Gabe Saporta beamed proudly as he flipped through videos of his sons, one sprinting around in an Itachi Uchiha costume, his younger brother following him dressed as Fireman Sam. The Jewish festive holiday of Purim had just passed, and the Jewish musician and current director of music media “did everything” to celebrate. It was a fitting start to our conversation: his children were a central part of the upcoming reunion of his seminal post-hardcore band Midtown, which opens for My Chemical Romance and headlines a few of their own shows at autumn. Saporta started the band as a teenager in New Jersey in the late 90s; now he and guitarist Tyler Rann are dads, and their kids want to see their dads rock. “Literally doing it for the kids,” as he put it.
As a testament to the North Jersey emo’s ironclad ties, My Chemical Romance’s Mikey Way is also partly responsible for the Midtown reunion. Rann mentioned to Way that Midtown was considering replaying shows, which was at least partially true. The group had previously reconnected via group text which slowly evolved from just catching up to discussions about playing together. The three East Coast members (all but Los Angeles-based Saporta) reunited for a jam session on March 10, 2020; less than a week later, global shutdowns dashed any hope of future repeats.
Midtown was finally considering hometown shows for late 2022 when Way reached out to Saporta to open My Chemical Romance on their upcoming arena tour. “So I had good news and bad news,” Saporta told his comrades once the opening slot was confirmed. “The bad news is that we’re not going to be able to play our Jersey show. The good news is that we’re going to be playing at the Prudential Center with My Chem instead. Even better, the My Chemical Romance gig was sold out for years they would be able to keep their New Jersey headlining dates after all. In a way, Midtown was reaping what they had sown decades earlier: “We’d take out Dashboard Confessional, and then they’d go on the moon. We’d come out on Thursday, they go to the moon. We come out Thrice and then they get big,” Midtown drummer Rob Hitt recalls. “It was almost like you want your band to be big, let Midtown you to go out.”
Saporta was wary of the expectations these types of reunions placed on fans and musicians. “I’m always on the fence about these things. It takes so much work,” he explained. “I’m not the biggest fan of nostalgia either. When I’ve seen my favorite bands reform, I’ve always been disappointed. So I never want to disappoint anyone and not live up to the vision they have in mind. The band members are in their 40s, with families and careers: Rann is VP of fashion brand Theory, and Hitt is a software engineer who manages numerous fan accounts of bodega cat at the same time. Saporta, with his huge catalog of Midtown and his dance-pop group Cobra Starship, worried about remembering his own songs (“My brain is mush,” he added.) But Way convinced him: “Playing arenas with My Chem is a pretty good reason [to get back together]”, said Saporta.
“[Midtown] never really had an official breakup,” Hitt noted, but the band informally disbanded around 2005, after 2004. forget what you know. As Saporta described it, the band fell victim to a musical landscape grappling with massive technological and economic change. After releasing their debut album Save the world, lose the girl on Drive-Thru Records, they became a de facto major label band when Drive-Thru was acquired by MCA. The label heads didn’t get their image – Saporta recalls meeting their A&R rep courting another band the night of the Living well is the best revenge— and they “played a game of chicken” by withholding new music until they could get out of their record deal. They then signed with Columbia just as Napster caused panic in the industry. After three albums on three labels, Midtown finally died by a thousand commercial blunders.
Cobra Starship, Saporta’s electro-pop band, was built on the bitter ashes of its previous industrial disasters. “Let’s go as far as we can with this, have fun and piss while we do it,” he recalled thinking at the time. Saporta recalled all the friends and industry connections from that time around 2005, no matter how small, that helped him get back into music after Midtown. “I have to give them credit,” he added, grateful for their help even two decades later. There was fashion director Kelly McCauley, who “basically laced everyone with Diesel [jeans], from the Warped Tour bands to the Strokes and the Rapture” and gave Saporta the advice to “get out of your own way”. Then he credited Seventeen writer Sophie Schulte-Hillen for encouraging him to crash Gwen Stefani’s LAMB show and ambush her on the video for his parody song “Hollaback Boy.” This song, which blew up early on MySpace, was a suitably raunchy, self-referential debut for his new venture.
To hear him describe it, Cobra Starship was the culmination of influences throughout Saporta’s life. Born in Uruguay, he immigrated to America and landed in eastern Queens in his early childhood. “I remember on the weekends my mother would take us to the ice rink and I would hear this music. I don’t know what it was. But I would call it “roller rink music”. It was freestyle – like ‘Two Of Hearts’, Cover Girls – that would later influence the sound of Cobra Starship. Another major influence, perhaps unsurprisingly for his neon-clad dance-pop band, was Saporta’s entry into nightlife: “I turned 21 and started going to clubs” , did he declare. “There was a party called the MisShapes party that was started by former stage kids who epitomized that 80s resurgence.” This, combined with a dance punk scene led by DFA (which itself is currently experiencing a nostalgic revival as “sleaze indie”), inspired Saporta to experiment with soft synths like Reason.
As with many subjects, Saporta sketched a a beautiful spirit map of his Cobra Starship influences in quick succession: Madonna, early Depeche Mode, New Order collaborator Arthur Baker, Phoenix’s United. It all added to the neon tracksuits, keytars and general debauchery that defined Cobra Starship. And while it’s easy to look back on that time and laugh at it all, Saporta took their sound seriously: By the time Cobra Starship called it quits in 2015, they had collaborated with Cover Girls and Arthur Baker, a fan- to a collaborator complete the circle that most bands only dream of.
If Midtown, with its brooding lyrics and penchant for weird album covers, was always slightly out of step with an industry looking for pretty faces and easy singles, Cobra Starship was perfectly in sync with the hypermediated landscape of the mid-20s. 2000. They invited fans to make it a “guilty pleasure”; they poked fun at the whims of musical trends on “Pop-Punk Is Sooooo ’05”. Their rise alongside label peers Fueled By Ramen Fall Out Boy and Panic! At the Disco encountered a new kind of fan: terminally ill, sarcastic, usually teenage girls who endlessly mocked bands they claimed to adore on Livejournal forums like FBR_Trash. It was a cruel insight into the parasocial relationships that are so common in today’s pop landscape.
As a “prowler” on these forums at the time, I wanted to know if this level of familiarity bothered Saporta. To my surprise, he saw himself in their rabid fandom. “Man, I have pics of me outside a Sonic Youth show waiting for them to come out. But I’ll take a pic and super obnoxiously hold Lee Renaldo’s ear in the pic – don’t ask permission, do it. I was that kid going, ‘Hey, I think I know this guy,'” he explained. “As an artist, I feel like I owe something to the people who support me and allow me to do what I do for a living.”