Clip: Fire still burns in The Ex
Fire still burns in The Ex
Thursday, December 07, 2006
By Scott Mervis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It seems like the natural course for a band is to become more
commercial or, at least, more accessible over time. It happened to
Gang of Four. A decade later, it even happened to Sonic Youth.
And then there's The Ex.
When so many post-punk bands greeted the '80s by toning down or
turning to disco, the legendary agitprop punk band from Amsterdam
started to stir in avant-garde jazz, industrial, noise and influences
from Africa and even Kurdistan.
It was a fiercely uncompromising course for a band that never had its
eye on rock stardom.
"That generation of punks sold out very quickly," guitarist Andy Moor
says referring to The Clash and The Sex Pistols. "It started out as a
powerful movement and very quickly the record companies scooped them
all up. Even the second generation, the post-punks, though less than
the first, went in that direction. I actually found that period of
punk, from '79 to '83, much more interesting. You had The Slits and
The Fall and Gang of Four and The Birthday Party. Their first records
were all experimental. The Pistols and The Clash sound like rock music
to me, a bit like the Stones or something. But that next generation
sounded like something new and really fresh. But they didn't seem to
last. I guess The Mekons and The Fall are the only bands from that
time that still operate."
The Ex came to life in 1979 as squatters playing primal anarcho-punk
with frantic beats, stabbing guitars and political rants about "Stupid
Americans," racism, oppression in El Salvador and the arms buildup --
similar topics as the Clash, but without the hooks.
Rather than spoonfeed these messages to the public with the sugar, The
Ex chose the route of noise terrorism.
"I think it's because maybe we took the message of punk seriously,"
says Moor. "The message was to do it yourself and [bleep] the majors
and not get caught in this corporate loop. It's like you sign your
death contract when you do that. You get money, but you lose control
of your musical destiny. The Ex took that idea seriously, especially
the message that Crass put out: that you can do it on your own and you
can survive on your own and make music you want to. The Ex wasn't
offered any deals from majors anyway, so they never had to decide."
Moor thinks Dutch culture, so different from British and American,
played a role in how The Ex operated.
"There's a practical level to how the Dutch do things that's
fantastic. They're thinking is, you can do anything yourself, whether
it's repairing cars or building bits of your house, so the idea of DIY
existed in a much more real way."
Moor wasn't in the band while The Ex was making those first leaps
beyond punk. He was in a Scottish band, Dog Faced Hermans, that
operated in very much the same way as The Ex.
"The Ex were my favorite band before I joined them. We were like
kindred spirits. When we saw them for the first time, in Sheffield, we
were completely shocked. We couldn't believe how close we were."
When Dog Faced Hermans took a hiatus in 1990, The Ex invited Moor to
join them in Holland just in time for their collaborations with
avant-garde cellist Tom Cora. He says they found common ground in the
'90s with avant-garde and jazz musicians, who were also very
autonomous and free.
"We were drawn to that and they were probably drawn to us in a
different way. They could see we were not jazz musicians and nowhere
near as virtuosic as they were but that we had a great passion for
music and were very free when we played."
That same sense of adventure and improvisation extends to the band's
latest project, a collaboration with Getatchew Mekurya, a 75-year-old
saxophonist from Ethiopia. Moor and Terrie found a cassette of his
several years ago while in Ethiopia and had never heard anything like
"It was like a saxophone replacing a voice, just singing these
melodies, and then a piano and bass and snare and an organ. Very, very
nice tunes," Moore says. "We heard this and listened to it for a few
years. You wouldn't imagine an Ethiopian sax player would be
interested in The Ex. But he saw us play and he liked it. For him it
was was uncompromising loud music and there's nothing like it in
The Ex-Mekurya union, which spawned a tour and the CD "Moa Anbessa,"
is just one of the projects occupying The Ex and its members. The band
also just released "Singles. Period.," a collection of songs from 1980
to 1990, and is the onstage band for a Dutch-language version of "A
Clockwork Orange" in Holland. Moor has also been working with
Barcelona's DJ Rupture, who will open the show at Garfield Artworks on
It's the second date on The Ex's first U.S. tour in two years, and the
band will turn up as a four-piece, without recently departed bassist
Rozemarie. Although The Ex has gone through so many different
ventures, some things haven't changed.
"We still make music in the same way as we always have which is going
into the practice room with big question marks over our heads,
wondering what the next set is going to be," Moor says. "There's
hardly anything every planned in advance. We just start improvising
and build from that. I guess our playing has developed a bit, I hope,
after 27 years."
The politics, he says, remain as passionate as ever.
"It's less black and white, but it's still very heavy politically,
especially about U.S. policy and a new Dutch liberal tolerance that's
a disguise for something else. We're not political activists because
we're busy making music, but the text is still very strong and the way
we work is still the same. Not one tells us what to do."
With: DJ Rupture, Allies, Xanopticon.
Where: Garfield Artworks.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Tickets: $15; $12 at the door, 412-361-2262