Pink Dot Dash

Holland's weirder-than-thou cult band keeps spreading that legendary pink stuff

The official story of the Legendary Pink Dots' name mentions a keyboard player who needed nail polish to mark which notes to play. Yet leader Edward Ka-Spel has picked up the kaleidoscope dropped by Syd Barrett and brought it blazing into the 21st Century with a distinctly Floydian hue. Not the "tear down the wall!" Pink Floyd, but Barrett's magical world of tiny gnomes, astronomy domines, borrowed bicycles, and playful Emilys.

"We're certainly psychedelic, but carrying on the torch from the Sixties wasn't ever our intention," Ka-Spel says in a voice that turns every r into a tongue-rolled w. "We've always wanted to be rather timeless, actually. It's not about nostalgia at all. We want to make the most psychedelic music that's ever been recorded."

Formed in London in 1980 but using the Netherlands as their base of operations since, the Legendary Pink Dots have spent 24 years making the most psychedelic music in quantitative terms: They have released more than 60 (!) albums in that period, including compilations, not including another fifteen Ka-Spel has recorded on his own and the half-dozen he made with his side project, Tear Garden. Psychedelic maybe, prolific indisputably. Not even the enigmatic Ka-Spel has enough fingers and toes to keep track of all those children.

The Legendary Pink Dots, sans legendary pinkness
The Legendary Pink Dots, sans legendary pinkness

With such a conveyor belt output, it's hard for the Pink Dots to see past the last few albums. The band lives in the present, and many older songs "have run their course" and are now retired, Ka-Spel explains. The newest album, released on May 18, is Whispering Wall, a trippy little warning light atop the reactor core of the apocalypse.

Since the band's start, singer/keyboardist Ka-Spel (a.k.a. D'Archangel, a.k.a. the Prophet Qa'Sepel) and keyboardist Phil Knight (a.k.a. the Silver Man) have constituted its abstract/electronic foundation, and in 1988 saxophonist/extrovert Niels van Hoorn offset their inherent weirdness with love-loaded melodies and outlandish stage presence. Festooned in leopard print suits and matching hats and strolling into the crowd with wireless instruments, van Hoorn provides comic relief to Ka-Spel's intractable oddness.

The band's initial cassette-only output was spotty, and early albums such as Curse (1983) are marred by unfortunate New Wave slap-bass buffoonery. Watersheds such as Any Day Now(1987) and The Golden Age (1988) brought the Dots' involuted mythologies and surreal carnival atmospheres into focus. Still the band was so obscure that it was denied a visa to tour the U.S. in 1990. "Ah, yes," Ka-Spel remembers. "It was a case of someone who hadn't heard of us deciding we had no artistic merit."

America finally opened its doors the next year, and the Legendary Pink Dots have since made annual pilgrimages to increasingly large crowds. The records kept coming, too, and career highlights like 1997's Hallway of the Godsand 1998's Nemesis Onlinepresented the group's electronically bent psychedelia in its multitracked glory. Better yet, the band perfected the kind of twistedly gorgeous pop song Barrett would have held onto his marbles for. Acoustic madrigals like "Fate's Faithful Punchline" and "Lucifer Landed" lay just beneath the threshold of universal accessibility.

Like those other Pink Dots albums, Whispering Wall includes a psych-popadelic nugget ("For Sale"), a dissonant rocker ("Soft Toy"), and a moody, ten-minute-plus opus ("Sunken Pleasure/Rising Pleasure/No Walls, No Strings"). "There are always little lines that run from one record to the next," Ka-Spel says cryptically.

The records Ka-Spel releases on his own (the most recent, Pieces of 8, should in no way be mistaken for the Styx album of the same name) are even more out there than the Pink Dots. The third outlet for his boundless creativity, the Tear Garden, is a more industrial affair -- not surprising, given that it's a collaboration with members of Canada's brutal Skinny Puppy. After a 35-date tour with Legendary Pink Dots, he will record a new Tear Garden album in Los Angeles and then tour again with that project. All this comes after a pair of Pink Dots albums released in 2002 (All the King's Horses and All the King's Men), which were followed by a world tour in 2003 and then immediately by the recording of Whispering Wall. And the reclusive frontman, who turns 50 this year, has no plans to shut off the tap. "There's plenty of years left in the Pink Dots," he promises.

For almost a quarter-century the Legendary Pink Dots have operated under the motto, "sing while you may," which could hold a clue to their voluminous output. Ka-Spel explains it like this: "Time is accelerating. Imagine the world as a drowning man seeing his entire life flash before his eyes. I'm encouraging people to enjoy it while it's there."

 
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