Sex, lies and drunken debauchery: The Opaque Project Chicago
Nothing draws a crowd like a svelte 19-year-old in a lacy bra and panties. Well, that’s not exactly true. Pack a loft with 10 to 20 supple late teens and early 20-somethings in their bras and panties and you’ll have a rager on your hands. That, and perhaps a lawsuit or two. Just ask Johnny Love.

His parties are becoming utterly ubiquitous in Chicago, and his collective of musicians and promoters, the Opaque Project, continues to grow exponentially, adding more DJs to its roster (it currently boasts local and national favorites like Eliot Lipp, Autobot and Biobooster) and hosting diverse, packed-to-the-gills club nights across the city in venues like Liar’s Club (“Scared to Dance,” on the second Thursday of every month) and Motel Bar (a weekly Wednesday night residency). But it’s the parties at Love’s HQ -- the “Jerkstore,” a loft within spitting distance of the corner of North, Damen and Milwaukee -- where Opaque’s philosophy shines through. With kitschy, post-PC ironic themes in the vein of Vice magazine like “Bali Disco Bomb” (commemorating the three-year anniversary of the bombed Bali nightclub where more than 180 people were killed and 300 wounded) and “Daddy’s Goodnight Blowjob” (a ’70s style pseudo pornographic take on the traditional pajama party -- all men were required to wear mustaches and all women had to sport pigtails), it’s no wonder he’s got Chicago’s hipster community at arms, torn between the desire to hate the fact that Love seems to be building a club land empire on his ethos of Eurotrash-style worship and party-hard debauchery, and the panties-to-the-wind impulse to join in the good fun.

On a recent Craigslist thread, posts typify the heated debates about Love’s hipster status, authenticity, background and sex life.

“He’s a total poser lame-oooooooooooo,” posts one anonymous citizen from location “trying too hard.”

“He was such a pseudo-goth dork in high school,” writes another from an undisclosed location. “Not a bad person, just a dork.”

Later, Love signed on to post his own response, subject titled, “im Johnny love and im fucking awesome -- 22” (numbers indicate age). “For evidence,” Love writes, “please notice all the time taken in making all these posts about me.”

The man has a point. But anyone who chooses such savory party themes as the “Bali Disco Bomb” knows damn well that the only thing that sells better than sex is controversy, and the two linked hand in hand is the stuff legends are made of.

“There are comparisons -- two years ago someone was like, ‘You’re just like (New York rave organizer and accused murderer) Michael Alig,’ and I mean, I don’t kill people or do copious amounts of drugs,” Love says.

What he does share with other club land icons is the good sense to build a myth around the man. Love, which is not his real name, has aptly billed himself as a “corrupter of youth” -- his all-ages loft parties have brought back much needed under-21 nightlife options to post-rave-crackdown Chicago, and he packs a barely legal crowd (see aforementioned svelte 19-year-olds). But Love also veils his real, professional and rather bourgeoisie personality (he’s a cartographer for the city’s Department of Planning and Development) in shameless playboy fantasy. “Johnny Love says: Abandon your morals,” reads one flyer; “I fucked Johnny Love,” proclaims another.

“Oh man,” stutters L.A. resident (by way of Chicago) Eliot Lipp, a DJ recently signed to the Hefty label, when asked about his association with the Opaque Project. “Johnny's an inspiration to me, seeing how he's always doing his thing and trying to take it to the next level -- I believe in him. But it's a weird thing to associate yuorself with Opaque. I just saw the flyer for the Girls of Opaque calendar (a heroin-chic series of nearly nude, waif-like indie girls posing in 'sexy' activities á la Suicide Girls, like shooting up in the bathroom) and that's the kind of shit that I'm like, 'Why am I associated with Johnny?' I'm down for all that, but I wouldn't want to be known for being a sleazy guy."

“It’s funny,” Love says. “I’ve heard a few girls say this to each other walking past, like, ‘I swear, every party he does this. It’s some theme but it’s just get down to your underwear.’ And that is true. I view clothing as a tangible representation of someone’s inhibitions and so I think that if you’re comfortable enough to take your clothes off, then you’re kind of at the point where there’s really nothing left, you won’t be scared to start dancing even if you’re the only one on the dance floor, you won’t be scared to approach some attractive person, grab them and do whatever. It kind of opens people up and lets them let loose to have a good time, which is very important.”

But Love’s parties put just as heavy an emphasis on right-now underground club music as they do on hedonism. As a DJ, Love spins Italo-disco, an early ’80s electro-infused European disco offshoot, although his many events focus on promoting a diverse range of on-the-fringe genres, from grime to ghetto house to techno.

“I grew up on the South Side; all my cousins were Mexican, and before hip-hop came along in Chicago, all the Mexican gang bangers listened to freestyle -- like Italo-disco -- but they called it ‘high energy,’” Love says. “It’s kind of ironic ’cause it’s all, like, skinny hipster kids (who are into it now) and I saw it as gang banger music. But then I realized in actuality it’s music made for teenagers in Italy.”

Love also has a knack for enlisting artists into his services. Photographers, fashionistas, graphics gurus -- you name it, Opaque can probably claim it as an affiliate -- and the result is a sleek design package that only adds to the parties’ appeal. There are photographers at every Jerkstore event documenting the smoky, drunken escapades and nudity; partygoers, fans and haters alike can get a glimpse at the night’s revelry on Opaque Project’s Web site photo gallery. It’s the same concept that keeps magazines like Chicago Scene on the market: the who/what/where/wear of the nightclub circuit, but geared toward the indie scene.

It seems like he’s tapped into a tastemaker market, potentially poising Opaque for major success in 2006. But Love says that between the cost of his live-in party space and the need to have it cleaned by professionals after every Jerkstore blowout, he really isn’t raking in too much dough. But it’s not about that, right? For a guy like Johnny Love, it’s all about the legacy. words: Stacey Dugan

”Scared to Dance” takes place at Liar’s Club (1655 W. Fullerton, 773/665-1110) January 12; “Nightmoves” takes place at Funky Buddha Lounge (728 W. Grand, 312/666-1695) January 16; check for more info