Clip: The Ex
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
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
"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
"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
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."