Hours before Chicago’s pansexual dance party, “Soft Leather,” Zain Curtis sits cross-legged in the corner of his apartment, diligently gluing feathers onto a pair of angel wings to wear later. Surprisingly shy and unassuming, it’s hard to believe that this is the man behind “Teen Witch Fan Club,” the bubblegum online brand steeped in provocative, queer imagery.
Curtis has become a major influence on local nightlife, hosting Chicago’s club kids at monthly parties like #AREA69 and Total Therapy. In addition to DJing, he’s expanded the Teen Witch umbrella to cover a self-made clothing line and a series of fanzines. He just recently released, “The Adventure Mix,” which can be streamed below, and announced the forthcoming arrival of Teen Witch Magazine #3.
The Teen Witch apartment feels like living inside an old issue of, “J-14.” It’s tinted soft pink and packed entirely with nostalgic memorabilia: dozens of VHS tapes, a Britney Spears poster, Miley Cyrus “Bangerz Tour” tickets and a photo of Ginger Spice encased in a fuzzy fuchsia frame. Clearly, Curtis has a shameless fixation with pop culture and these relics are proof of that obsession.
It’s refreshing, however, to see Curtis’ online aesthetic exist IRL—evidence that he’s one of the few post-Internet visionaries that’s genuine and one-of-a-kind. We caught up with Curtis to talk about throwing his first party, moving from Kentucky and making music for weird, teen girls.
On getting involved with nightlife:
“I came to Chicago for school, but dropped out after about a year. That’s when I started going to a party called, “Chances Dances,” and began asking around how I could start DJing. I thought it was a pretty unattainable thing, until one of the promoters at Subterranean offered me a free night. So, I downloaded a program and threw a little party, playing random music like Britney Spears and streaming, “The Holy Mountain,” on all the TVs. I had no idea what I was doing and there were like five people there. Scott Cramer, who manages Berlin Nightclub, was one of the few people there and wanted me to bring that party to his club. That started everything.”
On the name, “Teen Witch Fan Club:”
“I’m not sure how the name came about, but at the time, I was really into the whole teenage experience of going through puberty and loving pop stars. Once I honed in on a name, everything else fell into place, like my use of baby colors. Growing up as a teenager, I was always so against pop stars. I was obviously rebellious and listening to pop punk—just really against anything considered, “mainstream.” One day, this all flipped. In a way, I think pop stars are rebellious, too. I’m really interested in the whole underbelly of pop music and radio.”
On moving to Chicago:
“When I first moved to Chicago from Kentucky, I used to go out by myself because I didn’t know anyone. At the time, nightlife seemed so centered on bottle service and people getting all dolled up to just drink other people’s bottle. There was no scene for dressing up and expressing yourself—no art to going out or really any art community in general. It took about three years until I noticed people treating nightlife like an art form and taking hours to get ready.”
On his music:
“I always mix songs to be either very fast paced—like chipmunk-speed—or the complete opposite and slowed way down. For some reason, it’s hard for me to remix something in the same tone that it was originally. I don’t know why, but everything sounds better as extremes—like music I think a teenage girl would listen to in some weird, alternate universe.”
On his wildest nightlife memory:
“There was one night—we hosted Le1f and Lil Internet before they had singles, so the venue was like halfway full. My friend made acid that she drip-poured and accidentally spilled the whole thing on a paper towel. No one knew how much acid they were getting, so everyone was just tearing away and eating it. It was like the scene in “Mean Girls” where they’re all around the fountain acting like animals. My friend was taking pictures with a drag queen and started laughing so hard that she threw up like four times. We had one security guard, so no one was getting in trouble even though they were acting like total freaks.”
Photos by Ben Morino.