Silver Apples in Beijing

Last weekend we went to see the Silver Apples. Who are the Silver Apples, I hear some of you ask. Well, their first album, released in 1968, sounds like a mish-mash of krautrock, electronic pop and sampling, all of which were yet to be invented. There are just two members – Simeon Coxe III, who plays an array of home-made synthesisers and sings, and drummer Danny Taylor, dead since 2005, but still alive in his tape loops. I’m not sure if they were really influential, they were perhaps too far ahead of their time for that.
What better choice could there be for V’s first ever gig? Many, most likely, but I didn’t want to miss this chance to see them, and none of my friends here have ever heard of them and would be unlikely to shell out 150 kuai for the privilege.
We got to the venue – Yugongyishan – at 9pm, the time I’d been told the bands would start. In reality nothing got underway for over an hour (a surprise to V, not really a surprise for me), so we hung out in the strange sofa annex they have upstairs.

We watched the support bands from our seats in the back section. The first were a local experimental noise outfit, not producing anything really worth listening to on the whole, but who occasionally seemed to have fantastic ideas, quickly subsumed by walls of electronic feedback. Give them a few years and maybe they’ll come up with something good. The second band were from Hong Kong, a more professional, multi-instrumental deal, still experimental, more professional and with more variety, but with a few of the rough edges taken off. They were also mediocre, with fits of greatness.

It was past 12 when the Silver Apples came on, or rather the Silver Apple. Only Simeon remains in the band, but you’d be hard pressed to notice if you closed your eyes. He’s 73 years old now, and looked a little frail – unsurprising after the coach crash that nearly killed him a decade ago – but his singing voice was still very much there.

To make the event more visually appealing there was a screen showing a close-up of the “instrument” throughout. “How did he bring it all to China,” V asked. I have no idea. Watching the screen you could attempt to work out which parts were samples and which he was actually playing.

I had feared that Beijing would be completely uninterested, but the venue was packed. When the opening to ‘Oscillations’ began the whole crowd cheered, and then started to sing along. This wasn’t an ex-pat audience either, looking around at least 90% of the audience were Chinese.

I’m no music writer, so I won’t attempt to describe the quality of what I heard beyond “it was good.” I would have loved to have seen them in the sixties, but this is as close as I’m going to get, and still a unique experience. One new song was my favourite – a spoken word piece with a repeated coda of “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know…”
Can experimental music be fun to listen to? I know many, many people who think it’s a case of the emperor’s new clothes (an argument that’s always struck me as being terribly arrogant – “I don’t like it so anyone who does must be pretending to in order to impress…. someone….”) but when the set was over it seemed like the entire crowd were shouting “we want more” and that they really meant it.

Except, perhaps, for V. It was nearly 1am by this point, and she was so tired she had to lie down on a sofa. She said she enjoyed the gig, but I think it wasn’t that accessible for her. Anyway, she enjoyed the night out, and when we get to the UK she can tell people her first gig was the Silver Apples, in Beijing, at the age of 31.

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