“Nightlife is my cardio.” Back when I had a club column in the print edition of L.A. Weekly, this was my motto. My friends and I would hit the floor at a chosen Hollywood haunt and make a pact: We’d dance our asses off for one hour straight or until we were all drenched in sweat. It was an excuse for not hitting the gym, but it was also a fun way to work out.
Music, nightlife and fitness have always gone hand in hand — if not to the literal extreme my friends and I took it to, then at least for sheer vanity’s sake. Summer is around the corner and with it, the pressure to look good in skimpier club attire, not to mention pool parties and the beach. (OK, for fans of goth clubs and darker styles, maybe not the beach.)
Johnny Love knows a lot about all this, especially “dark style” and how it has intersected with fitness and club life. Recognized as the best-known proponent of the “health goth” movement, Love started the whole thing as kind of a joke. But not anymore. I took his Health Goth Bootcamp at Gold’s Gym recently and believe me, it’s serious stuff.
“I had recently written a long piece about how subculture was dead, partially due to the internet,” he tells me after class, “and had been posting gym selfies wearing all black — because what else would I wear — tongue-in-cheek hashtagging #healthgoth after seeing it beginning to pop up in things that had nothing to do with being healthy nor goth.
“But because of my internet presence, people started running with it, and eventually Vivian Star Eyes asked me to write a '10 commandments of #healthgoth' for Thump,” he continues, referencing Vice's dance music channel. “She knew I would come up with something funny. This apparently offended some idiots on the internet who thought that because they ran a Tumblr aggregating images that other people made, they had some say over what ‘healthgoth’ is. But at that point it was too late, because it was only the beginning of me turning what was initially an obscure Tumblr meme into an actual worldwide fitness and fashion movement.”
A few months after that Thump piece came out, an avalanche of press followed. The New York Times, Huffington Post and Nylon all latched onto the trend, naming Love #healthgoth’s leader, and garnering him equal numbers of fans and haters in the process.
Of course, goth started out as a gloomy post-punk music genre, and simply wearing all black — to the gym or anywhere — does not a goth make (most of us wear it because it’s slimming!). But Love, who was in the blog-house group Guns & Bombs and then made music as Deathface, had the music and clubs background to give the idea weight (pun intended). He had just lost a bunch of pounds and had been documenting his progress online when the hashtag blew up. He eventually turned his workout success into a side career in fitness.
“After years of touring, early flights, late nights, bad meals and tons of alcohol, I was on the precipice of turning 30 and realized I looked like garbage. I hit up my friend Gibby from Dais/Makeout Club and he told me to cut out carbs, so I did, and two months later I had dropped 20 pounds,” Love recalls. “A few months later my friend Petey Clicks came into town and while we were hanging out, someone took a photo of us and my arms looked painfully skinny, so I realized I needed to put on some muscle. “
Becoming a trainer was a natural progression. “I started at the gym feeling like an outsider, so when I began helping other people get into it, they were coming from the same place I was,” he says. “Most people felt the same way I did, intimidated, and they wanted to have someone they could relate to help guide them in. It makes me really happy to see [my classes] filled with so many of my nightlife friends coming in.”
Love started throwing parties back in the rave days in his hometown of Chicago, but soon sought to go beyond the glowstick scene, which led to the creation of his club night, Soft Leather. “I realized I had been complaining about how EDM had killed every small, cool party in most cities, including L.A., and I decided to quit complaining and do something about it,” he says. “I decided to try to take dance music back to its roots, which was largely a minority, homosexual scene, so Soft Leather from the get-go had to be inclusive and safe to everyone and the soundtrack would have to be no EDM and no Top 40.”
He moved to L.A. in 2006 after getting busted so many times for DIY parties, he says, the cops knew his name. “They were trying to arrest me for being in the local papers on a weekly basis for throwing parties full of people in their underwear,” he says with a laugh. “I knew I had to leave Chicago and I was over being cold in the winter, so I moved to L.A. and fell in love instantly.”
He found success with Soft Leather at club spaces such as the Lash, where he soon bonded with other promoters who shared similarly eclectic music tastes, diverse crowds and sizable social media followings. The relationships he has built with them have led him to his current club project, Ascend, a party he started throwing at Bardot with fellow Latino club figures Cesar Rios (aka DJ Paparazzi) and Lulo Logan of Heav3n.
Love tells me the trio has just joined forces with Sound Nightclub to promote some big events under the Ascend name, including London tech-house producer Route 94 on June 16 and another British export, Breach (best known on these shores for his Dirtybird track “Jack”) on July 1. He’s also joined forces with web personality Boy Tweets World aka Jazper Abellera for Brunch Club, a “recovery” gathering wherein scenesters get to drink, dine, hear DJs and enjoy a little daytime realness. It returns to El Cid on Father's Day, June 18.
Day parties are so not goth. But Love, whose name and look are actually pretty un-gloomster (he’s guyliner-free and favors facial hair and a man-bun), proved a long time ago that the “G” word is open to interpretation.
“Unfortunately most kids you see out there dressed goth — or dressed any pre-millennial subculture, for that matter — have no attachment to the actual subculture other than just dressing the part,” says Love, whose parties tend to attract a hodgepodge of fashion statements to go with his diverse music selections. His disdain for EDM and Top 40 has remained constant since he started, though. “Too many weekly parties take the easy way out and play trash just to make a quick buck. They aren’t trying to cultivate or help grow an actual scene.”
Trying to define “EDM” sonically in 2017 is as fruitless as trying to define one true “goth” sound. Either way, Love knows what he likes and what he doesn’t, and his followers seem to agree. In his fitness classes, the soundtrack is generally techno, industrial and grime (I was hoping for some Bauhaus and Siouxsie, but those are probably not high-energy enough), and at his parties, you’ll hear music styles like Jersey club, ballroom, juke, grime, reggaeton and, of course, the sound that put him on the map, blog house. Distinguishing these sounds isn’t always easy for the casual clubgoer, but Love offers one guideline that’s helpful, and reps his ragers pretty well, too.
“The biggest difference is, at EDM parties, it’s a bunch of people staring at a stage with their hands in the air, jumping up and down. It’s festival DJ music,” he explains. “At my parties, people are actually dancing. People are partying, together.”
Ascend co-presents Route 94 at Sound Nightclub on Friday, June 16. Jazper & Johnny's Brunch Club comes to El Cid on Sunday, June 18.
For more on the Health Goth”movement, visit healthgoth.com. Or if you just want to party with Johnny Love, visit softleatherclub.com.
Los Angeles native Lina Lecaro has been covering L.A. nightlife since she started as a teen intern at L.A. Weekly (fake ID in tow) nearly two decades ago. She went on to write her own column, “Nightranger,” for the print edition of the Weekly for six years. Read her “Lina in L.A.” interviews for the latest nightlife news, and follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
More from Lina Lecaro:
The Cure Played Four Encores at the Hollywood Bowl and We Still Didn't Want It to End
Why Has Everyone From Slash to Dave Grohl Played This Tiny Bar in Tarzana?
Jane Wiedlin Looks Back on 38 Years of Go-Go's
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