Thirtheen years on, Edward Ka-Spel and The Legendary Pink Dots are still difficult to locate in the continuum of pop
Two campus radio announcers joked at a party about one of their younger, fledgling colleagues - a pale and awckward waif who was shrouded in mystery, big hair and black clothes.
"The kind of person who's waiting for the next Legendary Pink Dots album," quipped one, while the other thought that the reference was obscure, kind of cool, and maybe just a little flaky.
The Legendary Pink Dots are a quintessential cult band. In the early '80s, the group's name popped up on compilations and a slew of cassette-only releases. Led by Edward Ka-Spel, a legend of the ululating underground, the group has produced a steady stream of albums that totals fifteen... or sixteen. "I've lost count," says Ka-Spel in a tour-worn voice he's trying desperately to save for the evening performance. "There've been at least 10 cassettes, as well as eight solo albums," he says. Over the past 13 years, the band has created soundscapes that jump from ambient to atonal, has written soundtracks that incorporate ballads and "jazz actuel," and has consistently treated electronic experimentation with elegance. Ka-Spel adds his wispy lisp sing-speak, spinning tales of fantasy, spirituality and CNN. "I'd say the Pink Dots are psychedelic in the original meaning of what psychedelia was all about," says Ka-Spel, commenting on the oft-used adjective to describe the band.
The Pinks Dots were formed by vocalist Ka-Spel and fellow keybordist Phil Silverman [sic] in East London back in 1980. Four years later, the pair decided to do some Channel hopping over to the more tolerant Amsterdam, where the group is still based.
"It was also 1984, the year we released the album "The Tower" which was all about England," Ka-Spel recalls. "It screams about the way the country was going back then (under Margaret Tatcher). England was my country, and countries are basically loved, but I was tearing my hair out at the way it was. That album was actually celebrated in Europe, but completely ignored in England. So the signs were there - leave."
"The band has had about 19 members over the years and that's always breathed new life into it. No one's ever left in anger, and at the moment, I think it's a particularly healthy band." says Ka-Spel. Filling out the line-up these days with Ka-Spel and Silverman are Ryan Moore on bass and accoustic guitar, Martjin de Kleer on more guitars and percussion, and Niels Van Hoornblower on horns.
The Pink Dots may take their inspiration from psychedelia, but the group certainly doesn't mimic the '60s style. Comparisons with '70s progressive rock are much more apt, including the influence of Can, Faust, Neu! and middle-period Pink Floyd. To boot, Ka-Spel has a penchant for the concept album, and the group's latest effort "Malachai" is the second part of a mystical journey of a character called The Shadow Weaver. Says Ka-Spel of this unfashionable approach: "We go on our own sweet path that relates to very little else that's going on. I'm quite happy to carry on winding that way."
The enigmatic exile has hit on something here. Perhaps it's the elusive if anti-climatic answer to another mystical quest. Is the way the Pink Dots carry themselves the essence of being an alternative group, or an independent band ?
"Alternative to what?" scoffs Ka-Spel mildly. "I think way too much is put on those two words - alternative and independent. I would say The Legendary Pink Dots are simply a unique band. I don't know what we're independent of, or what we're alternative to. We're just the Pink Dots."
The Legendary Pink Dots play Backstreet Saturday, May 22 , $15.
The Legendary Pink Dots were without a venue Wednesday after Cafe Campus lost its appeal of a court injunction ordering the bar to close. The Quebec's Court of Appeal ordered the popular Universite de Montreal hangout to shut its doors because of repeated complaints from local residents about the noise.
[Alan's note: Eventually they found a venue - Backstreet on Mayor, formerly known as Mars, a very nice goth-industrial club, but now a metal bar!]