For those that don’t know Silver Apples are THE electronic group of all time. ‘Genre defining’ is perhaps too glib a description as its general overuse has rendered it incapable of accounting for the trail they auspiciously blazed.
Fuck it, Silver Apples are to electronic music what Thomas Edison is to Facebook.
Formed around 1967 they matched Danny Taylor’s 60s jazzbeat inspired drumming with far-out oscillators and solid state circuit-bent instruments courtesy of Simeon (aka Simeon Coxe III). However it wasn’t simply weird noise over stoned trance-heavy percussion, vocally Simeon delivered modern poetry and abstract musings in a particularly fresh way. Both Danny and Simeon stated that they were far more interested in patterns than music per se and their efforts inspired and prefigured krautrock, synthpop, dance music, electronica and boffin-lead outsider music for decades and probably decades more.
Danny died in 2005 but Simeon continues to write and perform solo or with occasional collaborators since the band’s popular rediscovery in mid 90s and again since 2006 via the championing of ATP (All Tomorrow’s Parties) and other cognoscente promoters.
The performance at the Luminaire in Kilburn was much anticipated on electronic and IDM message boards however there weren’t massive amounts of people present on the night. Perhaps due to it being a Sunday or perhaps because the band’s done a reasonable amount of shows in UK recently, in any case there was a feeling a pensive excitement throughout the venue.
These sorts of icon shows usually attract a fairly motley attendance and the Luminaire didn’t disappoint; pensive indie kids swayed downcast from the bar into corners furtively looking to see whether they had picked up pansexual interest, leopard print rock vixens with heavily lined eyes and bleach damaged hair texted their baby sitters and baby sat their vacant eyed am-I-a-musician? boyfriends, surly promoter types wandered around giving heavy ‘tude with serious airs of authority while clique taut anonymous man-baby types judged each other’s flannel shirts and greasy fringes.
I love the Luminaire. It’s a beautiful venue with good sound. The bar staff are fantastic; friendly, efficiently on it, and female, they are everything a thirsty punter could ask for. I have a gripe though and it’s a gripe that makes me inordinately angry, contemptuous even. Stencilled on the walls and looping on flat screens are ‘The Expectations’; we are not supposed to speak during performances as this is a ‘live venue’ and not a pub moreover if ‘we came to talk to our pals, we are in the wrong place and should leave’. The flat screen displays have an archly condescending tone as they parse regular enough questions that any normal person might ask; ‘where can I find a cash point?’ and ‘once events have been sold out is there a returns policy for tickets?’ in the form of a conversation where the customer is not simply wrong but stupid. It smacks of cliquey exclusivity begat by ugly people with no social skills and perpetrates the worse kind of reverse Darwinism where the sick and lame are allowed to spoil life for the conscientious, attractive and able. So please note: If you don’t want to deal with the public its probably best not to go into hospitality or leave the house for that matter.
If I am listening to a band that has failed to win their audiences attention let alone admiration, fuck them. Obviously I’m not going to start heckling, loudly recount my public sexual encounters or argue the merits of the offside rule. What I am probably going to do is head for the bar and have a drink and snidely discuss how much the band sucks with similar aligned aesthetes. I know this, we all know this, we don’t have to be told and telling us makes me hate you. Moreover, there is a general barometer of interest when it comes to performance and life in general. The more people like you the closer they come, physically and emotionally. Things are going badly if everyone hugs the walls and there is a vast expanse in front of you. Similarly if you’re absolutely on fire and the area at your feet is crowded by idolaters expect them to get active, jump, shout, show man-tits, and fake lesbianism for effect. To recap re: stage up-front much likes at back less-likes, simple, yes? Good.
I don’t care what the people say Do what I want to every day Cos I don’t care what the people say -Silver Apples
I don’t care what the people say
Do what I want to every day
Cos I don’t care what the people say
Now if you are standing in the middle and someone likes a particular song A LOT expect them to push to the front, tears streaming from their eyes as they remember their first kiss or how they felt when Nadine Burford dumped them or just sheer fucking joy. Don’t give them a shitty look that will cause an obvious confrontation, let them pass quickly and they’re gone, and if they stop right in front of your short fat girlfriend tough luck, it’s a gig, swap places with her and she should be able to see as well as she can given her obvious handicaps. They are in front of you so they obviously like the band much more than you, so courtesy dictates that you let them closer to the stage. If you disagree move on up, the band wants the people they see to be really into them, not your po-faced chin stroking being permanently clouded as someone jostles you from behind.
‘I really like the band but I’m not the sort to dance, jump, smile. I like things really regimented’
Sorry, you fail at life and no one should be subjected to your negative experience. Moreover given this general attitude I don’t think you really like anything. Constantly and compulsively fucking yourself over and without joy, you’re an unfortunate soul who cannot love in the true sense of the word. It is for you that the Luminaire put up these signs on acceptable behaviour because you are incapable of being a person other than in a prescribed manner. The freedom that life and great music allows remains constantly locked behind the green door. Musical ecstasy for you remains typified in one inflexible way that necessitates that everyone else conform otherwise your whole night is just ruined.
‘Not everyone wants a musical event to be a mad bacchanalian adventure or sights and sounds unseen’
Then why did you come? Predictable musical events of performative perfection are called ‘albums’, you can buy them and listen to them in the privacy of your own dank bedroom. I imagine that attending concerts is essentially a form of box ticking for you. You are of the passive generation.
‘You seem really angry about something, what it is? I’m a quiet guy with a pasta addiction and I like my checked shirt but really did you have to say that about my girlfriend?’
A lot of performances in London have become sedate affairs of people tutting at each other and subduing every act of musical appreciation barring polite applause. For years bands have remarked that London audiences are reserved to the point of being uninvolved and this should not be encouraged. Reading Mojo cover to cover and being manifestly obsessed with updating Wikipedia articles belies an ignorance of the limitations of the gig/performance dichotomy. Gigs are apparently experienced physically whereas performances assume a more cerebral consumption. It seems that people are asking less and less how they feel about musical events than what clever things they are made to think. As a result there is a tendency towards anodyne musical performances that are saying nothing and emotionally vacuous. Sadly this might be a reaction to music being consumed by unaware and emotionally simple audiences who don’t know how to be anything but passive in a musical environment.
‘What has this to do with the Eat Lights Become Lights and Silver Apples gig?’
Eat Lights Become Lights (ELBL) are a great band who seem to mix Yes and Krautrock-like Prog elements through a Stereolab filter. One imagines that in the States they’d really move an audience where bands like Particle tread similar waters to great popularity.
Humorously one of their intro sounds a lot of like ‘I want to break free’ by Queen but they quickly rocked it out with a steady but serious beat and accompanying groove based technical prowess. English band The Egg has to some extent harvested this crop before however where The Egg ploughed their field in the dance field ELBL are aiming for a more indie based sound. Arguably both acts are trying to bring their audiences into a groove based area of live instrumentation while skirting perilously close to the horrendous morass of white funk. ELBL are really a band with a strong sense of integrity who have captured their sound to almost rehearsed perfection it’s hard to make out where they’ll go with it but at the moment they seem unstoppably at the top of their game. More to the point it seems like they really care about the music they’re making, the changes are interesting and the drums pretty irrepressible. Despite being a support band they received a reasonable amount of love on the night and I think a few good festival slots should have them performing to greater crowds in the next 6-12 months. Against the earlier tirade this band is going in the right direction musically and the only criticism I can summon is that they didn’t really have an overriding conceit to make them uniquely great.
Silver Apples on the other hand despite the sad absence of Drummer Danny Taylor were packed full of personality. Simeon is truly a unique and fascinating musician who can’t help but express his ideas through his bleeps, squelches, fractured melodies and pink noise. I overheard grumblings that the updated and modernised drums sounds used to fill in for Danny weren’t really what people wanted. Initially I would have preferred to see and hear the freewheeling jazz-antics rather than some of the more predictable drum programming that accompanied the familiar tracks but towards the middle of the set the drums came into their own and there were some wonderfully dark tonal sections which rivalled anything created by artists a third of Simeon’s age. Encouragingly people nodded and stood transfixed as Simeon improvised sounds and melodies through his contraptions and as people filed out of the venue you could hear that a lot of lives had been changed.
In between the acts a short film about Silver Apples was shown featuring interviews with members of Can, Devo, Faust, and Suicide, as well as Jack Dangers and Alec Empire all of whom paid tribute to the band and described how much influence the band had on them either knowingly or unknowingly. Jack Dangers was particularly voluble on exactly how much ground they had covered during their first career in the 60s. It’s always a bit tense to see one of the so-called seminal bands play as what was once fresh and visceral is usually, by virtue of being heavily copied through the years, quite muted decades later. One of the more inspirational moments of the evening was the shock that despite losing a member and being in his 70s Simeon as Silver Apples was still vital conceptually and musically. The footage and interviews of the band from the 60s and 90s showed a partnership of two individuals without necessarily grand ambitions but certainly a strong concept and an unshakable belief in the music they were making.
The final message of the short film was made by Simeon where he forcefully and energetically pronounced that people should never give up, they should keep going, no matter what. It is a message that I hope activates those inspired by the show to get involved with a grand scheme of their own making and a positive message that doesn’t require infantile signs urging conformity to get people doing the right thing.
Luminaire, Kilburn. 08-08-2010
1. 2008, Berlin, by Manfred Miersch
2. 2007 ATP Fest., England, by Zach Dilgard
3. 2002, Fairhope, Alabama