Friday, March 25, 2011

The Legendary Pink Box
Melody Maker, 1991

By Simon Reynolds

The Legendary Pink Dots were once briefly championed by comrades Stubbs and Oldfield, as "pretentious psychedelia" (a compliment) and "baroque and outlandish... the first whale among 1987' pop minnows". That was about as close as The Legendary Pink Dots got to being known over here, and they dipped back into obscurity. (In Europe, they're a cult band, and have spent most of the decade in exile in Amsterdam.)

The reason isn't hard to fathom. Even now, with late Sixties gross-out thoroughly rehabilitated (to the point of orthodoxy) the LPD's orbit of reference points is at the furthest fringe of the "acceptable". LPD's temerity has been to: a) cite not just Pink Floyd but prog rockers Amon Duul, Mafma and Soft Machine as their influences; b) attempt a rehabilitation of the concept album, compose 21 minute pieces (like "premonition 13", included here). British post-punk pigheadness can't
tolerate such "indulgence", oh no -- not when the pruned concision and blunt urgency of the likes of Snuff and Mega City Four is so much more "topical".

"The Legendary Pink Box" is a triple-disc set of rare and unreleased stuff (or so I presume: it comes with no information). And it's as far-fetched and bound-less
...I could have hoped for. The overall impression is of the fey whimsy of Syd Barrett enveloped in the indiscriminate eclecticism of Faust... (everything can be
music). Nursery rhyme vocals sit primly amid gargoyle-grotesque sound-shapes like dank leakage from the unconscious. Their sound is admirably overcrowded with influences: electronics, chamber music, sampling,punkadelia, dub, Skinny Puppy industrial, muzak, the micro-tonality of composers like Ligeti and Stickhausen, early DAF, and more, are all in there. But the effect is never of clotted versatility or ostentatious virtuosity, but rather of expanse, of deranging space.

Edward ka-Spel's lyrcs suggest melancholia, withdrawl, delirium (one song is called "Thursday Night Fever"). More often they're a liquefaction of language: like
Wire, all assonance, alliteration, dotty thymes andpurple puns. A lexical labyrinth. Psychedelia as being lost in the derelict mansion of your own mind.
Ignore your better judgment, and investigate.

Melody Maker, 1991?

by Simon Reynolds

In an Indian restaurant in west Berlin, The Legendary Pink Dots celebrate another
successful date on their latest tour of Europe. On the Continent, The Legendary Pink Dots play to rapturous crowds ranging from healthy-sized to huge. In the past decade, they've released 11 albums through Play it Again Sam, and established themselves as a cult band in Europe and North America.

But, in their native Britain, The Legendary Pink Dots remain neglected. Unjustly, maybe, but not without reason. The Dots' music--a gaudy and avant-garde music-- is too rich a diet to be stomached by the anorexic sensibilites of the British
"alternative" scene. Even the most unleashed exponents of far-out noise overload-- Spacemen 3, Loop- remain hidebound by a hidden agenda of sonic strictures.

It's this climate (where bands still adhere to the post-punk edict that "less is more", kowtow to a knee-jerk dread of the word hippy) that originally drove The Legendary Pink Dots into exile in Amsterdam some five years ago. Despite all the
loosening up of the past three years, the Brits flinch from the sheer expanse of the Pink Dots and their ilk.

Lead Dot, Edward Ka-Spel neglects his chicken tikka to expound upon the whys and wherefores of his band. His phrase for the Legendary Pink DOts's sound-and-vision is the "terminal kaleidoscope".

"If you look at history, the one thing that's certian is that events are accelerating. Things are changing faster and faster, like a ball rolling down a mountain. Our idea is that if things continue to accelerate at this rate, eventually we'll reach overload, cataclysm. We want to provide the relevant soundtrack to this process. Our sound is like this immense cocktail, saturated with all these elements of past music jumbled up with the absolutely modern, like sampling and synthetics.

"But we aren't pessimistic about this impending cataclysm. We belive that we're living through the most significant time in the history of the planet, and we should cherish the things we see and feel in these most exciting times. That's why our
catchphrase is "Sing while you may!" And that's why our new album's called "The Crushed Velvet Apocalypse". Apocalypse can mean simply change. Its like the death card in the Tarot: it doesn't mean death, it means drastic change.

"I don't know if these changes are gonna be for the good or the bad. I don't pretend to be any kind of seer or visionary. I just know that all kinds of philosophies,like Nostradamus, are pointing to the 30 years up to the year 2000 as being a time of great transition. Some point towards a Golden Age after it.

"But there's beauty even in the darkest things. The reason why sunsets are so beautiful these days is because of all the pollution. If you look at a river
that's been chocked with oil, it "is" beautiful. It's the strange twist in the tale. And I try to take all these things that are happening today, and take them to
their ultimate. I don't believe in the annihilation of mankind, but I do believe in mutation."

Through 10 years, 11 albums and a continually fluctuating line-up, the creative core of the Pink Dots has remained Ka-Spel and Phil Knight. The pair found each other in the mid-Seventies, through a shared love of Krautrock groups like Can and Faust. If the Pink Dots are "psychedelia" then it's more in terms of this European tradition of boundary-dissolving expansionism,than the Barrett/Ayers school of Anglo whimsy or American wig-out.

"In Britain, psychedelia is totally linked with nostalgia, and it shouldn't be. Psychedelia's about exploration,discovering new colours. It is not about looking back 20 years. That's as irrelevant as cabaret bands playing Elvis covers. Psychedelis's always got to go "further".

"I never like to talk of influences, cos they tend to be subliminal rather than overt. But to be honest, those German groups are what I still listen to the most,
because they just went so "far". So few bands go that far. A band like Nurse With Wound, who I really like, maybe go that far out. But I can't think of too many
modern bands that try something like that, that actually deranges.

"The beauty of those groups is that Can sounded nothing like Faust, who sounded nothing like Amon Duul, who sounded nothing like Ashra Temple... THe diversity
really puts you in all these different "worlds". It's something else! And that's why, with our music, I can't really say where it's going to go next, because there
are no boundaries. The one thing I can assure you is that it will never be rock'n'roll. I can't stand rock'n'roll.I'm allergic to it.

"If you take the German bands as having no traditional roots in rock'n'roll or R&B, as having roots more in Stockhausen than in Chuck Berry, than we follow on from
that, and are even more free-floating and rootless. I listen to stuff like Stockhausen, Penderecki, Xenakis, Ligeti, Pierre Henry, all that "avant-garde" stuff. But not from an intellectual point of view, but just to bathe in all the sounds and noises. It's totally exciting.

"We always dedicate albums to deviants, and I tend to like deviant music. Anyone who's a character, does something completely wilful and doesn't give a damn about
what other people think. There are a lot of people out there who do that, but they tend to get buried under the carpet."

Edward Ka-Spel is obsessive. He lives for music: in the first year of squatting in Amsterdam he went without food in order to plough all his slim resources into the Dots,and even his girlfriend has difficulty preventing him from spending his food money on obscure albums of experimental music. And Ka-Spel attracts obsessives. Fanzine writers pen lengthy treatises interpreting the densely woven tapestry of his lyrics (whose themes criss-cross from album to album to form an ongoing myth-world). Others engage with the music in a rather more negative fashion.

"There's a lot of humour in the music, but a lot of people home in on the disturbing side. It's got really disturbing on this tour. People have come to hate me. A guy in Oslo kept trying to assault me. I got a letter from another guy who basically blamed me for all his problems. He'd bought all the records, and he was basically accusing me of sending him over the edge."

A lot of Pink Dot's music does deal with madness and schizophrenia. One album, "Asylum"--so titled because it's "a place to escape to, and a place to escape from", plays with the idea of madness as a refuge from an intolerable world. Ka-Spel himself went through a period of psychiatric treatment as a child.

"I was a kind of guinea pig. They discovered that I had an IQ of 160 when I was three. This made me interesting to the people at Great Ormond Street hospital. They made me draw all these pictures. I used to have horrendous nightmares up
till I was 10. It caused a certain isolation for me as a child. It was particularly difficult cos I grew up in East London, which is not the best place to be when your're different."

Does it annoy you that Britain is one of the few places to be indifferent to the Legendary Dots?

"It hurts a lot. More than any coast-to-coast American tours, or playing to huge crowds in Pairs-- both of which we've done--what I'd really like to do is play in England,and prove something. It's like I've always had a bad deal in England. Right through my school years I had a really hard time. Then I started doing what I really wanted and believed in, and once again England gave me the cold shoulder. We do have a real drive to go back there, and say "See what you've been missing!"

The Loft, Berlin
Melody Maker, 1991?

by Simon Reynolds

The Legendary Pink Dots have dwelt in self-imposed exile in Holland for the past six years. In Europe, they're a cult, able to make a living through frequent touring
and prodigious vinyl output. In Britain, they remain almost completely unknown, their musical premises too sprawling for the narrow sights of the British "alternative" scene. The LPD are committed to English and European psychedelia as an ongoing realm of sonic expansionism, whereas current British acid rock revisionism
conceives of psychedelia as; A) primarily American; B) wholly guitar-based; and C) firmly fixed in a long-lost glorious past. Add to this singer Edward Ka-Spel's
art-rock influenced sense of shamanic theater, and his penchant for fabulism, and you have a near insurmountable set of reasons why the British won't be clasping the Dots to their collective bosom in the immediate future.

Onstage, Ka-Spel has something of the hunched, obsessive air of a 19th century inventor. In Europe, he is regarded by many as a seer, and not without reason. The title of the latest, brilliant Dots LP "The Crushed Velvet Apocalypse" evokes his vision that the end of the world is gonna be pretty darn colourful and we're fortunate to be living through it. Several LPD songs are garishly vivid sound-
pictures of a future world rendered unnaturally beautiful by pollution, Ka-Spel's lyrics teeming with images of "menstrual lakes/Rainbow rivers and crippled dandelions".Tracks like "Hellsville" and "Helloween" lie somewhere between Skinny Puppy and Nick Cave of "Mutiny In Heaven" and "Saint Huck".

The legendary Pink Dots are "maximalists", on a quest for new colours. Barrett is often cited, but a more relevant reference point is Krautrock expansionism of Can and Faust. The LPS use sampling to update/facilitate those groups techniques (incorporation of found or "real" sound, noise-mutation, etc.). At times their music can be like an animated Bosch or Durer painting of Armageddon; elsewhere
(as with "Green Gang", which dares to employ sitar, tabla, treated woodwind instruments, and WINS), they create a gorgeously serene Taj Mahal of sound. The single,"Princess Coldheart", is Soft Cell meets Brothers Grimm; its B-side, "The Pleasure Palace", a circus of death, all greasepaint and grotesquerie.

German youth haul The Legendary Pink Dots on for four encores. Blighty's loss is Europe's gain. But homecoming dates are tentatively planned for late spring. Cast your blinkers aside, and investigate.

this reish is for Carl the mighty Impostume

1 comment:

litlgrey said...

Man, do I adore me that Edward and that Phil! And I have known them for far longer than the age of these articles from MM.
They're both vegans, Simon Reynolds! They never would have ordered the Chicken Tikka! JEEZ!