The Ex Live

No, not the former girlfriend but a review of Dutch punk rock and squatting stalwarts The Ex delivering a towering wall of anarchist noise.
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No, not the former girlfriend but a review of Dutch punk rock and squatting stalwarts The Ex delivering a towering wall of anarchist noise.

There is only one rule - there are no rules.

Dutch group of more then three decades, The Ex are the last band standing, they came from a time when standard rock was abolished and new methods of communication were established. For the past three decades they have been a restless band incorporating a whole gamut of musical styles into an aural adventure that makes most other bands look lazy and pointless.

Like a clanking, mechanical Dutch rhythm machine they have somehow managed to combine strands of music as diverse as Ethiopiques, Burundi, Gnawa, dubstep, post punk, blues, free jazz and folk into their innovative whole. And that’s the cool thing about the Ex, no matter how far they wander from their base they still manage to make the whole caboodle of sound as direct, focussed and punk rock as when they started.

The band have their roots in punk rock Amsterdam and in the vibrant late seventies anarchist squat culture of the city. They grew out of the ideas thrown into the air by Crass- that direct political anger fused with inventive avante garde take on punk’s template- and took them in their own idiosyncratic direction. They shared Crass’s intelligence and collective spirit and the idea that punk rock could be so much more than an excuse to get pissed. The UK Death To Trad Rock bands found a common ground with the Ex when they toured Holland in the early eighties. My band the Membranes bonded with them and the Ex’s squat was the port of call on endless European tours. They were the epicentre of a thriving scene then and their musical adventure was already unfurling in a fascinating direction of unapologetic records and fierce, idealistic politics.

Then and now an Ex show is like no other. There are no stars, no concessions to boorish rock n roll stupidity. This is a joyous affair, a stage crammed with equal partners- there is the twin guitars of Andy (formally of the fantastic Dog Face Hermans) and Terrie- scratching, scraping hypnotic riffling on battered Telecasters and weird half bass/half guitar combinations that build and build into the amazing song climaxes. There’s the brass section that is culled from some of the world’s finest brass players- that cut loose with moments that are sheer Sun Ra or Coltrane or even the legendary police brass band that plays on all the Ethiopiques records from early seventies Ethiopia. New singer Arnold de Boer, who replaced recently departed Jos whose 30 years service in the band was as unstinting as it was brilliant, has nobly filled the gap with the right combination of intensity of modesty that marks the band out.

And perhaps the key part is the delightful Kat on drums- she is the best drummer in the world. Still. I've seen the Ex so many times in the last thirty years and she has been unfailingly brilliant. There is no dull 4/4 here-  Kat is a rhythm machine- the combination of cowbells and woodblocks with her rolling, multi rhythmic approach are amazing- no song ever gets bogged down in the obvious but every song is unfailingly danceable and that’s yet another key to the Ex. She also sings two songs- one in Ethiopian- in her great voice.

The Ex have managed to keep moving through the decades with this spirit- their restless hunger for music has seen them play all over the world including several trip to Ethiopia where they have played several gigs, their outward looking international approach has fused their music and outlook and their approach to making music.

An Ex show is a shared experience, they take the audience on an adventure, a musical adventure to places no one has been before. They are the most interesting musical unit in the world today- several other long standing post punk bands get endless accolades for their sense of exploration but all of them bar the Ex just repeat the same tricks over and over to the same applause- go and see the Ex and you will hear rhythms you have never heard before, you will find yourself dancing to some free jazz wildness in 13/8 time you will find your self grinning to a piece of white noise, you will shut your eyes and get lost in the brass section free jazz skronk- all this should not really be happening- afterall that kind of music is normally in the hands of the snobs but the Ex are playful and make the tough musical choices, the breathtaking frontier music, the direct political anger into a sweaty seething party, an uplifting, joyful celebration.

No-one else can do this.

And the cool thing is that suddenly they have become quite popular doing it. Right out of the blue, after thirty years, after the gradual strangulation of creative culture by the corporations and the cynicism of the music industry they have brilliantly proved that playing music with this sense of wild eyed fun and radical political edge and this adherence to all that was good and great about the positive politic of the punk and post punk period can actually fucking work.    And you know what really makes me feel great this morning? This Ex tour sold out fast. After years of being a best kept cult secret they have suddenly started to become popular.

Today the world is smiling.

The good people are winning.