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The Mystery Man Behind Teen Witch Fan Club

He hasn't had a phone in seven years but between his mixtapes and mash ups, his fanzines and Second Life-like videos, Teen Witch Fan Club is deeply connected and always online.

by Aliza Abarbanel
Oct 1 2014, 7:00pm

Teen Witch Fan Club is totally a tumblr generation artist: He was born of the internet. The man behind the alias is Zain Curtis and the internet acts as his sole form of communication—he doesn’t own a phone—and it's platform for him to express himself as a musician, clothing designer, magazine editor, and internet explorer. He also acts as a patron saint of Chicago club kids, serving as the curator of #AREA69 and Total Therapy at Chicago’s Berlin nightclub. His self-made fanzine forces kiddie nostalgia and pop culture down a rabbit hole, acting as a bubblegum homage to the gay and trans youth underground scene.

Curtis remixes the teen masters like Justin Bieber and One Direction, with YouTube videos made up of creepy Second Life-like avatars and teenage girls crying about said musicians. Tagged #sadgirlpop, they’re dreamy, club ready hits that come out straight out of left field. Thanks to Curtis’ manipulations One Direction's tones droop into an impressive collective baritone and Miley squeaks into Alvin and the Chipmunks territory. Other songs include memorable titles like “3D Slut 5 Mix” (listen to it below).

We tracked down the man behind Teen Witch Fan Club to talk the power of nostalgia, roadtrips to Disney World, and Chicago’s evolving underground club scene.

Noisey: You make remixes as well as original mixes, what draws you to do both?
Teen Witch Fan Club:
I’m still in the very beginning stages of making sound. I think it’s one of the hardest things for me to catch on to and do it well. I just try to make something that I would want to listen to; it totally becomes something different. I’ve been making mixes since I was a kid. I was the family member that would make cassette mixes that we would have to listen to on the whole drive to Disney World. I was always the one making mixes for house parties as a teen. Everyone would always forget the music and that’s always the most important thing to me. It puts everyone in a mood and helps remember that moment in time if you hear that song again.

What are your main sources of inspiration, in music as well as your other creative outlets?
Music-wise I’m inspired by a lot of like-minded Soundcloud artists. People that play with really mainstream music, the more overplayed the better. I pull from all of my friends, everyone’s Tumblrs, what they share—I’m just always saving it in folders and trying to recreate it or flip it, piece it together in some other way. To the point it’s my own. We live in a whole new world where you’re going to low-key copy from something. There’s nothing original anymore, everything is just tweaked more and more.

You've said you're inspired by childhood nostalgia. Why do you think that's such a popular theme in internet culture?
It’s bright and easy for people to connect [to]. It’s everyone’s soft spot. I try to study it as a whole and what pop culture was then and now, not just one era. The trends in being included in someone’s memory. I’m inspired by anything any teen is into, why they’re into it. I like the process of something being popular for a short moment in time. Lots of my DJ sets are based on that: one hit wonders and teen idols. Playing a curated set like that can always be hit or miss. Some people are just drunk and don’t care, but seems like more people are catching on.

You have a very strong internet presence. Can you talk a bit about that?
I’m on the internet all day long. I don’t have a phone so it’s my only way to reach people. So I have a lot of time to learn how to use it as a tool to create the perfect job. I wanted a way to work for myself and creating, I guess, a persona has helped craft that in the real world. I have a love/hate relationship with the internet. I want to be an open book, but at the same time I don’t want to talk to anyone. It’s easy to promote anything I’m working on like club nights, projects, and [I’m] pretty much free to do so. That’s why I always run back to it. I do balance it out with real life stuff, so I’m not just someone hiding behind an image. Longterm goal is to be completely successful and independent from it.

Why don't you have a phone?
At first, I didn’t really have enough money to afford a phone plan or the newest phone. Then after while I didn’t really care. I haven’t had a phone for over seven years. I learned to live without one and started to see the problems with having it in friends, so now I just refuse. I like being deeply connected, but not fully. With phones you give yourself no down time. It just seems stressful and unhealthy.

What's the underground club scene like in Chicago right now?
It’s thriving. The crowd flows in and out the city. A lot of people move away, but at the same time new kids are coming in and feels like it’s starting all over. So it keeps it fresh. There’s a lot of core people that are really dedicated to making things happen. It’s kind of a snowball effect. Seems like nothing was happening for a long time and now it’s just starting to pick up again. Chicago’s dynamic is a lot different from LA and New York. I think you can get away with doing anything in those cities. Chicago has the Midwest mentality and can be a little behind, but it’s pushing us to do more because I think it feels like we have to prove something. You got to trick them into having fun and then maybe later they realize they’re apart of something.

Teen Witch is making the jump into real life with a performance at VIA Fest Chicago on 10/2.

Aliza is an internet explorer. Follow Aliza Abarbanel on Twitter.