On the Road

Three Things I Learned Touring In a Fetish-Rock Band

There's nothing quite like the experience of being in a rock band that's trying to make a go at commercial success. Almost 16 years ago, I found myself as the new guitar player for Bozo Porno Circus, an industrial-rock band based out of Houston. I found myself suddenly a part of that band, which at the time had been around for a few years and had already released a CD. I'd been dragged to a New Year's Eve performance at Instant Karma by a friend of the group, and upon seeing their very theatrical performance thought, "I should be in this band."

I'd spent the previous decade trying to put together various music projects in both Houston and Austin, with many false starts and not much else, and I had always loved bands that had really elaborate stage shows. A couple of months later, my friend told me that Bozo Porno Circus had an upcoming tour and needed a fill-in guitar player. After two weeks playing shows across the country and in Canada, I was asked to join the band as a full-time member, and took to it like a fish to water. I started going by "Crispyxxx" and ended up spending the next several years in a unique band family, spending months on tour and having some very unconventional experiences along the way. (Note: Most of the videos in this article aren't for the easily offended, and they aren't safe for work.)

Looking back on those adventures, I realize that my time in what I call a "Fetish Rock Band," taught me quite a few things. Here are several lessons I learned.

3. Image Is Important. And Fun.
Bozo Porno Circus had a very developed visual presence. We had a look culled from the leather and latex fetish scenes, with other elements inspired by movies like The Road Warrior and many other influences. We weren't the type of band that appeared to have walked in wearing our street clothes, and we also had an elaborate stage show which involved fire, power tools and plenty of sexual content. Needless to say, it got us noticed, and gave us a certain amount of notoriety, both locally and elsewhere.

I have absolutely no regrets — some folks will slam a band for having a stage show, or dressing oddly, and to each his or her own. I'll maintain that not only do I tend to like bands that look cool and have interesting stage shows, but the bands that reject having an "image" tend to look worse for it. I wouldn't personally want to be in a band where every member looked like he or she belonged in a different project, or just wore the same stuff they did hanging around their house, but that's just me.

My experience taught me that unless a band is transcendentally good — truly amazing — and can captivate an audience through musicianship alone, that "non-image" thing just allows the crowd to project one themselves, and often it's not a charitable one. I'd rather an audience think I looked like a slightly ridiculous character out of a rock fantasy than I would "goofball wearing shorts and a Metallica shirt." Besides, if you have the musical chops, dressing up for the occasion is fun.

2. Other People Think Their Kink Is Yours
Bozo Porno Circus played many different types of venues and festivals, but since our style of industrial music was paired with a sexually charged image, we also ended up with gigs at all sorts of fetish balls and kinky sex events. As often as not, we'd pull up to some large club and find out that the show was part of some huge gothic/fetish ball. Those always made for interesting crowds — young gothic people and industrial-music fans who enjoyed the fetish scene's fashion side, would be mingling with (usually) older people into serious BDSM or other sexual-fetish subcultures. Nudity, or near nudity, was common at those sorts of events, and it wasn't rare to stumble into some dark corner of a club and witness people letting their inner freak fly free.

One occasionally awkward aspect of being the entertainment in such a sexually charged environment was having people assume that everyone in our band was really also into their kink. After a show, I usually was a lot more interested in something to eat and a safe comfy place to sleep than I was strapping anyone to a rack for a lashing. It could be difficult to explain to multiple people that no, I wasn't particularly interested in spanking them, since I'd only slept three hours the night before and had a 13-hour drive before the next gig. Adventures we certainly had, but generally I wanted to avoid scenarios that might leave me tied up in some Canadian motel room later in the evening. Generally.

1. All That Sexy Rock Show Stuff Is Really Hard Work
Strict schedules, lots of driving, and a lot of heavy lifting went into our typical tour experience. Sure, the shows were satisfying to play, and all the work that went into making them happen was worth it, but they were work, and lots of it was grueling. We played all sorts of venues, ranging from large modern dance clubs to little dingy rock bars, some big and some smaller. Often enough loading in our equipment involved stairs, and when your gear include the typical stuff like large amplifiers and PA equipment, but also a several hundred-pound metal cage and huge bondage racks, there's a lot of heavy lifting involved.

Sleep was also often rare on tour, so by the time the magical moment arrived right before we hit the stage, there was a lot of exhausting work involved. Sure, some bands have some form of road crew, the mythic "roadies" of rock lore, but we didn't. That would have been prohibitively expensive, and we had to make every penny count as it was. Since our show involved fire blowing and other pyro tricks, one had to be careful on stage — being so worn out that you stumbled straight into a power grinder wasn't a good way to start a performance.

Being a member of Bozo Porno Circus remains one of the most important periods in my life, and I cherish my memories from that time. I consider my old bandmates as part of an extended family, and there's not one of them I wouldn't help if asked. I certainly learned a lot, and had numerous adventures that I never would've if I had never joined. My time in the band is also indirectly how I got into writing, since keeping tour diaries was one of the first times I seriously took the time to put pen to paper. And Bozo Porno Circus still plays occasionally. I encourage anyone who likes an over-the-top show to see them.

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Chris Lane is a contributing writer who enjoys covering art, music, pop culture, and social issues.