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Time to Go Legit

John Dal Santo/Birthday Bust

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This year for his birthday John Dal Santo got charged with three misdemeanors: failure to obtain a temporary liquor license, failure to obtain a public place of amusement (PPA) license, and failure to obtain a special-events license. On February 9, police busted a party he'd organized at Studio C, a third-floor loft residence above the Strawdog Theatre at 3829 N. Broadway, and arrested him, along with the space's leaseholder, Elbert Goggin, and one of Goggin's roommates, Thomas O'Neall. Goggin received citations for the same licensing violations, but he and Dal Santo are still squabbling over money and who was legally responsible for the party.

Dal Santo, who's been DJing as Johnny Love since 2001, joined Superstars of Love, a well-established production company that holds electronic music events throughout the midwest, on New Year's Eve. To celebrate, he rented out Studio C for his 20th birthday on February 8 and planned a party that he publicized on-line as "Love to Lust--JohnnyLOVE's Electroclash Birthday Blowout." (Goggin says he advised against such widespread promotion for fear of attracting the police.) The party turned out to be too successful. It started at 9 PM; by midnight the place was packed and there was a line of kids snaking down the stairs.

Admission was $10 per person, and the Studio C residents worked the door. According to Dal Santo, they claimed to have collected $3,100, which would mean 310 people attended. But he estimates that there were at least 600 at the party over the course of the night. The contract he'd signed with Studio C stipulated that the venue fee would be $1,000 if there were fewer than 350, with an additional $75 charged for every 25 heads over that. He received $1,800 for the evening, and was given 300 ticket stubs from the Studio C crew. If there were as many people as he says, they'd owe him more than $2,000--but even if their head count is correct they've shorted him $300. Dal Santo says he intends to take the Studio C residents to small claims court to recover what he believes they owe him. But first he has some legal problems to resolve with the city.

The police showed up around 2:15 AM. They told DJ Tommie Sunshine to stop the music and ordered the crowd to disperse, which created something of a mob scene. "We had a coat check," says Goggin, "and all these kids freaked out and tried to get their coats and run down the stairs." Another DJ, Ryan Paradise, yelled "Fuck the police" into a microphone, and was quickly arrested. After the crowd cleared out, the police arrested Goggin and O'Neall and took them to the Town Hall district station on Halsted and Addison. Left behind, Dal Santo proceeded to break down his sound equipment, but the cops came back for him about 15 minutes later. (Paradise wasn't charged with anything, but says he was kept in lockup until 5 PM. "I was trying to be funny when I said what I said," he says. "Obviously that was very bad judgment.")

"The police said they were called by the fire marshal," says Goggin. "But I suspect it was sabotage by someone who wanted to get back at Johnny for something." He adds that he has been throwing parties at Studio C "forever" and that city inspectors and the fire marshal have checked out his space without ever finding any problems.

At a March 28 preliminary hearing the city offered to drop charges against Dal Santo in exchange for a guilty plea and a $725 fine, but he decided to contest the charges. Goggin rejected a similar deal at the same hearing. Dal Santo claims O'Neall told him that the event would be legal because Studio C was "zoned" for parties, which Goggin flatly denies. "I have a contract I signed with Studio C," Dal Santo says. "It states that my only responsibilities were maintaining control of the party and breaking up any physical altercations." (While the agreement does hold Dal Santo responsible for those actions, it doesn't state those are his only responsibilities.)

"This kid says somebody told him that they were zoned to throw parties and he believed it?" says veteran DJ and promoter Chris Gin. "I hope these young guys know what they're getting themselves into." Three years ago Gin, along with promoter Ken Waagner, founded DJing Is Not a Crime, a group that aimed to legitimize rave culture. He says Chicago's underground dance scene is going through a changing of the guard. "The people that were raving in the early 90s are 25, 35 now. They're not going to go to a warehouse to hear some DJ. Lots of past promoters either moved on or started their own legal clubs." He says he's happy to see a new generation trying to keep the scene alive but worries about their potential legal problems.

All the parties involved in the Studio C bust seem to have gotten off relatively easy so far: The so-called antirave ordinance, a 2000 amendment to the PPA license law, subjects promoters, property owners, and DJs to fines of up to $10,000 for being involved with an unlicensed dance party. DJing Is Not a Crime was formed to fight this legislation. Gin and Waagner held meetings with the aldermen who sponsored the amendment, the mayor's office, the Department of Cultural Affairs, even the Park District, in an effort, says Waagner, "to show them it wasn't about drugs--it was about people coming together for the love of the music." The amendment passed. In March 2001 the city passed an amendment to the city code that required jail sentences of two weeks to six months for landlords or building owners who provided space for events where drugs were consumed. Mayor Daley himself announced the measure at a press conference in front of the boarded-up Club XL in the West Loop.

DJing Is Not a Crime also urged the rave community to cooperate with authorities, but met with "less than overwhelming" support, according to Gin. "When you're working outside of the law for a long time, it's hard to make a change," he says. "You're paranoid. You've been making money holding illegal parties for years, and then the city says, 'Identify yourself and get a license.' It's not going to happen." Disheartened, Gin decided to concentrate on his own DJing career, and Waagner left the dance circuit altogether.

But if Elbert Goggin and John Dal Santo are any indication, the situation may have changed. Goggin, who won't comment on his case, says that he'll keep throwing parties "for friends" as well as renting out the loft. "But now I'll have to get legit, get all the licenses," he says. "They want their money." And Dal Santo says he intends to go on spinning his mix of Italo-disco, freestyle, and house; since his arrest, he has worked a Superstars of Love gig at a Saint Louis art gallery and a Fischerspooner after-show party at Le Royale. "We had licenses for those events," he says. "From now on, I'll make sure everything I'm involved in is legal. I've learned my lesson."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Yvette Marie Dostatni.

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