SDS-V Drum Synthesizer, 1981

Exhibit / April 12, 2017

Object Name: SDS-V Drum Synthesizer
Maker and Year: Simmons, 1981
Object Type: Drum synthesizer
Image Source: Simmons Museum
Description: (Richard McKenna)

Released in 1981, the SDS-V was an electronic drum kit produced by British company Simmons, which was founded in 1978 by Dave Simmons and remained active until 1999. Though retaining a classic layout, the SDS-V’s glossy, hexagonal drums invoked a futuristic, scientific aesthetic that implied a rejection of the sweaty toil previously involved in percussion, as well as a move towards the abstraction of the hitherto mechanical connections that digital technologies were making possible. This “revolution in drums” was made explicit in the SDS-V’s instruction booklet, which stated that “The ‘skins and shells’ concept has remained unchanged for many thousands of years. You are in the front line of that revolution.”

The sounds for the SDS-V’s toms, snare, and bass drum were created by analogue synthesis, while the hi-hat and cymbals used digital sampling. The kit’s sounds could be triggered by drumsticks and by electronic sequencing, or by both simultaneously. The drum pads were made from the same hard polycarbonate used in the riot shields that police in the U.K. were frequently deploying at the time against many of the country’s citizens as they protested racism, institutional violence, and economic hardship. In later models, this plastic was replaced by rubber following user complaints that the hard surfaces caused damage to drummers’ elbows and wrists, though an initial brochure for the SDS-V claimed that the bass drum’s “sensitive electronics” reduced the likelihood of a pathology nicknamed “Disco knee.”

For a time, the SDS-V was frequently (albeit fleetingly) a familiar sight in images of popular musicians of the day, and drummers who used the Simmons kits included David Robinson of The Cars, Roger Taylor of Duran Duran, Roger Taylor of Queen, John Moss of Culture Club, Eric Carr of Kiss, Lee Harris of Talk Talk, Bill Bruford of King Crimson, and Phil Collins of Genesis.

Simmons realized several prototypes for alternate shapes, even producing small numbers of a kit whose drum pads were hidden inside fiberglass heads (another prototype, allegedly inspired by Mount Rushmore, featured “batwing” pads). The set was featured in the video for Landscape’s “Einstein a Go Go.”

One thought on “SDS-V Drum Synthesizer, 1981

  1. I love these drums.I had Roland pads, which I got for cheaper than Simmons,and a 5 channel analog mixer.I was actually a bass player , but I liked to sometimes use Taurus pedals while hitting the pads just to add variety and texture to our songs.Still have the mixer with 2 pads and a 123 sequencer.I should get 2 more pads and Frankenstein together a complete kit.

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