was accused of sexual abuse and soliciting minors for nude photos in 2002 and 2003.

Rexroat said he’s still surprised when fans request Brand New; he always denies the request, and most people understand the reasoning, but a select few grumble and complain.

Cancel culture usually calls for streaming cessations, or in extreme cases, destruction of merch and tattoo removals or cover-ups, but there is a redemptive side to the phenomenon. One that allows musicians to hold themselves accountable by owning up to their actions, coming forward with a public statement or even apologizing with a strive to change their behavior.
Christian McAlhaney—Loose Talk founder, guitarist in Anberlin and current co-host of UNFUN—shared his beliefs.

“I think it’s good that it’s being talked about and I’m glad that a lot of these things have come out, when it comes to sexual assault, or that kind of stuff, obviously. Now, canceling people because they were idiots, like I said, if that’s the bar we’re going to hold everybody on the planet to, then we’d all be canceled,” McAlhaney said.

According to McAlhaney, cancel culture has its place, but causes issues when it sets impossible standards that impede growth.

“I think just shutting people down and cutting people off and blowing up bridges is not always the healthiest thing. In all relationships I think we should always seek to either understand, let someone explain or even apologize,” McAlhaney told CL.

“People go through things and have mental illnesses and people say crazy shit on social media,” Nolen said. She detailed if an allegation or rumor does not harm or put a fan at risk, it's inappropriate to cancel them. “For me it’s when you’ve got a grown man that’s asking an underage female for sexual favors or for nudes or something.”

In 2019, Morrissey was accused of nationalistic, racist and anti-immigrant beliefs, but Nolen’s shop continues to sell Morrissey and The Smith’s records in her store. “Mostly because we curate our shop to new wave/post punk and he’s a big part of that scene. I don’t know much about his recent allegations—but he’s well known for being a total asshole. Love the music, can’t stand the guy.”

Although cancel culture begs for a case by case basis, every source that spoke with CL agreed that the fans take precedence. If a customer is uncomfortable with a record in Nolen’s store, she’ll look into it to decide the best course of action. If a guest informs McAlhaney, Rexroat or Severson that a band on the setlist is unfavorable, the DJs investigate.

“The night is for everybody. It’s not just our night and we want to make sure that the night is celebrated with people who are to be celebrated,” Severson said. “You don’t know who is a survivor or who’s experienced anything like that, and the last thing you want to do is make someone feel uncomfortable.”
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