by Lauren Wong
Every Thursday at The Kennedy nightclub, JoeyEls watches his name light up the stage as he takes his accustomed spot behind the main DJ table. This 18-plus club is routinely packed with students from The University of Tampa, due to its location being only about a mile from the campus.
Unphased by the lights and energy of the crowd, JoeyEls plugs his USB drive into his laptop, loads up his playlists, and slides on his black Sony headphones. He disappears into his own world as his fellow peers dance the night away.
Joseph Loiacono, 24-year-old senior business management major, known on the stage as JoeyEls, said he will never retire from, no matter what city his occupation takes him to.
“I was in Greece, on an island called Cyprus, with my family,” said Loiacono. “This island has about 2,000 people. My dad’s friend Pavlos, who is from the island, asked one of the local night clubs if I could DJ that night, and he literally just said ‘yeah,’ it was that easy.”
Loicana also said his dream is to play a pool party in Miami during the Miami Music Week.
“The summer before I left college I tried to take my own life two weeks after I turned 18… and I can share this story now, but a few years ago I would be struggling to talk about this,” Loiacono said.
Loiacono grew up playing hockey and he said it was his only life and passion. After acquiring six concussions throughout his career, he was forced to retire.
“After my last concussion things began getting dark and that is when something changed in me,” said Loiacono.
Loiacono was asked to take leave the University of Massachusetts, after three semesters due to poor grades. During this time, he never fully recovered from his depression and was still living an unhealthy lifestyle.
A few months later he attended Ultra Music Festival in Miami, FL, where he experimented with the common festival drug, LSD, also known as Acid. This is what led to his third hospitalization.
“S– didn’t hit the fan until a couple weeks later. I slowly started to lose my sense of reality and I had a psychotic break down, leading to my second time in a psychiatric hospital,” said Loiacono. “This time I was stuck there for a few weeks.”
The months following his release would be his most difficult. Many of his close friends distanced themselves from him and stopped associating themselves with him.
“There is a good six to eight-month period that I have no recollection of,” said Loiacono. “I was going through severe withdrawals, because I was abruptly taken off my previous meds for depression, while also trying to get used to my new prescription.”
He explained that his parents had to help him in virtually every aspect of life from showering to feeding him. “I was nineteen or twenty years-old at the time. I would wake up in the middle of the night, profusely sweating and shaking with night tremors and sometimes even vomiting… and this is what my parents have told me. I don’t remember any of it,” said Loiacono.
With the support of his parents and doctors he managed to finally pull himself out of this state, and gain the trust back of his friends. He said it took almost two years before he felt comfortable around people and putting himself into social situations.
Loiacono added the importance of mental health is and encourages everyone going through a tough time to not be afraid to speak to someone. He believes people shouldn’t be afraid to get help if they think they need it because it can potentially save their life or simply improve their quality of living.
Music has acted as his therapy, recovery, and what still keeps him happy and stable to this day. Josh McElwee, a senior biology major, also known as MYR music, has had the chance to watch and work alongside Loiacono as he has grown his presence in the Tampa area.
“It’s clear that he’s aware that he’s in control of the whole room,” said McElwee. “To see how much he’s been able to adapt to the scene here in Tampa, and push through is super impressive.”
At his place on stage, Loiacono appears to have everything in order. From the lighting, as it coincides with the bass drop, to the slight switch in pitch as the song changes. Most would never guess the internal battles he has overcome just within the last couple of years.
“I don’t know exactly what it is, but the vibe of the Kennedy is unbeatable,” sophomore economics major, Zach Decosta said. “I don’t personally know the DJ, but he really knows how to get the crowd going, I could stay there all night.”
Coming off the stage after a great set reminds Loiacono of that feeling, years ago, of stepping off the ice after a big game, a win in his back pocket. The energy, the adrenaline, it all goes back what he lost when he was forced into ending his hockey career.
At the end of the night he takes off his headphones and checks back into reality, he looks across at his sweaty peers, the lights go dark, and the music fades out, Loiacono knows he will be back again next week.
“It’s a healing thing and I’m never going to stop, it makes me feel good and almost feels like therapy when I’m on the decks controlling the energy of the room,” said Loiacono.
Lauren Wong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org