To help us understand his ethos, Johnny Love refers to the 2006 movie, The Devil Wears Prada. "Miranda Priestly, Meryl Streep's character, tells Anne Hathaway that the cerulean blue shirt she's wearing doesn't exist because of TJ Max," says Love. "The reality is, a designer made it popular two years ago, but that's how long it took for the mundane people to adapt to what the creators create. It takes that long for something to get regurgitated to the masses."
Mainstream culture's recycling of underground culture is Love's version of that cerulean blue shirt. Johnny Love, otherwise known by his ominous electro music-making moniker Deathface, is the unapologetically hedonistic provocateur and DJ from Chicago famed for his rendition of the healthgoth subculture. His crusade against the 'disease of being inauthentic' is long chronicled on his Tumblr and his frank descriptors of modern-day culture have awarded him some sort of authoritarianism on the underground. The 32-year-old has seen the ebb and flow of subcultures, once summing it up nicely with: "Every fuck-dick can copy and paste a personality they found on the internet."
"How many middle-aged women do you see now with green, blue, and purple hair?" he asks genuinely. "Back then, this was a sea punk look and it was a total rarity. It was an identifier. If you saw someone with that hair, you could comfortably go up them and ask, 'Hey, are you a raver? Do you go to shows?' Now, you go up to those people and they'll tell you they listen to Pitbull."
Like any subculture, healthgoth's origins are difficult to pin down. In 2013, Mike Grabarek and Jeremy Scott of the duo, Magic Fades, and designer Chris Cantino created the Health Goth Facebook fan page. There, they defined healthgoth as an aesthetic and only an aesthetic—one that's removed from all else but fashion—but claim no ownership over it. Through this terminology, healthgoth is unrestricted to the internet memes and hashtags that once ignited the flame that brought the term to a slow boil.
Love, who actively identifies as a healthgoth, has been criticized for appropriating healthgoth culture and selling clothes and fitness regimes off it. Adam Harper in the FADER even accused Love of fundamentally misunderstanding what healthgoth culture is about. Harper chastised Love for taking the two words at face value and benefitting from it through the fabrication of a "gym-rat lifestyle for goths."
But Love insists that healthgoth is one part aesthetic and one part fitness ardent lifestyle. To him, it's a revolt against mainstream culture's absorption with the oh-so-sacred underground and the wide rejection of anything not considered 'normal.' "It's essentially outcast culture," says Love. "It's a way to empower the non-stereotypical gym-goer, which is most of us. If you feel like an outcast at the gym—boom, there you go."
As a streetstyle, healthgoth is a futuristic athletic-luxe. It blends monochromatic and goth-y attire with the mesh fabrics and the low maintenance footwear of sportswear. As a fitness lifestyle—Love's side of healthgoth—it celebrates an anti-bro, anti-meathead, anti-carb gym culture. "Of course there are people who half-ass it and think healthgoth is only about getting the newest Adidas tracksuit. Like with anything else, there are posers in subcultures," he says. "When something gets exposed too quickly, people think it's just a look and the actual subculture behind it completely disintegrates."
Rebellious reactions are ripe in almost all of Love's endeavors, but it shines brightest (or darkest) in his much-adored party series, Soft Leather. Soft Leather is the purposely antagonistic, unrepentantly brazen, pansexual party, that operates as a travelling safe space for cultural left-fielders. It's a gay party in a straight club—a popup safe space. "It's exactly what you think it is, it's a reaction to EDM—the bullshit, hyper-masculine, neon, bullshit, crap, garbage, fucking Top 40 bullshit music," he says. "Healthgoth is a reaction to mainstream fitness culture and Soft Leather is a reaction to mainstream EDM club culture. There's an overlap—it's like a Venn diagram of revolt."
While touring much of the world as Deathface during the bloghouse era, Love was disillusioned at how widespread EDM culture was. After returning from a stint in Atlanta, Love saw how tight EDM's grip was around the throat of authenticity in his hometown. "I've been equating EDM with hair metal and glam metal of the late 80s and early 90s," says Love. "I keep waiting for the end. When's our grunge going to happen? When will we revolt against this bullshit?"
Thus, Soft Leather was born and swaddled in a leather blanket. What started in Chicago at East Room, has since expanded across North America, popping up in New York, Kansas City, LA, and Oklahoma City. Known predominantly for its kinky leatherette wearing attendees and brooding dance music, it's a taste of anti-establishment few cities are blessed with anymore, but something all of them need. Now, Love has his eyes set on Canada.
Biz Davis, a figurehead in Toronto's Embrace Entertainment Group and Love's longtime friend, knew it was time Toronto took a walk through Love's twisted funhouse. "Toronto is in a rut when it comes to events, there's a lot of corporate and branding overreach. As an insider, I think a lot of dance music's culture has become whitewashed and homogenized," says Davis. "There's nothing freaky about anything anymore. There's nothing exciting about it anymore. It's about as exciting as going to a Nickelback concert."
Soft Leather is quite the opposite of a Nickelback concert. The party is hailed just as much for its music as it is for its late-night cheek sweat. "The music has to be as important as how the kids coming in look—if not more. Looks come in and out of style, but good taste in music is something that lasts." Together with his cohorts and fellow Soft Leather founders, Starfoxxx and Teen Witch Fan Club, Love curates each party's music based not on confetti canons and Perrier branding, but on dance music's rich history. "I arranged the time slots like a history book. I always try to do that, to try and educate people," he explains. "For every nine people that don't get it, one person will be into it. We're doing it for that one person." Often starting with Italo-disco, following with booty and early 90s Chicago dance mania, touching on bass, and leaving room for nightcourse club hits—Soft Leather covers more ground in dance music in one day than Toronto nightlife sees in a month.
"There is no way that this is going to be Beatport Top 100. There's no way this is going to be sponsored by Doritos," says Davis. "This is what your mom warned you raves would be like."
"But anyone one can come," assures Love. "Guys will come dressed completely ridiculously and girls will come with their tits out—you can't ruin the safe space. If at any moment you make someone uncomfortable with your presence, fuck you. You're not welcome."
Soft Leather will take over Studio Bar in Toronto on Saturday June 20. While Love would likely suggest you pack in a few extra reps at the gym—donning all black, of course—he choose a more honest piece of advice for Canadian newcomers: "My advice is be open minded. And I don't know if poppers are legal in Canada, but if so, bring poppers."
Rachael only wears black but would rather identify as fashionably lazy, find her on Twitter.