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Add N to [X] — an otherworldly live performance

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London-based trio, Add N to [X] make some of the most creative rock on the block. Taking their name from a computer program command that creates an unknown electronic third force (whatever the hell that means), Add N to [X] have themselves become a ingenious force in underground music. Their brand of rock is unprecedented: no guitars, no bass; just vintage keyboards, a theremin, a vocoder and live drums.

The third time was the charm for their performance in Minneapolis: two previously scheduled appearances within the past year were cancelled for various reasons. Opening up were Brooklyn, NY’s Soviet, an interesting keyboard pop band molded in the images of Erasure and Depeche Mode circa 1981. Though their songs were simplistic pop tunes, Soviet put on a respectable live performance. But the main event was clearly Add N to [X] with their lot of electro-gadgetry. Add N to [X] is comprised of Ann Shenton, Barry Smith and Steve Claydon, but Shenton, a founding member of the band back in the mid-90s, was inexplicably not in the lineup on this night. When a curious concertgoer inquired by yelling from the middle of the venue, Claydon, donning an amusing camouflage foam mesh baseball hat, responded in a thick London accent: “She’s mentally ill. She’s mentally ill.” A second keyboardist and a drummer rounded out the personnel.

Unshaken by the fan’s query, the band opened up its set with the first single, Take Me to Your Leader (song 24 on Insound‘s radio; download video), off this year’s Mute release, Loud Like Nature. Next, the band punched out All Night Lazy, a convoluted noise brew of analogery, pulsating drumming, and theremin manned by Barry Smith (a.k.a. Barry Seven). Add N to [X] played four other tracks from their latest release, each with spine-tingling and hook-laden melodies: (1) the opening Total All Out Water, the studio version of which includes erotic “ooh-aahs” and a chorus of echoey shrill screams; (2) the chill Party Bag; (3) the best track on the album, Sheez Mine (which could have appeared on Trans Am’s T/A, and no one would have flinched); and (4) Large Number, where Claydon replaced the missing Shenton at the mic on this song that sounds like the soundtrack to Wire versus Kraftwerk at the World Pong Championships.

Although the set was tilted toward the promotion of the new LP, it did not only consist of new tunes as Add N to [X] sampled each of their full-lengths, the very first one excepted. Off their best album to date, 1999’s universally acclaimed Avant Hard, the act masterfully pulled off Fyuz and steamrolled through the bruising keyboard rock anthem Buckminster Fuller, highlights of which were Claydon’s vocoder yells and Smith’s animated hand waves over his theremin’s optical sensor (as perfectly captured in Mark Alexander’s pic). Further, the precise percussion was essential to Add N to [X]’s stellar performance, as was especially the case in the performance of Brothel Charge from 2000’s Add Insult to Injury. The latter also featured theatrical theremin-playing and percussion that would make a hardcore act blush in its sissiness.

Stated simply, the show was stellar. The only ground for dissatisfaction was that the band did not play longer (70 minutes, including one one-song encore). I would have loved to see Plug Me In (pornographic video here; don’t feel guilty, it’s art!), their megahit off Add Insult to Injury as well as numerous others. You must surf over to Add N to [X]’s website, a labyrinth of artsy collages, analog loops, cursor tricks, and straight-up freakish deviance. If you don’t have time to wander through the site, sample these pages: Watching, Where is —, Trawler Steet and Dark. And if all else is forgotten, remember Barry’s motto: “There is no past and there is no future, it’s just what happens when you turn the machine on.” If the porn part intrigues you further, read this Guardian article explaining the details behind the 50-minute video.

[Pics taken by Mark Alexander available at No Matter What You Heard.]
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