Flaming Lips' will be playing an experimental concert in London in May that involves 40 boomboxes. A special NME news feature gives the details...
Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne has promised that next month’s experimental boom box show at London Kentish Town Forum will be “unpredictable and exciting”. The show will feature 40 invited guests – including My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields, Miki Berenyi and The Boo Radleys’ Martin Carr – who will play pre-recorded Flaming Lips tapes on cassette players, ‘conducted’ by the band.
Speaking to NME last week, Wayne Coyne said: “This is unpredictable and exciting. You never really know which way the composition is going to go because inevitably some of the tape players run fast and some run a little slower and some of them… well, because there are so many people up there trying to get it right, it really is impossible.
“So far, at least three people have screwed it up, who didn’t even get the ‘Play’ button pressed. Because it’s on tapes, I do have an idea of how it’s going to go.” The band bought the boom boxes from pawn shops and have made them tamper proof. “You know the way that Eddie Van Halen used to fix his guitars? So that he took all the controls off apart from the volume? We just covered the boom boxes in glue so that you can’t change the settings apart from the volume knob and the tape door.”
Coyne says the Lips are aiming for something that isn’t challenging to listen to. He also insists the shows aren’t Brian Eno-style art events or rooted in any tradition of avant-garde or experimental music. “I love the idea of experimental music but I think that the word ‘experimental’ puts people off. It makes a lot of people think, ‘Oh no, it’s going to be Karen Finley (US performance artist) sticking a piece of meat up her butt’,” says Wayne. “What are a lot of experimental musicians trying to achieve? If you were a scientist and you told me that you were experimenting but didn’t actually know what you were trying to achieve, I’d say, ‘That’s not experimenting, that’s just dicking around’.”
He said the real purpose was to find a way of making experimental music that was entertaining for both participants and listeners. “I think the idea of a rock show has just become totally boring. I went to see Radiohead a couple of weeks ago in Dallas and it was in this big theatre and I thought, ‘Well rock shows have just become so organised to the point where they’re just boring’. Not the band, but the whole atmosphere,” he said. The boom box shows grew out of the Flaming Lips ‘car park experiments’, which began in 1996. “We started out just doing it in the parking lot with five, then ten, then about 50 car stereos. I just made up these tapes and at a given signal everyone turned them on. Then I thought, ‘Well, let’s see what we could do in, say, for example, a covered venue’,” Wayne said.
There have been stories about people attending shows in the US being dragged out vomiting after becoming disoriented. But Wayne denied that this was KLF-type attempt to disorient the audience using sonic weapons. “Well, I don’t know about disorienting. I think that those people who threw up had other reasons, like too much beer or too much of other things or… whatever.” Coyne said he was currently working on a piece called ‘The Loudest Blade Of Grass’. He said: “What I have on this one is 100 different horn players playing 100 different melodies and then they unexpectedly mould into birds chirping. This is the type of music that I would always dream about in my head, I’d think, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have all these horn players that turn into birds and then turn into motorcycles and then into another band playing music again?'”
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The band’s latest album ‘Zaireeka’ is a four-CD set designed to be listened to on four different CD players at the same time. Coyne said: “The stuff on ‘Zaireeka’ has a lot more structure in the songs. A lot that we do at the concert would be entertaining if you were actually there but dull if you heard it on record. But some of the stuff on ‘Zaireeka’, how would you say, spurred us on down the hole into this sort of stuff.”
All of the Flaming Lips are involved in the gig, although the band will still play more conventional shows later this year. The Forum show will be the eighth experimental gig that the Flaming Lips will have played. “This is just the beginning of something, there’s no limits to where it can go and I don’t have any idea what can happen next,” he said.
Tickets for the Flaming Lips’ Forum show on May 16 are available on the NME‘s 24-hour ticketline on 0870 1212 500. Calls are charged at national standard rate.