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Clip: The Ex

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  • Carl Z.
    The Ex has come a long way since Amsterdam in the
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 5, 2006
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      The Ex has come a long way since Amsterdam in the 1970s

      By Aaron Cohen
      Special to the Tribune
      Published December 3, 2006

      Guitarist Terrie Ex laughs as he talks about his punk band, The Ex, in
      late-1970s Amsterdam: Musical virtuosity was not a prerequisite.

      "We had a drummer who didn't think that drumming had to do with
      counting. It was really bizarre," Terrie said over the phone from his
      home in the Netherlands. "But if you have something to say, you
      quickly learn how to express yourself. That's still the case."

      Few bands have gone as far as The Ex in showing how this attitude can
      have boundless results. In those early years, a typical song from The
      Ex sounded like a manifesto written on shards of broken glass. Now,
      these fragments are shaped into melodic, yet still dissonant,
      exchanges -- among Terrie, guitarist Andy Moor, vocalist G.W. Sok and
      drummer Katherina Bornfeld -- that move faster than the time it takes
      most rock bands just to turn on their instruments. Even fewer
      musicians have immersed themselves as deeply in as many cultures to
      reinvent themselves.

      The Ex, which is coming to the Empty Bottle Friday, recently released
      "Moa Anbessa" (Terp), a collaboration with Ethiopian saxophonist
      Getatchew Mekuria. This project grew out of Terrie and Moor's visits
      to Africa, but The Ex has always embraced music from outside its
      supposed physical or genre borders. Bornfeld sometimes sings in
      Turkish, and they've all recorded with international jazz musicians.
      Their global musical perspective coalesces with the band's pointed
      social and political worldview.

      Part of this consciousness stems from the band's origins in
      Amsterdam's anarchist squatter communities. Rather than merely inhabit
      disused buildings, the unorthodox occupants used them to build an
      underground society.

      "People started to do everything themselves -- bicycle repair shops,
      printers," Terrie said. "Everything imaginable, people started doing
      their own way."

      That included The Ex's forming rehearsal and performance spaces, as
      well as recording a slew of 45s and flexi-discs. Many of those 7-inch
      recordings from 1980 to 1990 make up last year's compilation,
      "Singles. Period." (Touch and Go). This disc also shows how the
      group's jagged broadsides became more expansive as they recruited new

      Assist from Langford

      One musician outside Holland who collaborated with The Ex early on was
      Welsh singer/guitarist Jon Langford who co-produced its 1983 LP,

      "They made their own records, hand-printed the covers and helped
      encourage other bands," Langford said. "It was an amazing thing. If
      they could make the records out of carving them from wood, they would

      Other partners included American cellist Tom Cora, an abstract
      improviser who Terrie says, "gave us incredible melodies that fit so
      well with our rhythms." Moor joined the group in 1990 after moving to
      Amsterdam from Scotland, and he noticed that the Ex had begun
      transposing tunes and instrumental sounds from Hungary and Uganda to
      its guitar lines.

      But The Ex did not have to look very far to find collaborators who
      were sympathetic even if the band's music initially seemed unusual.
      The Dutch experimental jazz scene of the 1990s embraced offbeat
      performance situations, and the band began playing with the
      accomplished multireedist Ab Baars, trombonist Wolter Wierbos and
      percussionist Han Bennink (as detailed in Kevin Whitehead's book, "New
      Dutch Swing").

      "The loud volume of their music was different, but as a trombone
      player I could deal with that," Wierbos said. "The Ex brought me back
      to the basics and forced me to play simple and strong. But improvising
      with them was the same as what I usually do when I improvise with
      jazz-related musicians. It had a very open edge, so it was easy to

      While The Ex's 1980s records championed leftist rebels in El Salvador
      and excoriated Dutch involvement with South African apartheid, the
      band went beyond mere agit-prop. It recorded with Iraqi Kurdish exile
      musical group Arawa long before the U.S. decided that Saddam Hussein
      was an enemy. The Ex also satirizes eugenics ("Gonna Rob The
      Spermbank") and, more recently, imagine Karl Marx as a comedian

      "The early lyrics were a bit more black and white; now they're a bit
      more abstract," Moor said. "But they're still very strong. It's not so
      interesting to hear someone just sing, `Smash the system.' It's a
      combination of being very serious and fun."

      Keys to longevity

      Producer Steve Albini who began working with the band when he recorded
      its 1998 disc, "Starters Alternators" (Touch and Go), says that this
      mixture of playfulness and determination has enabled The Ex to last
      for 27 years.

      "If you've been a part of the underground culture for a while, you see
      that some people are serious about what they're saying and some are
      window dressing," Albini said. "The Ex speak concretely about what
      they intend to do, and they've stuck to their guns at every turn."

      Terrie and his wife Emma's mid-1990s trip through Africa is one vivid
      example. They simply bought a used Dutch army ambulance, turned south
      toward Morocco and drove across the continent.

      "Being there you learn so much about how incredibly different these
      countries are," Terrie said. "Much more than in Europe, the regions
      are all varied. People who hardly have anything, but organizing and
      doing stuff without the luxuries we have. They're improvising in their

      About six years later, Moor joined Terrie for a few weeks in Ethiopia,
      which helped germinate The Ex's collaboration with Mekuria.

      "In Europe, you hear a lot of West African music," Moor said. "East
      African music is still a mystery, and Ethiopia itself is so vibrant
      and alive."

      The band's also rehearsing for an upcoming Dutch-language theatrical
      version of Anthony Burgess' dark novel of futuristic ultra-violence,
      "A Clockwork Orange." Along with providing the score, The Ex appears
      onstage as members of anti-hero Alex's notorious gang.

      "I like that I can play guitar and fight at the same time," Terrie
      said. "It's quite funny."
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