Paul Burgess

Silver Apples – The Printworks, Hastings, UK (2nd June 2017)

The audience can often make or break a show. Try as the band or artist might, if the collective mass of bodies that comprise the attendees of that show aren’t feeling it, then the whole evening is bound to bomb. Thankfully, Silver Apples face no such difficulties tonight. The innovative electronic pioneers – now pioneer singular – released their debut album in 1968 and, as with so many innovative gems from the era, faded from sight sooner that deserved. It wasn’t until a revival of interest in the mid ’90s that vocalist and synth guru Simeon Coxe and drummer Danny Taylor reconvened; infrequent touring followed as well as occasional studio output. Activity from the duo was relatively sparse but enough to keep the innovative act on the radar, and the last two decades in particular have seen their reputation grow from underrated adventurers to recognised pioneers.

[contentblock id=141 img=adsense.png]

Although Taylor died in 2005, Coxe has continued to spread the good word of the holy synthesizer through a not inconsiderable amount of touring given his age – 79 – and tonight he finds himself in front of a crowded house at Hasting’s Printworks. It’s already sweltering before the show starts – Coxe is, rather enviably, aided by a hefty fan to cool him on stage throughout the show – and things only become hotter as the evening progresses. Electronica is almost always music made to move the body to and Silver Apples are no exception, even if the band’s earliest recordings came from a time decades before EDM was a term.

Those familiar with the band’s seminal duo of albums from 1968 and 1969 – pretty much everyone in the audience, it would seem – will be no stranger to the off-kilter yet remarkably salient grooves and rhythms the band traded in. Whilst the driving rhythmic force of Taylor may no longer be here – Coxe appears alone tonight, his only company on stage a hefty rack of electronic equipment – his old bandmate is there in sound, if not in flesh. Coxe explains at one point that the rhythm parts heard tonight are samples of Taylor’s drum work recorded shortly before his death. Although the use of such pre-recorded materials in a live show has always been a point of contention, even the most ardent of live purists would have trouble arguing against the use of such backing tracks tonight. Always an essential aspect of their artistry, Taylor’s work with the band is ramped up to 11 tonight, Coxe pumping as much steroid-induced intensity into the drum parts as possible.

It soon becomes clear that tonight’s show is late ’60s electro-psych as filtered through the syphon of hard-‘n’-fast acid rave. There’s a palpable sense of joy throughout the audience as they bop in time with the almost shockingly hefty drums. The original records were certainly never meek, but tonight’s performance certainly shows them in a new, more boisterous light. It’s never aggressive, though, and that’s key to the joy of the show. In the front few rows of people, the atmosphere is more akin to a really great party than a rock show in the conventional sense; couples are dancing, people are smiling, hands are thrown in the air – a tangible sign of the sheer energy in the room.

Coxe certainly never loses sight of the most experimental, psychedelic elements of the band – the wailing synths and bubbling ambience is plenty proof of that – but the accent has been shifted away from mind-expanding exploration towards joyous self-expression. Tonight’s show is one tailor-made for those willing to let go and move with the sound, and it’s best experienced when you do. It’s music that encourages the shedding of inhibitions and the brief snatches of silence in-between songs see Coxe greeted by triumphant waves of whoops and cheers. The crowd love it and, judging by the big smile on his face as he leaves the stage, he does too.

There’s a great sense of communal exploration tonight, a vivid reminder that live music is so often best experienced when those around you are all feeding off the same richly exuberant atmosphere. Tonight’s show is one of happy faces and big cheers. There’s one especially exciting moment when the group’s signature song – the almighty ‘Oscilations’ – is being built up; most in the crowd know it’s coming just from the opening synth drone – a sign of the the devoted fandom that Silver Apples command – fervent looks of anticipation are traded and then, it kicks off. As the drums punch in like a meteorite, the crowd explode into a mass of jumping, dancing bodies. It’s truly heartening to see a crowd that understands and loves the music they’re hearing so much and, indeed, it’s vital to the success of this evening’s performance.

Silver Apples are innovators and originators – just listening to their albums is enough to prove that. That fact that Simeon Coxe is not prepared to do simple cut-and-paste renditions of his best known pieces is testament to his enduringly adventurous sensibilities. He plays a handful of new songs – impressively, they’re received no less appreciatively than long-term favourites – and the old classics that do get an airing are tastefully retweaked to keep the essence of what made them great but likewise embellish them for a modern live audience. It’s a set that is as impassioned as its audience and it’s genuinely exciting to see an electronic innovator fully living up to that title so many decades after his earliest work.