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Synths of Our Fathers

“We are living in the future, the 21st century,” teases Barry Seven (a.k.a. Barry Smith) of Add N to (X), “but I don’t see any plastic houses, and we‘re not floating in the air.” Instead, the group play with toys -- Richard Claydon fools with a theremin; Seven collects live samples (from steam trains to pinball machines) on his minidisc.

At a French record shop, Seven stumbled upon an old Kim Fowley recording, “Invasion of the Polaroid People.” He already admired the demented genius of Kim Fowley’s Sunset Stripgarage-rock past, but was shocked by “how electroclash” the tune was. By “accident,” he mixed Fowley‘s voice groaning, “POL-ar-oid p-p-p-people,” and loved the result. He called for clearance, but had no knowledge till now of the song’s nasty origin.

“The whole record was made 20 years ago in six hours,” Fowley tells us of his Son of Frankenstein album, whence “Polaroid People” was originally drawn. Calling the ANTX “Polaroid” remake a “tribute to evil,” he says he recorded the song in a studioshooting gallery on Western and Hollywood Boulevard, where the denizens were “shooting glue and heroin,” and junkies were popping Polaroid shots of a diarrhea-dripping dog. While Fowley and Seven have different methods of field recording, they can get together on the “dirty, trashy, schizophrenic ugliness” that Claydon says he strives for. Call it whatever you want.

“We‘ve been labeled electronica, neo-wave and now electroclash,” Claydon laments -- and the outfit have barely gotten over the Stereolab comparisons. Though the new Loud Like Nature (Mute) sometimes sounds like the score for Liquid Sky: The Miniseries, and ANTX do harbor an electroclashlike love for artifice and synthetics, not only was the band around before the fad genre, but they’re acolytes of analog, whereas electroclash leans to digital. They have much more in common with Holger Czukay‘s Can, in fact, than with Visage or Animotion.

“I was a punk. I went to the Marquee Club quite a lot -- I saw punk turn into new wave,” Seven relates, sitting with Claydon in Mute Records’ New York office. (Co-founder Ann Shenton is unavailable due to having been knocked up with a PolyMoog -- more on that later.) Claydon wants it known that his band is more than just a connect-the-dots refabrication of things past: “There‘s a misconception that we’re just an homage to our Kraftwerk-led forebears, but our real intention has always been to make rock & roll records with synthesizers.”

Add N to (X) certainly don‘t want to be lumped in with nostalgia for Activision games and Devo’s “Whip It.” “I don‘t know why people want to retain an ’80s kitsch, synth-band thing,” Claydon vents.

Not that ANTX ain‘t kitschy, but it’s an evil kitsch, for sure. Just check out the cover of their second record, 1999‘s On the Wires of Our Nerves, which depicts Ann Shenton lying on the operating table while masked surgeons (her bandmates) perform a cesarean section -- Shenton’s guts gape as the boys pull out a throbbing, oscillating, screaming and kicking vintage synth.

“There‘s real Demon Seed logic behind it,” laughs Seven.

By their next record, Avant Hard, Add N to (X) weren’t only assisting at a birth, they were completely remaking and remodeling. Seven likens their tracks to body parts: “As you get older, you become a better surgeon, but that could be a bad thing, because I guess you can end up a Chicago.”

If ANTX‘s last release, Add Insult to Injury, didn’t quite thrillnauseate the way Chicago‘s “You’re the Inspiration” did in its day, there was something about it that didn‘t jibe with expectations. Looking back, Claydon admits he and his cohorts must have frustrated the engineers with suggestions like “It needs to be shot through with little silver pellets.”

Loud Like Nature, by contrast, is just an unforced barrage of synth-trash. “This album isn’t stupid,” Seven explains, “but it‘s much more thoughtless. It’s less considered and more rock & roll.” It‘s what might happen if an old Commodore 64 computer ran into T. Rex and the New York Dolls. Like Suicide, Sigue Sigue Sputnik and the often-left-out My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, Loud is a pulpsleaze a gogo loaded with a dead-end futurism that’s appropriate to the band name: Fashioned like an obsolete computer command, “Add N to (X)” is the mathematical equation for infinity.

After all this time, Seven still feels awkward telling cabbies what group he plays in: “I wish I could say, ‘Sex Pistols.’” At least ANTX are now related to the Pistols -- Mute has been picked up by the Rotten gang‘s old label EMI. So go on, Barry Seven, sing that old Never Mind the Bollocks hit: “EMI . . . unlimited supply!” Hey, ain’t that infinity?

Add N to (X) play Spaceland on Saturday, November 23.