It's just a building. In a dark, windowless cavern, it's got just the kind of lighting environment that flatters pockmarks and heavy makeup. The bathrooms are crusted in graffiti and never seem to have enough privacy or toilet paper. Satyricon has earned its stature by withstanding the throttle of tough love; a brawling history that's grown into the very walls. But after 20 years of operation, its founder, George Touhouliotis, is relinquishing his ownership, marking the close of a rich era in the Portland music scene.
The rumor mill has it that the club is being purchased by the Tonic Lounge, although this is not technically true. Those involved in negotiating the sale are understandably reluctant to discuss anything until the sale is final, and asked to have their names omitted. However, it will most likely remain a club space, probably even keeping the name.
"Physically, the entity of the club is going to be 'as is,'" says Touhouliotis. "Obviously they have an idea about the place as for what that will be, we're just going to have to wait and see."
Although a new ownership will inevitably mean changes, it's impossible to determine how pervasive the effects of the transition will feel to the average patron. But as far as posterity goes, the exit of its originator means that, at least in spirit, Satyricon has concluded its first wave--two decades of influence. This coming weekend boasts a two-day farewell bash, providing the opportunity to reminisce over the club's history and its colorful contributions to the annals of the Northwest music scene.
Touhouliotis opened Satyricon in 1983, when the strip of 6th Avenue just North of Burnside was a skid row, not the bustling route for public transportation that it is today.
"Before the mall, there was a lot of Mexican heroin dealing activity outside--it was a different scene altogether," Touhouliotis recalls.
In these early days, the scene inside the club reflected the rawness of the neighborhood. "Lots of fights, lots of people O.D.ing At one point the cops would show up literally every night for about three months."
Despite the tumultuousness of the times, Touhouliotis remembers the club's earliest days most fondly. "The farther back I go into the history of the place, the better it gets in my mind, because of the freshness of the time, and the energy I had."
Some of the deepest marks Satyricon made in the pop cultural consciousness occurred as a result of having hosted bands that went on to influence the world, ultimately drawing unprecedented attention to the Northwest. Some of the most recognizable names of 20th Century rock music scratched out their reputations here, earning their stripes with small crowds and humbling moments. For example, Touhouliotis recalls a New Year's Eve show when the original stage caved in underneath The Minutemen. ("Actually, underneath this stage now there's a smaller stage and the hole is still there.")
Now-legendary bands such as Mudhoney and Nirvana played the Satyricon. Courtney Love was a regular fixture, until she was eventually 86ed for causing constant drama.
"I liked her, personally," Touhouliotis grants. "I thought she was basically very nice. I can't remember, they say she might have met Kurt Cobain here--I guess she did. I didn't notice it. I mean, why would I notice that?"
In 1990, Satyricon made headlines in the local news as having experienced a "riot," which resulted in the club's license being temporarily confiscated and landing its employees in jail. As Touhouliotis remembers, labeling it as a riot was something of an exaggeration. The incident resulted from a minor physical altercation Touhouliotis had when a plainclothes police officer interrupted him while he was taking a leak in the parking lot, then escalated into a police raid and multiple arrests.
"But it certainly wasn't a riot," he insists.
Claiming to be "the longest running rock and roll club on the West Coast," Satyricon is one of the landmarks that first put Portland on the national map of popular music. Since its inception, the club has been a constant bastion of the local punk scene, a tradition that carries on into the present. Legions of acts, from Dead Moon to Poison Idea to the Wipers, spring to mind as figures haunting the club's rowdy history.
The local author Walt Curtis included Satyricon in his novel, Mala Noche, which chronicled his sexual adventures with Latino boys on the sleazy Portland streets of yore. Later made into a Gus Van Sant film, the book further ensconced the club within Portland's history. The recent, schlocky chick-rock flick, Down & Out With The Dolls, again memorialized Satyricon on film, using it as one of the primary locations for its grungy saga.
Recent legal challenges to the club's wrestling performances brought renewed attention debates of artistic freedom. Such freedoms are a priority that the club has long supported, attested to by its booking history as well as its collaborations with organizations like Artists for a Hate Free America.
Over the years, Satyricon has become known among locals for its late shows and stiff drinks, marking many a Portland memory with inspiring, sweaty performances and satisfying hangovers. Still, the city and the scene have grown and developed, meaning that Satyricon has had to face increased competition from the newer clubs around town. Although it remains a hefty presence within the scene, it is less of a focal point than it was in its heyday.
Likewise, Touhouliotis has grown out of the business he says used to be a reflection of his heart and soul. Remembering the energy and enthusiasm he once threw into the club, he says that remaining the owner of Satyricon would feel like he was holding it back.
"You have to hang out," he says, "you have to be there, you have to like it; you have to like the music, the people. To be part of it you have to get drunk with them, you have to fight with them. You have to roll on the ground in the mud with them And I'm no longer willing to do that."
Regardless of whether or not the space continues on as a rock club or changes its directional tack, its initial run of rock 'n' roll glory has wound to a close. Anyone who ever enjoyed a momentous night within its dark walls should seize the opportunity to tip their hat to a club that's made a significant mark on local culture. Hopefully, the venue will remain a key landmark for generations of artists and fans to come, ushering in future waves of creative energy. But until its fate is decided over time, we can join in for what might end up as a last hurrah.
The two-night bash on May 9th and 10th will include performances from Pornstore Janitor, Flying Dutchmen, The Dark Places, and Warriors of Genghis Khan. Both nights are free of charge, so there's little excuse not to pop in and breathe it in before anything changes.
As for Touhouliotis, when asked if he'll be joining in the festivities, he enigmatically replies, "Possibly possibly not." He insists that the sale of the club is not a sad event, and seems to feel comfortable that passing the torch is the most appropriate thing for him to do. "Everything is cool," he reassures. "Life is beautiful."