Saturn Rising parlayed their reputation as a performance artist and dancer into a budding pop career.

Saturn Rising parlayed their reputation as a performance artist and dancer into a budding pop career. (Kyle Hanson McKee)

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In Paradise: Return to Aja, the Afrofuturist sci-fi play that ran at San Francisco’s Brava Theater during Pride month, Saturn Rising (Saturn Jones) strutted onto the stage draped in colorful fabrics, braids whipping around as they twirled, dipped, and sashayed. The role of Aja, a non-binary deity that exists in a universe of one’s own creation, couldn’t have been more fitting for the multi-faceted, gender-non-conforming artist.

“[Aja] was this god of living your complete truth and being so full of your light, so I was like, ‘Oh, of course that’s me,’” says Saturn — who goes by the pronoun “they” — when we meet after a studio session in Oakland. Dressed casually in athletic leggings and a mesh jersey, Saturn’s faux-dreadlocks are wrapped in a colorful scarf — a look that exemplifies the constant interplay of masculine and feminine in their work.

Saturn has long been a champion of androgynous self-expression, with a vibrant presence as a dancer and self-styled fashion icon in the Bay Area’s LGBTQ nightlife scene well before they started making music. A native of Hercules, an East Bay suburb between Richmond and Vallejo, Saturn flocked to San Francisco’s club scene immediately after turning 18. Go-go gigs came first, but they later developed an identity as a boundary-pushing dancer and performance artist who was much more than eye candy for the club. They’ve performed at popular queer parties like Swagger Like Us, opened for big-name artists like L1ef and Big Freedia, and created multi-media performance art pieces for Codame Art+Tech and other art events.

All of these accomplishments paved the way for Saturn to break into the local music scene. After releasing a string of singles and music videos over the past two years, last month finally brought a debut EP, Darkest Dream, on Molly House Records, a San Francisco label that champions the work of LGBTQ pop, rap, and electronic artists from both coasts.

“Since I took my first go-go gig at Blow Up, I’ve wanted to do music,” Saturn says, referring to a popular 18+ club night that was synonymous with San Francisco’s indie-electro scene in the 2000s. “It was always the goal to get confident by performing on stage in my underwear.”

Darkest Dream is sensual, sexy, and sinister: On its opening, titular track, gritty synths slink over a big, spacious beat, calling to mind the trip-hop influences of avant-pop artists like FKA Twigs. Saturn’s coos and pouts are audible as they sing their manifesto of self-love and self-confidence: “Can I be real and still keep my appeal?/Or do I have to worry about how I appear?/Not giving into these massive fears/I take a step even if it’s not clear,” they talk-sing in a breathy voice barely above a whisper.

Other tracks on the EP showcase Saturn’s range of pop and dance music sensibilities. “FUKWITME,” produced by Molly House co-founder davOmakesbeats, is a cathartic dancefloor anthem that conjures visions of the club as a sacred space to let go and feel free. Its suspenseful synth melody builds to a hypnotic hook, exploding into an amped-up, four-on-the-floor instrumental breakdown speckled with steel drums. “Blown,” featuring San Francisco singer Bobbi Rohs, is dreamy future-R&B: sweet yet seductive, with a swaying melody that contrasts with the rest of the project’s darker club sound.

The courage it takes to be one’s authentic self is a major theme in Saturn’s work, and the singer explained that it came of an arduous journey of self-acceptance. “Darkest Dream was literally me seeing myself in my light. Over time, any minority group, any queer person, any woman has been told not to dream as high as they want to, to be as big as they want to be, and to live as greatly as they want to be. This album, this project is my darkest dream — like the thing I thought I couldn’t do, I’m doing it.”

Though Saturn projects an ultra-bold persona, it took a long time to embody gender expression with such confidence. They recalled once being scared to leave the house with colorful hair extensions — which are now a hallmark of their look — or to open up to others in relationships. But through pursuing their art, they’ve began to let go of those fears and hope their listeners will do the same.

“The theme of getting to my darkest dream is getting over my bullshit — all my fears, all my walls, all my masks,” Saturn says.

“I want to be the lightest version of myself that I can be — the brightest, shiniest version of myself — because that’s not where I started.”

Performance Artist-Turned-Singer Saturn Rising Rises Up From Fear 13 September,2017Nastia Voynovskaya

Author

Nastia Voynovskaya

Nastia Voynovskaya is a Russian-born, California-raised journalist and the music editor at KQED Arts. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, VICE, Paste Magazine, and SF MoMA Open Space. Previously, she served as music editor at East Bay Express and online editor at Hi-Fructose Magazine.