You’d be hard pushed to find a more suitably named band to support Silver Apples than The Oscillation. Prior to them taking to the stage, the back wall of the stage is adorned with black and white kaleidoscopic visuals shifting gradually like an amorphous x-ray. Once their performance commences, the visuals take on not only new patterns but colours too. Transforming from sprawling strands of red to spherical yellow – like the cover art for Metallica’s Load morphing into the cover art of Metallica’s Reload ”â to speckled blue.
This serves the their brand of reverb-drenched krautrock well, every blob moving with the pulse of the riffs and motorik drumming. The band follow this formula closely. So much so that it’s a shock when they break the mould and their infectiously enthusiastic drummer changes pace with a conventional “Boom boom cha, Boom boom cha”Â beat. On the whole though, they remain shrouded in the same consciousness-expanding realm, with frontman Demian Castellanos spending the duration of the last track on the floor toying with pedals.
The good will bestowed upon Simeon, of Silver Apples, is enormous. Rather than receiving a Peter Hook-style bashing for continuing to tour the band after his sole bandmate has left this mortal coil, people now queue up to sing the praises of the undervalued innovator who has battled through a sequence of adversities. His influence can still be seen in contemporary music. Whilst Youtube comments are usually a window into the gaping cesspit of belligerent human idiocy, the top comment on the page for ”ËA Pox On You’ astutely reads “This is soooo Portishead… or better, Portishead is soooo this”Â, referring to the palpable presence of the trademark Silver Apples sound on Portishead’s latest album, Third.
This time last year, Simeon’s gigs commenced with a brief film featuring the approval of everyone from Damon Albarn to riot initiating, anarcho-noise scoundrel Alec Empire. Now, the venue is packed to the rafters with punters, all varying in age and nationality.
The love is much deserved. Simeon is a true visionary. The only man who saw that O-Level Physics lesson where you get to watch your teacher dick around with the only oscillator in the lab, as anything more than a fantastic waste of time. Far from being a relic of the psychadelic era, he appears to take his craft seriously, updating tracks for the live setting so that they sound as though they span the last five decades. Wearing his trademark black polo-necked sweatshirt, he tweaks his equipment to perfection and chats intently to his sound engineer, who looks like Will Self, but probably isn’t Will Self on account of the fact that Will Self only likes Massive Attack, who he likes to call The Massives as though that is a normal thing to do.
For better or for worse, the changes made to the studio versions of his songs include turning down the recordings of deceased live drummer Danny Taylor, low in the mix. Indeed, some of the beats tonight sound as leftfield as anything off Aphex Twin’s I Care Because You Do. One track is laden with the kind of thin, synthetic, hi-hat-only beats that feature on the in-built ”ËDemo’ on a Fisher Price keyboard. On top of that, a three-note computer-generated bassline plays, cloaked in early 90’s ambience.
The music of Silver Apples can fall into two equally brilliant yet opposing camps: swinging between haunting and ominous numbers and quaintly melodic whimsy. The former is best seen in tonight’s rendition of ”ËI Don’t Know’, in which Simeon attempts to rescue a moribund relationship, asking despairing questions, and getting only occasional responses from a despondent female voice pleading “I Love You”Â. A sea of dissonant static and radar blips, perfectly evoking the miserable dysfunction and communication breakdown in a forthcoming break-up, separates the two voices.
At the other end of the spectrum, the upbeat ”ËI Don’t Care What the People Say’ contains a chorus that sounds like a macho US army marching chant, as sung by the cast of ”ËListen With Mother’, whilst tonight’s performance of ”ËSeagreen Serenades’ replaces the flutes with a deep yet highly melodic electronic rumble making it sound like the kind of thing the late, great Oliver Postgate would come up with, were he to be given the task of creating a theme tune for a new children’s television show, starring a jolly steamboat as the protagonist.
The pleasant nursery rhyme lyrics and tunes of these songs go some way to explaining that the reason this music came about at the tail end of the hedonistic sixties could largely be put down to the same reason that teen-aged stoners lie around watching In The Night Garden. Gentle jollities are probably the optimal thing for your third eye to bear witness to.
Both strands of the Silver Apples catalogue are perfectly suited to Simeon’s frail and soft voice ”â a voice that bizarrely sounded this way in his youth ”â managing to be both fragile then commanding, depending on the tone of the song. Following the end of every song, he puts away a sheet of paper and gets out a new one. One can only hope that these are custom-made musical sheets, featuring notes that he himself has designed – replacing quavers and treble clefs with tiny squiggles and swirls for every squeal and whoosh that emit from his machines.
Anyone who might question his motives for continuing to tour, need only behold how much fun Simeon is having. He’s at home noodling around on his oscillators like an elderly Mix Master Mike, squeezing out every last ghostly wail for ”ËA Pox on You’. At one point, he flicks a switch with the gusto of a Pete Townshend windmill. So much so that you fear for his safety, lest he topple over. He engages with the audience, playfully hiding behind flight cases as calls for an encore are ignored. As one woman screams her love for him, he promptly responds with an “I love you too.”Â The feelings are mutual throughout the venue. Before closing with ”ËOscillations’ – a song that might as well be his career manifesto, with references to “oscillations”Â and “electronic evocations”Â – he curses the curfew that brings the gig to such an early culmination, adding that ignoring it could send us all to gaol. The audience respond with a cheer at the prospect of spending the night inside the back of a Police van alongside Simeon.
But it would seem Simeon has no intention of quitting any time soon, a subject he perhaps alludes to when singing of not cutting his apples until he’s shaken his tree. Let’s hope the branches last out a while longer.