Meet the Crown Prince of Health Goth, Chicago DJ Johnny Love
Johnny Love (left) and friend.
Like a lot of recent sub-cultures, 'Health Goth' started on the web, with hashtags and images popping up on Tumblr, Instagram or Twitter making reference to a style that blends fashion's simultaneous obsessions with goth-y streetwear (see: Hood By Air, Pyrex Vision) and athletic apparel (Nike, Under Armour). Generally thought to have entered the ether a year ago when Portland-based R&B duo Magic Fades started a 'Health Goth' Facebook page, the scene has picked up steam over the last few months thanks, in no small part, to Chicago-based DJ Johnny Love.
A major muscle behind Chi Town's underground party scene -- Love frequently plays shows under his electro-hardcore outfit Deathface and helped develop the city's popular pansexual party, "Soft Leather" -- Love sports jet-black workout gear everyday, chronicles his gym sessions on Instagram, and has even launched a line of Health Goth apparel. A successor to the high fashion logo parody trend popular in 2013, his debut collection is comprised of winking black t-shirts and sports bras with reworked sportswear logos and slogans (i.e. "Just Do Me") printed across the chest. We caught up with the DJ to hear more about his new line, get his thoughts on Chicago's nightlife scene and what he really thinks about all the 'Health Goth' buzz.
How did you first get into Health Goth?
I'd seen the 'Health Goth' hashtag being used with photos of people wearing things like black Nike leggings and motorcycle masks and was like, "This makes sense -- it's what I wear to the gym anyway and I'm already a goth, so I guess I'm a Health Goth now." When my last Deathface record came out, I was interviewed by Thump and created a joke [article] "10 Commandments of Health Goth," which some Internet kids from Portland took umbrage with -- they all said I was making a mockery of Health Goth. So being an old Internet troll myself, I decided to go all the way with it. My friend actually bought the HealthGoth.com domain when she first heard about [the subculture], and gave it me because we were like, "This is great -- these kids are going to get so mad."
Why did you decide to design a Health Goth clothing line?
I wanted to actually create some real content behind Health Goth, instead of it being a hyper-real subculture. As someone who's participated in various subcultures, it doesn't make sense for there to be one that exists without real life participation. People post things in the Health Goth Facebook group like $500 sneakers and outfits that no one would actually wear unless they're going to New York Fashion Week -- it's like they almost don't want it to exist. They're creating a subculture that's become an advertising platform for corporations and it's become like a cyberpunk dystopia. My idea of a subculture is like DIY punk, grunge, rave stuff that doesn't buy into big-name brands.
One of the Health Goth designs available for sale.
And that's what inspired your line of t-shirts and sports bras?
Yeah. I didn't want the clothes to be too expensive because if people want to participate in Health Goth, they should be able to without spending too much. For a subculture to actually take root, you need participation. If you don't allow audience participation, then anyone can shit all over it and it'll be over in six months because it was never something to begin with. Seapunk wasn't able to properly take hold before it got so quickly exposed, which is why it died out. Now when you think of Seapunk, you picture a fucking dolphin shirt and green hair. For my collection, I designed one of the t-shirts to look like a Juventus jersey, which is an Italian soccer team. Their original jersey is black, the sponsor is cheap and it was all really minimal, so everything made sense in relation to Health Goth.
How does Deathface fit into Health Goth?
My music makes me think of someone dropping weights in a sweaty gym that's really dark with a strobe light. It's fitting because Industrial DJs in the early '90s would perform onstage wearing a wife beater and combat boots, and they'd be really fit and muscular. Health Goth is all about having a fit body.
Tell me about your dance party, Soft Leather.
When I moved back to Chicago two years ago [from Atlanta], the scene was in a real bad place, mostly because of the rise of EDM. In terms of nightlife it was like, "this is where the douchebags go, and this is where more douchebags go." The club environment wasn't friendly to what my friends and I were trying to organize, which was a seapunk party in a dark room full of mattresses where everyone would trip and watch [animated Japanese film] Ponyo. After being bounced around, we finally heard about a new club called East Room, which is where Soft Leather began. We wanted it to not only be gay friendly, but also be a space for the girls to feel safe coming in a look without being harassed. The music also had to be forward-thinking to separate us from every club that plays Top 40 down Halsted [in Boystown]. It's more progressive than anything else going on in Chicago, right now.
Photo via Instagram.
How do you think Chicago's DIY scene compares to that of other cities?
A few friends of mine came to play a show recently and were talking about how the party they played in New York was really cool and that a lot of kids came out in looks, but they said it felt very superficial, like there were no personalities behind the looks. When they played our party in Chicago, they said we had all the same looks as New York kids, but that there seemed to be some substance behind everything. I personally like the Los Angeles scene a bit better than Chicago because it's more supportive. Here, it's like a barrel of crabs where everyone is crawling on each other to get to the top -- it's super competitive probably because it's so small.
Why do you think the Chicago's nightlife scene is so small?
Chicago is the biggest small town in America -- there are millions of people here, but we're still in the middle of Illinois with nothing around us, so culture is naturally going to be more conservative. People think, "Why would I go out, dress up and express myself if I'm just going to get harassed the entire way to the club and back?" Everyone ends up going to New York, where in reality, you have to work nonstop just to pay the rent -- it's not bohemian. You can't express yourself because you're concerned with expressing yourself in a way that will get you fed. It's bullshit. I don't think there are any bohemian places left in America. Wicker Park in Chicago used to be lined with lofts that were filled with art school kids hanging out and dancing all night. Does culture like that exist anywhere in America now? In Manhattan, you'll get a free bottle for bringing in your cool friends, but the only reward you get out of it is whatever they pay you for hosting and how drunk you get for free. You're not contributing to culture -- you're an ornament for the rich people. There's no actual place where you can create art and culture, anymore.