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Culture Reviews
Silver Apples
By Martin Richardson
One of the best things about Moscow over the past five years or so has been the growth in quirky, edgy venues taking over semi-derelict industrial sites and breathing new life into them. Proekt Fabrika’s Aktovy Zal arguably started the trend; Winzavod made it trendy and Krasnye Oktyabr made it almost too trendy. More recently Flacon has taken the same template to the north of the city – and is steadily carving out a reputation for interesting left-field acts.

The audience, almost inevitably, veers towards “cooler-than-thou”. Silver Apples, while a seminal act in many ways, hardly represent the apex of musical popularity. Formed in 1967 but disbanded within two years, the legend lay dormant until the march of rave, techno and IDM inspired new interest in old electronics and prompted a 90s revival. That saw the early albums re-released, but ended abruptly in near tragic circumstances when Simeon Coxe III was left with a broken neck after the tour van was forced off the road. Worse was to follow: drummer Danny Taylor died in 2005, and that seemed to be the end of the whole project. A handful of solo shows and festival appearances since 2007 has seen Simeon keeping the Silver Apples name alive, but it hardly accounted for why a decent-sized crowd of young Russians – far too young to remember even the 90s revival in many cases – headed to Dmitrovskaya to bellow their approval and call out for their favourite tracks. It would be tempting to suggest that genuine passion for the music was allied to a certain cultural one-upmanship, particularly given the whoops and whistles which greeted tracks which were still at the ‘unformed’ stage of their intros.

The music itself, though, was certainly deserving of attention. In the past electronic acts have come in for heavy criticism on these pages for delivering formless noodling with minimal audience interaction. Well, it would a lie to say that Simeon sprung onto stage as a fully-formed Iggy-aping rock god. That accident left his movements restricted, and he contented himself with a few words of greeting and a performance of his songs. But those songs carried enough to sustain the evening without any extras: the sound comes from an army of old-school oscillators and – now – some pre-programmed drum patterns. It blends radiophonic bleeping with a swirl of orchestrated electrics that becomes a precursor of everyone from Joy Division to the Pet Shop Boys, with any of them attempting a cover of the Doctor Who theme (the original, scary-as-hell 1960s version, of course). Throw in Simeon’s vocals – a dark, deadpan growl almost buried by his unique instrumental palate, and you’ve got the same kind of visionary music produced by the more celebrated likes of Brian Wilson and the other whacked-out late 60s noisesmiths. It’s little surprise that Simeon jammed with Hendrix, for example, and his on-stage persona – clad in black, leather Stetson prominent – underlines the vibe perfectly.

It makes for a fascinating show. At times it’s like hearing a pre-echo of industrial rock, another moment calls to mind New Order at their sparest and most intense. The stand outs, the likes of “I have known love”, “You and I” and “Misty Mountain” remain as powerful and fresh today as they were almost half a century ago – unlike so much music intended to sound futuristic, Silver Apples hasn’t dated. Instead it remains as sharp as ever. That’s a tribute to an artist focused on the music rather than the sound-effect. It might not always be easy listening, it might not even be ideal fodder for a night out, but it fully deserved the rapturous reception it got from the Flacon audience. For once, the promise of some alternative creativity was richly fulfilled.

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