Connecting the dots

For Legendary Pink Dots’ frontman Edward Ka-Spel, it’s all about the musical ‘journey, not the destination.’

June 2, 2013 21:17
The Legendary Pink Dots band

The Legendary Pink Dots band 370. (photo credit: Courtesy )

By rights, or according to the popular music that generally tops the iTunes downloads and radio playlists, nobody should be going to see The Legendary Pink Dots when they perform at the Barbie Club in Tel Aviv on June 7.

There’s nothing remotely Bieberesque or Whatsappworthy about the veteran Dutch-British progressive band – not their neo-psychedelic, shoe-gazing music, their frumpy, middle-aged tea-time looks or their challenging live performances. But despite, or maybe because of that uncompromising to trend stance, the ambient aggregate has been able to satisfy a cult following’s thirst for something different – via dozens of albums and countless tours around the world, since their formation in 1980.

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It’s an encouraging sign for the future of fringe popular culture that in our visually fixated era of youth, beauty and YouTube five-minutes-of-fame stardom, a group as weird and off the tracks as the Legendary Pink Dots has continued to thrive.

“I wouldn’t trade any of it for a pop hit,” said band cofounder Edward Ka-Spel recently from his London home. “The life I’ve had over the last 30 years has been quite fulfilling.”

The beginning of that musical journey began in England, when post-punk experimenters Ka-Spel and Phil Knight, aka The Silverman, formed the group with a supporting cast of shifting players.

“I think the original vision of the band, and the one that’s still there, was to do what we wanted to do musically and not compromise in any way,” said the mild-mannered, chirpy Ka-Spel. “It’s an individual kind of psychedelic music we make and we were very single-minded.”

By 1984, after they had already released a half-dozen homemade albums and started building a following, the band decided to relocate to Amsterdam.

“There were a lot of reasons to leave England,” said Ka- Spel. “It was a pretty horrible political climate back then, and when you’re younger, you feel more affected by it and less willing to put up with it.”

The change of location didn’t affect their out-there music or their prodigious output, as over the next couple decades the Legendary Pink Dots released over 20 more albums and became synonymous with indie electronic rock.

“On occasion, we did have major label interest, and we made a decision to turn them down because of the fear they might try to tell us what to do. We’re a band that cannot be told what to do, that’s why we went into this in the first place.”

That seems to be why – without the benefit of mass exposure, they’ve been able to fill venues around the world like Tel Aviv’s Barbie Club. This week’s show will be the third for the group in Israel, not including Ka-Spel’s solo jaunt in 2001 as a guest DJ at the Maxim club.

“I’ve got lots of friends in Israel now, as well as Israelis I’ve met in other countries,” he said. “And I’ve developed a feel of life in Tel Aviv from the times I’ve been there.”

Ka-Spel was pleased, and a little mystified, that the Legendary Pink Dots’ music has translated well into other cultures, and thanks the Internet for spreading the word.

“It’s odd to have fans from so far away. Just last week, we played in Odessa for a one-off show. The promoter flew us in, we did the show, and flew back the next day,” said Ka-Spel. “Especially in this time, with the Internet being what it is, we’re seeing evidence of just how far our music has gone. It makes it easier to play in these far-flung places.”

The band’s Tel Aviv show will also be a one-off of sorts – it will feature a one-time reunion between the band and its one-time violinist Patrick Wright, who provided the color during one of their most distinctive periods.

“The promoter in Tel Aviv is a big fan, and he told me that his biggest wish was to see us playing with Patrick again,” said Ka-Spel. “I talked to the band and said, ‘why don’t we do it?’ We’re still friends with Patrick and when I got in touch with him, he was really into it, and the rest of the band was into it. It will be a unique show.”

Wright will be performing not only on some of the material he recorded with the band, but on songs recorded long after he left the fold.

“We found it very interesting how his violin integrates into the newer material. Just to repeat the old songs as they were would be a little karaoke and not that pleasurable.

We want this to be very intense voyage.”

In the meantime, the reunion has taken place only online via file sharing, with Wright receiving the band’s latest music and finding the appropriate part for him.

“We’ll have a live run-through when we get to Tel Aviv,” said Ka-Spel.

Long-distance rehearsals are nothing new for him, since he and his wife left the rest of the band in Holland and moved back to London two years ago, following the death of his mother.

“I was in the Netherlands for 25 years, living with my wife and child. Neither of actually spoke Dutch very well, and when my mum died, I inherited her house so we decided to move back,” said Ka- Spel, adding that he commutes back to the Netherlands for band work every few weeks. “It’s better being in London this time, and I’m making music all the time, every day.”

For Ka-Spel, that’s what it all comes down to; the obsessive, never-ending desire and ability to create new music. And despite only achieving marginal commercial success throughout his career, he’s not about to change anything now.

“We lived in starvation mode for many years, and we’re not that far from it now,” said Ka-Spel. “But it was always my plan to make a career out of it. If you’re serious about it, as we are, you can’t dabble and do other things – you can’t have a job on the side. It has to be all the way or not at all. But that doesn’t mean that times haven’t been hard – but only hard in a material sense, not a spiritual one.”

“Musically there are still things I’d like to achieve, the things that play in your head. We’re not there yet and we may not get there. But that’s the beauty of it – the journey, not the destination. Because once you get there, where else can you go?”

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