INXS' Drum Brain
As a young, beginning drummer, seeing the first Simmons drum kit appear on the market was a pulse raising experience. My dad and I first saw the Simmons SDS-V demoed at Sensomania in Amsterdam in 1982.
The demo had been delayed due to technical issues, just to give you an idea of how fresh this new technology was.
My dad and I would also visit the northern Dutch city of Groningen, to go to some of the bigger music shops in the country.
In 1983 I got the chance to play on the SDS-V at Noorder Muziek Huis in Groningen.
Being allowed to play an expensive instrument such as the SDS-V was quite uncommon in those days, especially for a 14-year old kid.
The guy in the shop was very relaxed about it though, as people in general are more relaxed in that part of the country.
The SDS-V sounded incredible, even though it did not sound anything like a conventional drum kit.
The pads were made of hard plastic and at that stage still lacked velocity sensitivity.
The most amazing element of the kit in my view was the kick drum.
The thud and low end that it produced was just a sensational experience.
Dispite the Simmons drums being so expensive, the sounds were already noticable on the chart hits of the early 80's, especially in Italo Dance music.
The Simmons was used a lot in conjunction with digital drum machines, like the Linndrum and DMX.
The individual outputs could be sent to the trigger inputs of the SDSV, creating a layered sound that was perfect to thicken up dance oriented music.
Simmons noticed this trend and wanted to combine the analog and digital elements hence the SDS-7.
Cymbals and Hi Hats were still absent on the SDS-7.
Because cymbals took up more memory, a whole host or EPROMS would have had to be fitted, like it did on the Linndrum.
Instead a cymbal could be created using the noise generator with a long release time.
Simmons also had a special looking cymbal pad in the shape of an umbrella, but very few of these were sold.
There was an optional Patch-Selector-Pad as well.
This briefcase sized rubber surface had a grid of smaller hexagonal shapes which could be struck with a stick to switch between different sounds.
As this piece of technology was out of reach for the gigging or hobbying musician, these devices mostly ended up in the hands of the elite, such as recording studios and signed artists.
Therefor chances of seeing them appear on the 2nd hand market are slim.
I stumbled across the SDS-7 brain at a second hand music shop in Newtown / Sydney Australia, somewhere in 2001.
Pete's Musicians Market was a trading place for second hand music gear, where musicians could sell them on commission basis.
It was a tiny little shop.
Everything was tucked away wherever it would fit.
I spotted the SDS7 on the floor with a price tag of $170.
I just could not leave it there.
Pete mentioned to me that this SDS-7 use to belong to drummer Jon Farris of INXS.
I took it with a grain of salt, as you hear lots of these urban gear myths.
The unit was not in a pretty looking state.
The knobs had been replaced, there were scratches all over the front panel and the data dial felt very scratchy.
For that price it was still an absolute steal.
The unit was fully functional when I triggered it with my Linndrum.
Operation of the unit was extremely tedious and quirky.
To access parameters, a number had to be entered first.
From there the value could be changed using the large Jog wheel.
The SDS-V only had 2 memory location for storing kits, but the SDS-7 had a whopping 100 memory locations.
Memory storage was a big selling point in those days.
The SDS7 was a modular system, with a standard 5-module configuration.
A total of 12 modules could be fitted, which in 1984 would have been a pricy affair.
This unit still had the standard 5-modules, which was one of the reasons for me to doubt that it belonged to INXS, as they would have probably had a bit more to spend to fit a few more modules.
The sample of the Snare was most peculiar.
It had probably been replaced, as EPROMS on drum machines were replaced a lot in those days.
This snare sample had a delay on it, which was included in the sample.
This made the sample pretty much unusable.
I had not used the unit in 13-years and decided in 2014 to switch it on to see if it was still working.
Unfortunately it did not power up, so I opened it to search for any loose connections.
In order to look inside the unit, the front panel has to be removed so that the modules can be pulled out.
As I pulled out the modules I had a look at the EPROMS.
The snare EPROM had a sticker on it with INXS written on it.
I guess this is still not solid proof that the unit use to belong to Jon Farris of INXS, but it's become a bit more plausible.
Even though it looks like a 19-inch rack unit, the dimensions are actually a bit larger.
I am not sure if rack ears were ever available from the Simmons factory.
If so, they would have had to be really thin in order to fit into a 19 "rack.
As I was working as a CNC operator at the time, making my own racks out of aluminum was a piece of cake.
I had the rack ears anodised in black.
Still with the rack ears being only 1mm thin and with little space left, the unit was still difficult to fit into a rack.
This odd dimensional difference with other 19-inch gear has always puzzled me.
The SDS-7 may look slick on the outside, but inside it looks worse than a prototype.
For something that had a price tag in the Netherlands of 8500 guilders (I still have the original price list from 1984), the built quality was absolutely shocking.
The rails that hold the cards are crookedly alligned.
Of course Simmons being a British company, the screws used have imperial size threads, so trying to find these in a hardware store is difficult.
In 1986 Simmons released a line of more affordable kits:
SDS-800: kick, snare and 2-toms.
These sets did not sound amazing, but it still sounded like a Simmons.
I bought my SDS-800 at Kick Music in Hilversum for 1800 guilders, which was an absolute bargain for that time.
I would drag the brain and 2-pads to every gig.
I would place the pads above my Hi Hat, so I could switch between electronic and acoustic tom fills.
One cool feature the SDS-800 had was that you could do a long tom fill on just one drum pad.
By activating this feature the pitch would go down as you re-triggered the pad.
Being able to play samples on drum pads was becoming the norm by 1987 and so I ordered a MIDI converter for the Simmons pads that would convert triggers to MIDI.
This small box was called The Translator.
I paid 800 guilders for it, which was an entire 1-month pay.
I invisioned that it would allow me to play the sounds of my TR-505 via the Simmons pads.
Unfortunately this device did not trigger that well, so I soon returned it.
Later I found out that it did a better job at converting Trigger to MIDI, which would have allowed the Simmons to be played via MIDI from a drum machine or sequencer. These devices are now extremely hard to find.
In 1988 Roland released a far more superior device that could do the same thing, which was the PM-16.
I also added a 2nd hand Dynacord drum pad to my Simmons kit, so I could practice at home triggering the TR-505.
Soon I felt that practicing on rubber pads was not very satisfactory.
Technology was marching on and the Simmons drums soon were considered an 80's relic.
I sold all the pads separately and also ended up selling the SDS-800 brain.
Somehow I never managed to sell the bass drum pad, which I still have.
The PM-16 and TR-505 were replaced by newer toys, such as the Octapad and Alesis HR-16.
Looking back Simmons drums have probably been one of the biggest fashion crazes of all time.
Between 1982 and 1988 the hexagonal pads were always easy to spot on TV.
Drummers were dancing and lip syncing behind a rack of hexagonal Simmons pads in order to be noticed more.
Everything in the 80s was about the "Look at Me" mentality and the Simmons drums were a perfect fit for that.
I still own the SDS-7 brain, but it is still not powering up.