You might call him a freak of nature. Sure.
You might also call him a force of nature.
Nothing, it seems, can stop, can dissuade, can discourage or, for that matter, outdo... Satori Circus.
This performance artist, basically a punk-rock clown creating his own beautifully gruesome Cabaret Universe, is marking his 25th Anniversary at the Detroit Institute of Arts (in the Film Theatre) on January 24th.
That's 25 years of playing in basements, in lofts, in theatres and clubs, on streets and in living rooms, in galleries and gutters - By his drive and his dedication, he is the consummate DIY Artist - spanning from the days of cassette tapes, recording on four tracks and hoofing around town from record shop to club, club to record shop, spreading his own word from his own mouth and from the fliers grasp in his own hand, to these ever-more accessible days of the Internet, with GarageBand and viral videos and the like...
When Russell Taylor, a.k.a. Satori Circus, speaks of "...the Underground..." then you know you're hearing it from a guy who was actually there, back in 1988, when there wasn't a discernible or sizable scene for experimental vaudeville. He set up the lights for his dark, dreamy, visionary stage show (made form coffee cans and effected by hardware store-bought dimmer switches) and timed his costume changes to the fleeting seconds between tracks on the reeling magnetic tape loops of his copied cassette tape (Side 1 is the first set, Side 2 is the second).
By his style and presentation though - he's unlike any other artist you likely encountered. But, that he's been able to sustain for so long has meant that he's been able to have his act grow...to the point where it can't be accurately classified as "just an act..." any longer, but really, apart of himself.
"What I see, what I hear...what I feel...it's all molded and forged with my imagination, an imagination that was so vivid as a kid and that, now, as an adult, I can't see ever letting it go."
Taylor has worked as an art teacher for elementary aged students. Think of that... Crayon drawings, water-colors, finger-painting, crude crafts set to capture unbridled imagination and visions that defy laws of physics. The imagination of childhood is so vivid and yet they're assessment of the world, when they encounter it, can be so blunt.
AND THAT...could possibly sum up Satori Circus.
"It's musical...it's theatre, it's pantomime, it's...fucked-up-ness, it's vaudeville!"
Taylor also spend majority of the 80's performing in punk-rock bands (with his most formative experiences spent writing/performing with Fugitive Poetry). In 1988, after his main collaborator passed away from bone cancer, he set out on a new path. The next year, Satori Circus - a blend of music and vaudeville, of punk-shredded opera and underground circus - was born.
Satori Circus isn't something that just catches on... It's not exactly a Beatles cover band or a derivative synth-pop routine for dance clubs. It doesn't really fit...
"I like a good challenge," says Taylor, chuckling lightly at himself. "If there were two people there, fine. If there were a thousand people there, fine. I just do what I do. That's what I told my professor when I went back to study art at U-M to get my masters, he asked us, deconstructing what we are and when it came to me, I just answered: I just do what I do... And everyone in the class looked at me funny."
"I thought: 'Fuck...I gotta explain myself?'"
At the show, 63 Minutes of Random Balance, Taylor will enlist aid from his talented and creative collaborators from past shows and projects, Scott Dambacher and Lushes LaMoan... He also gives credit and thanks to collaborators Dave and Brian Dambacher, along with Sarah Pearline and Sean Redenz, for their experience and sensibilities for musical arrangement, stagecraft, set-design, choreography, film, lighting and overall improvisation.
The show on January 24th reaches back "to what Satori Circus used to be..." which will be "fun, but dark..." and still be true to Satori form, which is: "low-tech atmospherics....I've always wanted to do a dystopic performance piece..." that could blend his admiration for Dante's Inferno with some of his primary literary influences like Orwell and Salinger. "Even if the sketch or the characters are comical, sometimes people don't hear what I'm singing about....a goofy character singing about something that's actually fucked up!"
Just as a child's crayon drawing might depict something scary...it will be done with a certain whimsy, with plenty of color! Back to the art class!
"I am me..." says Taylor. "And, there's definitely spillover of the characters. I'm definitely a complex Venn Diagram..."
"I've been digging deep into the chasms of my soul. I realized that everything is a balancing act. Hence, 63 Minutes of Random Balance. A punky-punk song into a cross-dressing song into tinkering on a casio singing vibratto or an opera. It's playing into the randomness of what Satori shows were like..."
If he met a young artist, today, and shared any wisdom he's attained after 25 Years....
"It's a hard road, man, everything's not going to be peachy-keen all the time. You're gonna get tripped and yelled at, but you gotta follow your dreams. This is apart of who I am. You gotta follow what you feel in your gut, in your heart, in your head. We followed punk-rock, man, we're going to get in there and you can't tell me what to do, I'm doing it. Fuck you. That was part of the energy and part of the insanity of it all. Satori Circus, as a character, was a need for me to continue that...the people who give you grief are not the important ones...it's those who come to see you and tell their friends about you...But, man...25 years...I still can't believe it. I think, where did the time go, where have I been, what have I done..."
What have I done....??
"I just do what I do..."
JANUARY 24TH - Detroit Film Theatre - FREE - 7pm show and 9pm show