LIVE REVIEW: Silver Apples, Nathalie Stern @ Mining Institute, Newcastle (27.08.16) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Poor timekeeping made me miss most of Nathalie Stern’s set, but the song I did see – A Life – was phenomenal, and when you have a Warm Digit enthusing that she’s probably the most essential musician on Tyneside, you know you’ve missed something special, especially in the Mining Institute, which could make a chimps’ tea party seem somehow grand and lavish.

I never expected to see Silver Apples live, and certainly not in a venue like this – stained glass windows, busts of notable engineers, piles of coal and shelves of books providing an unlikely backdrop to Simeon Coxe’s equipment – so kudos to the promoters. There was much discussion beforehand about whether this gig would simply allow us to tick off another Legend We Can Say We’ve Seen in our mental logbook, but this really was anything but. Technology means that Coxe’s Heath Robinson set-up from those sixties photos has been replaced by something less cumbersome (a trio of tone generators, a morass of pedals, a rudimentary keyboard and some backing tapes) but at times watching this impish 78-year old manipulating his kit is a little like peering behind the Wizard Of Oz’s curtain.

As the rich but rudimentary analogue textures call to mind everyone from John Carpenter to Kraftwerk (as do Coxe’s soft, almost declaimed vocals), you remember that it’s the other way round, that Silver Apples have existed for nearly 50 years and have cast a very long shadow on electronic music since, occupying a space far removed from the other electronic innovators of their era, who came at things with an academic approach at odds with the Apples’ more punk-before-the-fact aesthetic. With the death of drummer Danny Taylor a decade ago (perhaps the subject of sweetly melancholy new track Missing You?), Silver Apples has been just Coxe, but Taylor is still here in a sense via Coxe’s practice of using Taylor’s old practice drum tracks to provide rhythms for much of the new material. A true ghost in the machine…

At times those drum tracks take on an almost breakbeat quality, which added to the low end rumble Coxe wrestles out of his gear, takes things in a surprisingly contemporary, quasi-techno direction. At the end of each track – shifting from the nostalgic warmth of tracks like the aforementioned Missing You to the cold and unsettling Nothing Matters, with its harsh oscillator swoops, atonal chords and wonky drum patterns – Coxe looks up from his machines and beams with obvious delight at the reception he’s getting from the capacity crowd. And if the only Apples track you knew was Oscillations, you’d have been thrilled at the version tonight – stretched and reworked to considerable length and into definite ‘banger’ territory, the hushed awe the venue normally warrants being replaced by some restrained but enthusiastic shuffling and vigorous head nodding. This was really special.


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