An Eclectic Scene at the Electric Circus

An Eclectic Scene at the Electric Circus

Fillmore East lighting designer Joshua White had seen Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable multimedia shows, but he was much more impressed by what was happening in a venue that opened on St. Mark’s Place, in the basement space where the Dom had previously been located. “It was now remodeled as the Electric Circus,” White said. “Now, when you say remodel, what it really means is they put stretched nylon over the space inside, changing the space by throwing light all over the place. Even though it was just a ratty ballroom, it now had a shape, and they brought in an older light artist from the San Francisco scene named Anthony Martin who filled the place up with psychedelic-type projections based on the San Francisco ballrooms. They did very good stuff there.” The Electric Circus featured acrobats, go-go dancing, and even John Cage playing chess. In 1968, the experimental composer asked a young electronic musician named Lowell Cross to create a chess board with sixteen different audio inputs that triggered sounds whenever a piece was moved. Cage first played this aural game of chess against Dadaist Marcel Duchamp in Toronto, then recreated the conceptual performance at the Electric Circus later that year. “It was a discothèque,” Cross recalled. “There was a whole lot of cigarette smoking, and other kinds of smoking, and acid going on. It was very casual, not very structured at all. And that fit right into what Cage liked.” Although John Cage was in his mid-fifties by this point, he remained open to new things and continued to circulate in a variety of New York scenes until his death in 1992.

From Chapter 19 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


Electric Circus
23 St Marks Pl, New York, NY 10003