Charming Fetish

One look at Bozo Porno Circus and you instantly know they're not from around here -- no matter where here may be. "We were eating at Wendy's and I was talking on my phone, looking out the window. I turned around and [saw that] everybody in line wasn't facing the counter: They were all looking at us," says Bozo Porno Circus drummer Ador Charming. He's on the phone again, this time calling from Hoboken, New Jersey, to recount some of the many weird stares drawn by his nine-piece pack during its current freak-show tour. "[We're] pretty entertaining, even if we're not doing the show," he laughs.

The Houston-based industrial act's image makes people look, and not just in fast-food joints. With live shows that are the nightmare of every censor or prude, BPC is either offensive or engaging, depending on who you ask. A trio of female dancers known as the Porn Starrz stage scenes of rape, murder, and sex acts, smearing blood over each other, playing with lit torches and power tools onstage while the band, in white and black greasepaint and fetish gear, blasts its psycho-blend of industrial grit.

With songs like "Biker Sluts from Pluto" and "TeXXXas Chainsaw Masochists" on BPC's debut album, the band avoided subjects that are too deep, except when the depths relate to pleasures of the flesh. But on sophomore effort Regenerate, the band exchanges mockery for maturity. Well, some of the time. Songs like "Crank One Off" ("When you're ready to beat your meat/All you need is some motion and heat") smack the listener in the face with the topic of masturbation, while subtler references to sex appear on "Release the Kraken," named after the fabled sea monster ("Open the gate, release the beast/To penetrate the deep"). More removed from the parody party, songs like "Feel" delve into personal frustrations, while "Exterminate" takes a disturbing political turn, calling for the need to execute all violent-crime prisoners. Industrial-grade synths and beats meld with crunch guitars on tracks "Stick It" and "Surrounded." The BPM increases as dance-floor dynamism propels "Magic," only to slow back down to a sludge on "Malice in Slumberland," where a theatrical intro leads the way to a steady, droning beat.

Charming (a.k.a. Bobby Rose) formed Bozo in 1991 with vocalist Ken Gerhard. The first few years were, for the most part, a time of shits and giggles for the band, taking lyrics from the back of food tins and improvising music on the spot. "We'd just come out with these weird, creepy songs, and most of the time, the songs would be there before the lyrics," Charming says. "Anything would do when we had the song going. It was just for fun, and we never rehearsed except for when we did a show."

More than fun, Bozo also served to fill the bill with Gerhard's other Houston band, Bamboo Crisis, providing another industrial act to share the stage during the early Nineties. "I was trying to book shows [for Bamboo Crisis] and we'd always get paired with some weird alternative rock band," says Charming, who manages Bamboo Crisis. "And nobody wanted to go to a show and hang out with people who weren't like them."

While the band prided itself on its off-kilter songwriting, the maturity bug bit when Chris O became the new vocalist in 1995. "I saw something in the band, and I kind of started cracking the whip," says Chris O. "Bozo was something I always wanted to do. When I was little, one of my favorite bands was Kiss. They put on the costumes and makeup and put on an actual show. They weren't just four guys wearing cutoff shirts onstage. It was a show. You got to see something as well as hear some really good music too." Two years after Chris O joined, bassist Raul Berlot and the Porn Starrz entered the group, followed by guitarist Crispyxxx and keyboardist BamBamm.

In the early days, BPC picked dancers from the audience and let them do whatever they wanted. At the time the band unleashed its debut Cybersmut in 1998, BPC began honing its live show, adding a permanent lineup to its Porn Starrz dance squad (Pornettexxx, Candyxxx, and Putty Tatz) to organize perverse performances. "I have to hand it to them; they worked really hard to put these scenes together, and when you put it together with the hard, heavy sound it blows people away," Charming says. "They certainly don't forget it." The band earned a reputation for its live shows, and was named Houston's best industrial act by the Houston Press in 1998 (again in 2000 and 2001). The band went on a nationwide tour, opening for the likes of My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, Pigface, and the Genitorturers. BPC also organizes Houston's annual Flesh Fest and the Vampire Ball, two events that draw hundreds of fetish and goth freaks. "I don't want to come across as having a big head, but until we started doing it, nobody was doing it," Charming says. "Now there's a whole crop of bands that are keyboard-oriented and electronic, and that's really cool."

In 2001 the band released its Monsters are Real twelve-inch remix album, whose title track reached number sixteen on DJ association Masspool's national dance chart. The band sent a copy to industrial maven Martin Atkins, who has drummed for bands including Ministry, Public Image Ltd., Killing Joke, and Pigface. Atkins, founder of Invisible Records, called Bozo Porno Circus and offered it a deal, signing it and BPC's own ToneZone Records, and earning the band national exposure through Caroline Distribution. Any more exposure depends on how kinky the BPC dancers feel on a given night.

"We've grown as a band," Charming explains. "Regenerate is more representative of what we're about. The songwriting is more mature. I think it's a natural progression, playing so many shows and coming together as a band. We're dead serious about it now."

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Omar Perez