Add N To (X)

Barry Smith tells the story of Add N To (X) and their 1999 robot sex anthem ‘Metal Fingers In My Body’

“In the early 1990s, Andrew Aveling and I set up a club in London’s West End that only played synthesiser music. It was called We Are Electric, and out of that we formed Add N To (X) with Ann Shenton, who was going out with Andrew. It was a weird time. We’d found all these old synths. Andrew had come across a Korg MS-10 dumped in a bin in Piccadilly Circus, and I got hold of an EDP Wasp that had been under a mate’s bed for 20 years. 

Then one night I was walking up Edgware Road, and saw a mad Portobello hippie in the middle of a skip. He pulled this suitcase out, and I knew exactly what it was – an EMS Synthi! I said, ‘Can I have that?’, and he said, ‘Yeah, course you can, mate. Here you go’. And I ran off with it.

“People also started giving us stuff, and the whole ethos of the band was to reuse these defunct instruments and be purely electronic. Because we weren’t musicians as such, synthesisers gave us a way to create music without having to learn chords or anything technical. It was an opportunity to make noise and music at the same time.

“The synthesisers had their own personalities. Each one is built by hand, and its circuits wired by human beings. You could put three MS-10s together with the same setting, and each one would be slightly different. We were lucky, because our stuff was mean as fuck, which sent the music in that direction too.

“We had a massive break-up with Andrew, so I took Add N To (X) off with Ann to do what we wanted to do. Ann knew Steve Claydon from art college, she’d gone out with his twin brother, so then he joined the band. A mate recommended Rob Allum from The High Llamas and Andy Ramsey, who was a friend of Rob’s, also got involved. Between them they took on drum duties.

“We were more part of the art world, especially Steve and Ann. The band was an opportunity to do something different, based on the old vinyl we’d found in charity and junk shops. Certain things give you tons of ideas, and you run with them. It feels amazing that they exist, like Moondog records or Silver Apples or even The Velvet Underground. One blueprint for the band was an album by Michael Bundt called ‘Just Landed Cosmic Kid’, which was drums and electronics, and we thought, ‘Well, let’s copy that, it’s fantastic!’.

“I came across a drum break at the start of ‘Found A Child’ by Ballin’ Jack.  I wrote ‘Metal Fingers In My Body’ to that on the MS-10, went straight into the studio and recorded it. I pretty much did everything on that, with Steve doing the vocoder bit.

“I was mixing two days before Christmas, down to the wire, and it still wasn’t there yet because it had these drum samples. I thought, ‘We’re not going to get away with this’, so I called Rob the drummer, who had the flu, and he was a grumpy bugger anyway, and I said, ‘You’ve got to come in and play along’. He goes, ‘Do you know how fucking hard that is?’. I said, ‘Yes, I do, but please give it a go’. So he turned up, didn’t speak a word to me, and did the drums in one take. We were all in the control room going, ‘Fucking hell, that’s amazing, he’s on fire’. He looked at me, flicked the Vs, and walked off. He was really angry with me, but we can’t all be Captain Beefheart.

“The title came from when we did an electronic festival in Brussels. After the gig, we ended up in the red light district. A huge pile of 1950s and 60s electrical engineering magazines had been left by the side of the road, but among them there was also a copy of Lui – a 60s French adult magazine. Inside was this cartoon of a girl and a robot, and Steve went, ‘Ah, metal fingers in my body!’. All the other magazines got cut up and turned into the ‘Avant Hard’ artwork.

“We wanted to set ourselves apart from Kraftwerk because you could never imagine them having sex. We were making music for machines in a hundred years’ time after they’d taken over. I suppose we were quite obsessed with sex.

“I knew exactly what I wanted from those records, and it must have been quite difficult for Ann and Steve, because they were having to write stuff based on what I brought into the studio, and I think I was quite forceful. 

“And then we did a couple of tours that were completely out of control. There was one particular date in America that was horrible and dangerous, and it got to the point where we just wanted to get out of there, it had gone so dark. The whole thing had become untenable, especially for Ann. 

“She got fed up with it in the end, and wanted to go off and live in a field. We’d lost our focus on the electronics and it became impossible to continue. We were making content rather than music. Classic fucking band story really.

“We’d never perform live again. We got quite broke afterwards and sold the gear. Without the synthesisers it was impossible to recreate it, and you don’t have the same energy. Part of the reason it worked was because we all kind of hated each other and loved each other. 

“XL were interested in signing us once and came to see a gig, but they said, ‘We can’t sign this band, it looks like they’re going to fucking kill each other any minute!’. There was certainly a violence to us…”

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