Ann Shenton talks drugs and living like a barbarian during her time in the electro band Add N to X.
It was a surreal moment, in the 90s, watching Arsenal on Match of the Day and seeing Ian Wright score a goal to the celebratory sound tracking of Add N to X’s Metal Fingers in my Body – a song about making love to a robot! Signed to Mute Records, Add N to X were an innovative and hugely popular electronic band. Despite the lack of guitars – they used mainly synths – their live gigs were often shambolic, drug-addled and exhilarating affairs. I caught up with founding member Ann Shenton and asked her about her experience of being in the group (alongside Barry 7 and Steve Claydon) and she told me about some of their more notorious moments.
What kind of things would you get up to onstage? What was a highly-charged Add N to X gig like?
On stage it was like warfare. We were never the kind of band who would do a group hug before going on stage , we’d have a shot of vodka and insult each other verbally, sometimes physically to get the battle juices going. I t was sweat and terror, fuelled by whatever was available. A highly charged gig would be destructive and bloody, smashing up synths and getting cut up. Only when we were backstage did we realise the damage done, and then think ‘’damn we’ve got to get that fixed before tomorrows gig’’.
Did you feel that you had a duty to behave as badly or raucous as the boys onstage?
I believed I was in a position where I could be as sweaty and as intense as anyone, I had seen girls in bands playing synths in the background (Pulp) and was duty bound to not be a wall flower. I was at the helm playing the bass synth for the majority and theremin and I took a leaf out of Jimmy Page’s book and played the theremin like it was a sexed up violin/guitar.
I defecated myself a few times on stage [due to gastric illness or drugs or both], but I had taken to wearing plastic trousers as a precaution
What were some of your worst onstage experiences? What were some of the best?
Glastonbury ( late 1990’s) I took a swig from a bottle on stage (not knowing it was neat Ricard), I promptly projectile vomited all over Rob Allum on drums, he joined Turin Brakes shortly after that.
I defecated myself a few times on stage [due to gastric illness or drugs or both], but I had taken to wearing plastic trousers as a precaution. If I pissed myself on stage it would normally go un-noticed as I would wear high boots which caught most of the urine, thus preventing possible electrocution.
Austria 1999 sticks in the mind. To the left of me Steve vomited on stage slipped over in it and smashed his head on the bass amp, I glanced over and Barry was drinking vodka from the bottle and smashing up an MS20 synth. A roadie was mopping up the vomit with a towel and he accidentally knocked me & my Moog into the crowd (who pushed me back up on stage). Meanwhile the drummer goes into a demented solo, Steve is concussed, confused and upset, I am laughing so hard I cant play, and my bladder gives way. The crowd are in hysterics. Someone throws a bloody carving knife and its stuck in the wall behind us, we exit the stage.
I don’t think there was a best gig , but I do remember in Karlsruhe [Germany] looking up and seeing a whole row of kids in wheelchairs dancing to ‘Metal fingers in my Body ‘ that was brilliant. I thought that the gig we played at THE 100 CLUB was pretty good, supporting Denim, I was on smack, Barry was on beta blockers and cocaine, Steve was on anti-mad pills and lager. Yes , I think that one went down quite well. We were all playing the same key but in different time signatures.
Was there a particular tour that lead to you leaving the band?
Apart from the panic attacks, feelings of constant dread, vomiting, drug addiction, a lack of interest, the punch ups, the put downs, the rotten state of play , the fractured nature of it , and the general loathing of the other band members , no , there wasn’t a particular tour or incident , it just got worse like a giant boil that needs lancing.
I was so angry once I threw the drumsticks at Steve & Barry and they actually stuck in the wall, Alec Empire [Atari Teenage Riot] popped his head round the door, then decided it was too dangerous and backed out.
Why did you leave the band ultimately?
Add N to X had /was turning into something I didn’t like anymore. It was no longer a haven for expression and invention; it had become a machine with a horrible face, bloated with running sores. It felt like being incarcerated in Broadmoor not like being in a band.
Were the record company supportive when things started going wrong on tour?
I could have put my foot down and said I am too ill to perform, but I am not inclined to do that. I prefer to push things, myself included to the very brink. I performed with a serious gastric illness on stage in Germany. I lost my medication somewhere in the gypsy encampment that was our tour bus, and the record label reps – instead of procuring some replacement medicine for me, as asked- came to me with horse tranquilisers and a gram of cocaine, which were the last things on earth that I needed.
Mute America were really supportive and if we saw a brilliant vintage synth, they’d get it for us. They took us out and showed us New York proper like. I remember we had an Add N to X ink stamp and the MD’s bollocks got stamped, plus lots tits and arses. That was in a Chinese restaurant.
It was liberating and freeing to be wringing with sweat on stage, there was no room in my head for caring about how I looked.
What was the audience perception of you being less than ladylike at gigs?
I would not say that ever tried to transcend my gender playing live. I was as natural as can be. I had a lot of female support. It was liberating and freeing to be wringing with sweat on stage, there was no room in my head for caring about how I looked. My clothes were routinely ripped and shredded and I had a limp for several years on and off. I was a barbarian, we all were.
Are there still reactionary attitudes to women who want to take centre stage and be noticed?
If there are attitudes towards women, its probably because said woman is acting like a c*** . Nothing to do with gender, more like her attitude sucks. We are all equal, we are all gods children. But seriously if someone had a passion and a talent, or a passion and no talent, people will sit up and listen even if it’s just for a little while. Its funny how shit floats to the top though. Just look at popular TV, music, celebs.
I do think that a lot of female artists are allowed to get away with just being the front person, its all about the fucking hair and the clothes, some don’t even write their own material. Just look at Patti Smith or Kim Gordon, they could perform in a hessian sack and no make up, they are brilliant and they don’t adhere to the rules.
I think the music world is a welcome place for women; the music world isn’t all major labels and rules. Its home made, its DIY, it is what you tell it to be.
We should embrace our natural states more, everyone is beginning to look the same, its like a stealth eugenics going on here..
What are you doing now?
Now, I am occupied with record label White Label Music [run with her partner Marc Hunter] & managing The Horn The Hunt (a band from Leeds). I organise Sonic Weekends too, the next one is in France next year.
Drugs and touring aside, how do you like to relax these days?
As we speak I am recovering physically and mentally after a weeks recording in Kurt Schwitter’s old studio in Cumbria. (German degenerate artist who escaped the Nazi regime) about 20 of us recorded an album of sorts. I haven’t heard the end result yet! (It’s being mixed by Tim Dorney of Flowered Up)
I like to brew my own wine, hooch and beer. It’s bloody awful but I drink it anyway, and I do not keep fit or anything like that. The time I used to occupy taking drugs and getting wasted I now devote to reading. In between boredom and pain, life is still there.
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