CULTURE

‘Perfect machines’ wired up with ‘human misbehavior’

Here for the first time and, according to the event’s promoter, possibly the last, as a result of a rumored impending split, the upcoming visit by popular British experimental electronica group Add N to (X) for two shows – in Athens on Friday at Gagarin 205 and in Thessaloniki on Saturday at the Mylos Club – could prove as torrid as the band’s hard-edged work. Apparently, tension has escalated to dangerous levels within the band’s ranks. Not long ago, one of the group’s founding members, Ann Shenton, detached herself from the London-based act’s live commitments – under reportedly volatile conditions – declaring her availability for studio sessions only. More recently, at the close of a show in London, co-founder Barry Smith said the band would stop touring altogether, while also condemning the music industry in general. And, just days ago, the show’s local promoter announced that the Athens show could be the act’s last. Whether this internal wrangling is being pumped into the publicity machine, or the band’s engine is truly about to run out of fuel, is up to fans to decide. Technology has figured greatly in the work of Add N to (X), which formed in London in 1993 when Shenton and Smith, both fans of proto-electronica produced in the 1960s and 1970s by notable acts such as Roxy Music and Pierre Henry, met and decided to start playing their own work. A year later, the two recruited a third member, Steve Claydon, a specialist on the theremin, as well as a percussion section for their live shows. Naming themselves Add N to (X), the trio took the handle from a diverse cast of forerunners, such as Robert Moog, Ioannis Xenakis, and Can, who have used the term in their work. The band sees itself as part of a lineage of electronic innovation established by the likes of Kraftwerk, Grandmaster Flash, Leon Theremin and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. The act describe their own brand of electronic cacophony as an «historical and linear progression in music,» but do not claim to be innovative. Instead, the band views its approach as a struggle between man and machine. «It’s a battle between us and the machines. These perfect machines matched against our human misbehavior,» notes Smith, describing the material in the band’s biography. «We think they’re extremely intelligent and until we figure out how to work them, they’re just going, ‘C’mon then,’» he adds. Add N to (X) have released five albums, beginning with «Vero Electronics» in 1996 up to the more recent «Loud Like Nature.» Later work has proven more accessible to pop audiences. Yet, despite the emphasis on technology in the band’s material, some nostalgia is paradoxically hidden behind the layers of electronic sound. Much of it is produced by old discarded synthesizers in a form of simplification, or «abbreviating music into intensity,» as Smith explains in the band’s biography. «By abbreviating something, you’re taking it to its simplest form, and the easiest way to achieve that is to go back to the original machines,» he notes, while admitting that «we did that not out of a fetishistic reason, but out of poverty. If you go to a car boot sale, you’ll find an old synthesizer but you won’t necessarily find a Gibson guitar.» Not surprisingly, then, Barry and his band have no high-flying aspirations, nor do they claim to have any interest in the sociological impact of their technology. «In some ways, people may feel let down because we’re talking about the future but are not saying, ‘We are the future,’» says Smith. «There is no past and there is no future. It’s just what happens when you turn the machine on.»