“I always say in Chicago, bad is good and good is bad,” Freakeasy co-founder Matt Fusello says over a plate of late night lo mein in the Windy City’s Chinatown. Fusello and Freakeasy partner Striz have asked Mixmag out to slurp down noodles in order to impart the feel and history for this legendary Chicago party before we attend. Amid the bang and steam that leaks out of the tiny kitchen, Fusello commands the conversation with big body movements and bravado. “If it fell off the back of a truck, good!” he declares with a hearty laugh. “If you snitch, bad!”
It’s true. Chicago has a long and storied reputation of allowing things to happen behind its shiny veneer, under handshakes and quid pro quo. And that includes underground parties like The Freakeasy.
The Freakeasy, a portmanteau of freaks and speakeasy where sweaty bodies gyrate until the sun rises, has been run by Chicago-based trio Matt Fusello, Striz and Justin Reed since 2009. That’s an impressive stretch for any event that runs under the radar, but to Fusello’s point, Chicago’s “good is bad and bad is good” mentality has allowed them to forge relationships that have protected The Freakeasy from external bureaucratic forces.
Though the first formal Freakeasy event debuted in 2009, inklings for creating this monthly event started back in 1997. Fusello went to Burning Man and, as it goes, was captivated by the feelings of creativity, freedom and community that it inspired. He yearned to bring it back to the city with him, but at the time, Burning Man’s popularity hadn’t fully broken into Chicago. “I felt this great energy,” says Fusello. “I could be myself. No one was judging me. It made me wonder – how can I feel like this more than once a year?”
Fusello started by joining the regional Burning Man Chicago mailing list. He scrubbed tribe.net (a sort of precursor to Facebook aimed at the Burning Man community), and found local groups from message boards. He saw hints of a Burning Man community bubbling under Chicago’s surface – they just needed a catalyst to bring them all together, and Fusello saw his chance. “It made me realize I should focus my energy into the local scene to see what could be accomplished.”