music this magnificent and medicine are one and the same. they make life worth living; hearts worth healing. - Boys Night Out, "Healing"
I was 13 when I discovered Boys Night Out. Already 2 years into therapy for being sad and nervous, and just starting to discover what is referred to as “the scene.”
7th grade was a rough year for me and my circle of 3 friends, but also one of the most defining years of my life. I didn’t like the kids I went to school with and they didn’t like me. Now, being 24, I know that THAT’S FINE. But when I was 13 and I was being made fun of every day for wearing a black sweater, I wasn’t fine. I wasn’t invited to small parties that everyone was just discovering and starting to throw. Instead, I went to my best friend's older brother’s local band gigs at Metro Gallery. I liked Metro Gallery. I liked the teenagers that hung out at Metro Gallery. But I still wanted to be friends with the kids in my school, my school district, and my tiny suburb.
I was a cheerleader for both my school and for a traveling competition team. That’s what the cool kids were doing right? That’s what the happy kids were doing. But after games and after practices, I wasn’t hanging out at their pools or country clubs. I was in my room with the door closed taking MySpace bulletin quizzes and updating my LiveJournal account with with lyrics of the music I was discovering through talking to strangers on the internet accompanied with some horrible photo of a tree or the sky that I took with my first point and shoot camera. I loved the internet and I loved the people I talked to on the internet. They were like me. We shared the same thoughts. I wanted to be like them.
I would spend hours every night with my door closed and my headphones on. While my parents were sleeping, I was in AOL chat rooms under the name elenaxenvy talking to like minded individuals and doing my best to maintain all 5k+ “friends” i made on Myspace.. When one of those strangers showed me Boys Night Out's Trainwreck - I swear I spent next the year listening to it on repeat. I had never heard such a complex album before. I felt as though I had this dark and heavy record, and that no one else in my school knew anything about my life because they didn’t have these songs.
Locked in my room and angry at the world for not understanding, I was identifying with lyrics and music.
I take my medicine and make them believe that i'm a better man. - "Recovering"
The lines I wear around my wrist are there to prove that I exist. - "Introducing"
I was cutting myself without the intention of dying. But so were all of my friends and all of the other kids I started meeting at shows. I spent every weekend 40 minutes away in Wilkes Barre seeing bands and smoking cigarettes in the parking lot with fellow show goers.
Then I would spend 2 weekdays in therapy. I spent every night being dispensed medication and being talked to by my crying parents. Why was I cutting myself? Why was I smoking cigarettes? Why did I start dating boys that were way older than me and definitely not good people? Why wasn’t I taking my therapist seriously?
(Sidebar, I was an awful kid to my parents and they didn’t deserve that.)
I’d spend years trying to be super ‘alt’ and hanging out in alleyways next to venues with my little point and shoot camera. Begging anyone 18+ to buy me cigarettes and pay attention to me. Bonding over whatever band was playing, I was happy. My entire week could be solved with whatever 30 minute set of mediocre metal core or pop punk music was in town that weekend.
It wasn’t until I was a junior in high school that I took my therapist and medication seriously. That was when my parents first brought up divorce. That was the first time someone close to me died suddenly in a car accident. Both of those events happened in the same week, leading to a diagnosis of PTSD from my new psychiatrist. Former medications weren’t keeping my feelings at bay and I was switched to stronger pills. What I thought was me being a sad kid who worried a lot was actually diagnosed as Major Depressive Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Thoughts, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
It wasn’t long before I was taking heavier and heavier doses of highly addictive medication that I would continue into my adult years.
The next year and a half all I could think about was getting away. After a small scandal that almost ended in expulsion, followed by a bullying incident against my best friend for her sexuality - I basically stopped attending school. Some days I would drive into the parking lot and start crying so hard that I just drove away and hid at a friend’s apartment. Other days I would go to the nurse’s during my 2nd period class and get sent home from panic attacks. Somewhere in between the threats of truancy and the painful alienation from my friends and family due to an abusive relationship, I got accepted into Savannah College of Art and Design. I would be moving to Atlanta, GA. I had my escape plan.
You cut your ties. Felt better off. - The Hotelier, "Dendron"
I got the chance to start over in 2011. I was in a new city and I didn’t know anyone. But I knew exactly where I would friends. I got off the plane in Atlanta, GA on September 8th, 2011, and headed straight to The Masquerade to see Balance & Composure. From that moment, I knew I wanted to hang out there. I felt at home in a different city and I felt truly happy. I was excited to see what my Atlanta adventure would bring.
College was hard and no joke. But when I wasn’t working on something for school, I was definitely drinking or attending a show. I started going to The Masquerade probably 3-4 times a month and other DIY shows at Wonderroot, Drunken Unicorn, and Archive Gallery 2-3 times a week. I didn’t know anyone and I would go alone. My social anxiety prevented me from talking to anyone and changeovers between sets were a dreaded time for me. Never actually being decent at concert photography or show pics, I started taking my camera to shows to act as a barrier from interaction. Sitting outside between sets and smoking a cigarette, my eyes and hands were attached to my camera while I pretended to be looking through photos with upmost importance and couldn’t be bothered to make conversation.
Eventually people started noticing the camera girl showing up all the time and started to extend invitations to other shows that often felt like a test of loyalty to the scene. And that was fine. I wanted to be there more than anywhere else. I was starting to get better at taking action photos with an intense flash and I had a huge appreciation for the energy and aggression that was present at every single show. It took about a year of actually showing up at shows to go from being the “Camera Girl with Pink Hair” to being Elena. And Elena had a purpose at those shows. Elena was there to take pictures of everyone yelling in unity and punching the air in frustration. Everyone just wanted to feel something and I could relate more than they may have realized. I’ve always been appreciative to those who accepted my presence and could tell that I needed to be there just as badly as they did.
I kept very busy my freshman year and was able to balance my school work (although poorly. I was no good at any foundation gen ed classes) and my out of school life. I made some friends through school and would go to shows at The Masquerade with them. We would travel to any surrounding state for shows and even take trips to New York for the sake of shows. While they didn’t attend really any hardcore shows with me, they became some of my best friends and the times we went to shows together became some of my fondest memories.
One night in April 2012, I got very inebriated and sent an email to The Masquerade stating why I wanted to intern there. I don’t know why they responded to me, but they did. The next day I got asked to come in for interview and was given the opportunity to be an intern at the venue I loved so much. I was being thrown photo passes for all of the shows that were hosted there. I couldn’t believe it. All I had to do was update the website, post about shows, and take posters around town in exchange to growing my portfolio and having endless amounts of photos for school.
Jokes on me because SCAD could care less about concert photography and offered no valid critique or technical suggestions. But that thought quickly disintegrated when I got hired by The Masquerade to run their socials and website part time and I decided I didn’t want to be a photographer anymore. I skipped school as often as I could without failing and I started to feel like I was living at The Masquerade. More of my friends began interning there and working there and I was going to too many shows to keep track of.
I decided that my mental health was fine. I was so busy that I decided I was okay. I was doing so great in Atlanta that I didn’t need my depression medication anymore or to see a therapist in my new city. So I stopped. I was fixed.
Little did I know that mental health isn’t something that is just “fixed.” A lesson I quickly learned when my father died in a car accident in 2013.
I retreated to Pennsylvania and my formerly diagnosed PTSD returned and manifested as an intense fear of driving. It stays with me everyday. I hate driving. I hate being in the car. I am constantly anxious and sad when in the driver's seat of a vehicle. If it’s raining, I would rather sit somewhere and wait it out rather than try to drive through it. The fear of cars and accidents didn’t stop me from driving my teary-eyed self to a Daylight show in Wilkes Barre the night of my father’s funeral. Those 40 minutes of music felt like the first time I stopped crying that whole day. However, after that night, I can’t listen to Daylight/Superheaven anymore without feeling a physical pain in my head.
I spent that summer in Pennsylvania remotely working for The Masquerade. I dropped all of my school classes and tried to figure out what to do with my life and how to get it back on track. Being home was a good escape back to my scene there and seeing bands from there that I loved. Seeing Title Fight play ’27’ took on a new meaning for me and crying through Tigers Jaw’s “Meet At The Corner” became my norm.
When I came back to Atlanta, I was still so sad. I let my schoolwork slide to the point of pushing my graduation back a quarter. I didn’t care about anything including myself. I started to slide into toxic behavior patterns and relations because they seemed like the answer to coping. [Spoiler alert, they were not.] I needed to go back to therapy, but I didn’t. I got promoted at work and I used that as justification of the fact that I was ‘doing okay.’
Your lack of love for your dear self is sapping all of us here out! Trace your roots back to the ground, work out the knotholes for yourself - The Hotelier, "Your Deep Rest"
With my anxiety taking the wheel, I was taking more classes than I needed to in an effort to be finished with college earlier. I had made up my mind about my future and I knew I wanted it to be in the music industry. I was honest with myself that I could never be the touring photographer that I wanted to be because I couldn’t handle being on the road. The thought of overnight drives and unpredictable weather terrified me. A weekend trip with a band in a car solidified that decision.
I took myself back to where I felt safe and comfortable growing up - locked inside at my computer with my headphones in.
When it came time for my senior projects and statements of intent upon graduation, I had an assignment to interview a mentor. In my previous 3 years at The Masquerade, I knew better than to bother Greg while he was single handedly booking over 600 shows a year for the venue. He knew of me, typing away in the other room, but definitely didn’t know my name for at least my first 2 years. I asked him if I could interview him for a project and he changed my life with his response. Neither of us really knew that I had interest in being a Talent Buyer, but it became the only thing I wanted to do.
Greg didn’t just give me an interview for my school project. Greg took the title of mentor and he took it seriously. My mental health was still fragile and I was gearing up to work remotely again from the comfort of my mom’s house in Pennsylvania for the next 2 months. Not only did Greg understand - but he decided this was the time to start training me for my future in Talent Buying. During Summer 2014, Greg copied me on almost all of his emails. He taught me about the different types of deals that were made for bands to play the venue. He walked me through booking my first official show (that later ended up being a sell out), and he introduced me to all of his contacts. I think we both really decided that this was my foreseeable future and that I would start booking with him at The Masquerade full time when I graduated.
The next 10 weeks were an extremely stressful Adderall-induced blur. I was balancing my marketing work for the venue with my talent buying learning with my final three college printmaking classes. I didn’t eat or sleep and I was struggling with panic attacks more than I had ever before. But I did it.
I turned 22 on November 19, 2014.
I graduated college on November 21, 2014.
I started at The Masquerade full time on November 22, 2014.
Less than a month later, Greg, my best friend Monica, and I started working on a festival with the idea of bringing together music we love by artists that inspire us.
Working my first year really in the industry was exciting. Everything about music is exciting. Working with bands I grew up idolizing was mind blowing. I had to fight the urge to tell agents and managers that I needed their bands’ music in my life to survive. It almost felt like I needed to dial back my enthusiasm and love for music in order to be seen as sane.
I realized that the industry is hard. It’s complicated and messy and you need to have thick skin. There have been and surely will be many nights where I get home from work and just want to cry. There have been and will be many weekends where my depression has immobilized me to the point that thinking about getting up to even shower brings me to tears and feels like the hardest task in the world. There have been and will be many times where we don’t get the show that we really wanted and I feel like a failure. Every one of those nights is met with a night of taking photos I’m really proud of or jumping off the speaker, or getting too drunk with my friends and singing along.
Spending all of 2015 and 2016 booking for the venue and the festival was a roller coaster of emotions. I’m so grateful that I had my work family and my friends by my side for all of the ups and downs. But sometimes the ups and downs are too violent to ride out with just your support system.
When it was decided that The Masquerade had to temporarily move locations while further searching for a new permanent venue, I didn’t deal with the change well. With that came the decision to hold off on The Wrecking Ball ATL 2017 and the final nail in the coffin.
Driving to work in a new location everyday made me cry. Sitting in my new office induced panic attacks and crying fits that took me outside 4-5 times a day, thinking I couldn’t handle this. Not having The Wrecking Ball 2017 to work on and look forward to made me grim about the future and wonder what I even had to look forward to. I had lost all motivation and retreated to my bed to nap at every possible change I got. I needed to get help again.
There’s always a stigma against mental help and seeking professional help and there shouldn’t be. I finally established care in Atlanta and have been seeing a professional monthly to adjust what medications I’m taking and what other chemicals (alcohol is a depressant y’all) I’m putting in my body. Mental health isn’t something that can be ‘fixed’ and forgotten about. It’s real and there is no shame for needed help in regulating your feelings and imbalances.
Getting a dog helps too.
Music has definitely become my life - but that doesn’t mean it should be life and death. Maybe someday I’ll make it through The Hotelier’s Home Like No Place Is There without crying - but until then, I’ll just do my best.
They diagnosed you born that way
They say it runs in your family
A conscious erasure of working class background
Where despair trickles down
Imbalanced chemical crutch
Open up, swallow down
The Hotelier, "Your Deep Rest"
If you're interested in submitting to Voices From The Scene, please shoot an email to Punk Talks Outreach Coordinator, Kika, at firstname.lastname@example.org!