A legendary force across the Netherlands and a well-known act in Europe, the Ex, out of Amsterdam, Holland, have used a hybrid of punk music and experimental rock to advance their liberal socialist agenda for over two decades. During the 1980s, the Ex released a vast amount of recorded work, as well as propaganda that supported their anarchist stance, leading the group to the forefront of Holland’s punk scene. Distributed either by various Dutch labels or by the band members themselves—the group scrupulously avoided the music industry from the onset—the early Ex albums focused mainly on rhythmic guitar and energized anger. However, the same musical formula eventually ran its course, and with all of the Ex’s recordings beginning to sound alike, many supposed that the group’s artistic tether was destined to come to a close. Despite such assumptions, the Ex expanded their vocabulary in the early 1990s, a period that saw the group embrace other styles such as industrial and improvisation along the lines of Einsturzende Neubauten and Test Dept. Further expanding their fanbase overseas, the Ex, despite rarely performing in the United States, have attained legendary status in the underground hardcore community. The band has also collaborated and performed with jazz artists, such as drummer Han Bennink, clarinetist Ab Baars, and avant-garde cellist Tom Cora, a musician often described as the best thing the cello has to guitar legend Jimi Hendrix.
While the Ex stretched beyond their punk roots in the 1990s, they nevertheless consistently held true to the protocol of the punk movement. Unlike many of their punk-era peers, the Ex never handed over control to a major label and continued to issue their own material under the band’s name or through non-threatening independent labels. The group maintained their sense of political consciousness. Always outspoken about their causes, the band backed the issues they championed, including liberation and human rights struggles around the world. Taking action to support funds and inform others, the Ex held regular benefit concerts and also stuffed record sleeves with educational texts.
Veteran producer Steve Albini, a fan of the Ex since 1982 who also recorded the band’s 1998 album Starters Alternators, explained that “they have not lost their original inspiration, and they have found an evolving and engaging way to develop along unexplored avenues without making their original abilities and perceptions become trivial,” as quoted by Bill Meyer in a 1999 Ex profile for Magnet magazine. “For many people, evolution is a continual discarding of the past, with a corresponding disdain for its attitudes and expression—an after-market cheapening of history,” Albini continued. “This is a trap of trends that the Ex have avoided by not serially embracing ludicrous positions—which they would feel obliged to disregard and disown—and not mistaking their past inspiration for delusion. No pirate outfits, no drum ‘n’ bass, no heavy-metal apologies, no ‘unplugged.’”
By the later 1990s, the Amsterdam-based band consisted of five politically and musically like-minded members known by their first names only. Two of the groups founding members, vocalist Jos (who goes by the name G.W. Sok on record sleeves and book spines) and guitarist Terrie focused on the Ex since its inception, while bassist Luc and drummer Katrin both joined in 1984. Until that time, various other bassists and drummers came and went. A full decade later, the band added a fifth member, Andy, the only non-Dutch participant in the Ex lineup. The Scottish guitarist played with the group for the first time in 1990 during a break from his previous band, the Dog Faced Hermans. Then in 1994, when the Dog Faced Hermans disbanded, Andy joined the Ex on a permanent basis.
The story of the Ex began in April of 1979. Four young Dutch anarchists, heavily involved in the political environment of the time and the squatters movement, formed a band, calling themselves the Ex. Reportedly, they opted for a name that could be easily spray painted within seconds onto a wall. As the 1970s came to a close, the Ex played their first gig, established themselves in the underground clubs of Amsterdam, and recorded their
Members include Andy (born in Scotland; joined band in 1994; former member of the Dog Faced Hermans), guitar; Jos (born in Holland; also known as G.W. Sok), vocals; Katrin (born in Holland; joined band in 1984), drums; Luc (born in Holland; joined band in 1984), bass; Tenie (born in Holland), guitar.
Formed band in Amsterdam, Holland, in April of 1979; released debut album, Disturbing Domestic Peace, 1980; formed Ex Records, 1988; released Scrabbling at the Lock with cellist Tom Cora, 1991; signed with Touch and Go Records, released Starters Alternators, 1998.
Addresses: Record company —Touch and Go Records, P.O. Box 25520, Chicago, IL 60625, (773) 388-3888. Website —The Ex: http://www.southern.com/southem/band/EXOOO/.
debut album, Disturbing Domestic Peace, released in 1980. The group’s follow-up effort, History is What’s Happening, appeared in 1982, followed by four releases in 1983: two albums, Tumult and Blueprints for a Blackout, a singles collection, Dignity of Labour, and an EP entitled Gonna Rob the Sperm Bank. Although the band lacked technical prowess early on—most songs saw Jos condemning society’s ills over choppy electric guitars and brittle rhythms—they used such shortcomings to their advantage. “Instead of familiar notes and chords,” wrote Meyer, “the guitar and bass generated massive sound slabs that toppled through the open spaces in the drummers’ stark patterns.”
All the while, the Ex were earning a reputation for their ferocious, kinetic live performances. According to Jos, the group duplicated the same physical energy for studio work. “The movement is necessary,” he revealed to Meyer. “Andy and Terrie couldn’t get their sounds without it.” Unfortunately, and in spite of the group’s obvious commitment, the band’s live energy failed to reveal itself in the same way for two straight-ahead rock albums Pokkeherrie, released in 1985, and Too Many Cowboys, released in 1987. After forming their own label, Ex Records in 1988, to release a compilation of their three Peel Sessions on that year’s Hands Up! You’re Free, the band redeemed themselves with Joggers & Smoggers, an epic double-album released in 1989. Here, the band broadened its sound, reining in their heavy guitars to make way for a variety of vocalists and guest musicians (16 in all, including Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo of the band Sonic Youth on guitars) playing instruments such as trombone, saxophone, and bagpipes. Some of the less traditional “instruments” used included rattling bird cages and bamboo sticks.
The Ex kicked off the 1990s with other major undertakings. First, they released a series of singles in 1991 and 1992 known as the 6 series. One of those efforts, 6.4, was a double seven-inch single that excerpted a live performance with guest appearances by the Dog Faced Hermans and free-jazz drummer Hans Bennink. Another, 6.2(featuring the single “Millîtan”), was recorded with Kurdish folk musician/protest singer Brader. Then, the band released what Trouser Press Guide to ’90s Rock contributor Douglas Walk called “the Ex’s first genuinely great album,” 1991’s Scrabbling at the Lock. A collaboration with avant-garde cellist Tom Cora, a solo recording artist who had also played with Curlew and the Skeleton Crew, the album saw the Ex exploring the different ways a punk band could sound by exploring improvisation and traditional music. Highlights from Scrabbling at the Lock included a second and improved version of “Hidegen Fujnaka Szelek” (the original was recorded forthe series), “State of Shock,” and “Batium,” an arrangement of a piece written by the late Turkish composer Ismet Siral.
After touring the world with Cora, the Ex released another album with the cellist entitled And the Weathermen Shrug Their Shoulders, released in 1993. A more dense and dark album than its predecessor, the second Cora collaboration nonetheless earned favorable recognition as well. In 1995, the Ex returned with Mudbird Shivers, an abrasive, daring album featuring guest vocalist Han Buhrs. That same year, the band released another collaborative effort entitled Instant, a 32-track improvisational double CD that won critics and fans over. Joined by Buhrs again on harmonica and “toffee-tin” bass, the Ex also enlisted a variety of guest improvisers, among them Bennink, cellist Tristan Honsinger, clarinetist Ab Baars, and Michael Vatcher.
Tapping into their rising popularity in the United States, the Ex in 1998 signed with the independent label Touch and Go Records to distribute their next album. Recorded with ubiquitous producer Steve Albini, Starters Alternators was released in October of 1998. Returning to their roots for this record, the Ex with the aid of Albini found a way to capture the dynamics of their life set. “On its new songs, the Ex sounds like a five-piece drum corps, with the separate rhythms of voices and guitar combining into complex polyrhythms,” wrote Meyer, describing the essence the group’s highly acclaimed work. “Each instrument also takes its turn at articulating the songs’ intertwined melodies.” Unfortunately, earlier in April of 1998, the group’s ongoing partnership with Cora ended when the jazz great succumbed to cancer; the Ex had to cancel rehearsals for a third record with the cellist when he was first diagnosed. At the time of his death, the Ex had played nearly 100 concerts with Cora.
Following the release of Starter Alternators, the Ex toured the United States with Fugazi, recorded a collaborative album with the band Tortoise, continued to perform the world over, and Luc and Andy also played with jazz musicians Mats Gustafsson and Vatcher. For their next album, the Ex planned to include songs from around the world from countries like Greece, Cambodia, and Ethiopia. “There is always a new adventure,” Terrie told Meyer with enthusiasm. “That makes it worthwhile.”
“All Corpses Smell the Same,” Ex, 1980.
“New Horizons in Retailing,” Ex, 1980.
“Weapons for El Salvador,” Gramschap, 1981.
“Villa Zuid Moet Blijven,” Ex, 1981.
“Gonna Rob the Sperm Bank,” Ex, 1983.
“The Red Dance Package,” Ex, 1983.
“Enough is Enough,” Gramschap, 1984.
“Destroy Fascism!,” Loony Tunes, 1987.
“Rara Rap,” Ex, 1988.
“Lied Der Steinklopfer,” Ex, 1990.
“Keep on Hoppin,” Clawfist, 1991.
6.1, (“Slimy Toad”), Ex, 1991.
(With Brader) 6.2, (“Millîtan”), Ex, 1991.
6.3, (“Hidegen Fujnak a Szelek”), Ex, 1991.
6.4, (double-seven-inch single), Ex, 1991.
6.5, (”This Song Is in English”), Ex, 1991.
6.6 (12-inch single “Euroconfusion”), Ex, 1992.
Albums, EPs, and tapes
Disturbing Domestic Peace, Verrecords, 1980; reissued, Ex, 1995.
History Is What’s Happening, More DPM, 1982; reissued, Ex, 1995.
Dignity of Labour, VGZ, 1983; reissued, Ex, 1995.
Gonna Rob the Spermbank, (EP), Sneeelleeer, 1983.
Tumult, FAI, 1983; reissued, Fist Puppet, 1994.
Blueprints for a Blackout, Pig Brother Productions, 1983; reissued, Fist Puppet, 1994.
1936: The Spanish Revolution, (EP), Ron Johnson, 1985.
Pay No More Than 6 Fr., (tape), 1985.
Pokkeherrie, Rockabilly, 1985; reissued, Ex, 1995.
Live in Wroclaw, Red, (tape), 1987.
Too Many Cowboys, Mordam, 1987; reissued, Fist Puppet, 1994.
Hands Up! You’re Free, Ex/Fist Puppet, 1988.
Aural Guerilla, Ex, 1988; Homestead, 1989.
Joggers & Smoggers, Ex, 1989; reissued, Fist Puppet, 1994.
Dead Fish, (EP), Ex, 1990.
(With Dog Faced Hermans) Treat, (tape), Damon Radge, 1990.
Ample, (tape), 1991.
(With Tom Cora) Scrabbling at the Lock, Ex, 1991; reissued, Fist Puppet, 1994.
(With Tom Cora) And the Weathermen Shrug Their Shoulders, Ex/Fist Puppet, 1993.
Ample 2, (tape), 1995.
(With guests) Instant, Ex, 1995.
Mudbird Shivers, Ex/Crosstalk, 1995.
Starters Alternators, Ex/Touch and Go, 1998.
Robbins, Ira A., editor, Trouser Press Guide to ’90s Rock, Fireside/Simon and Schuster, 1997.
Magnet, January/February 1999, pp. 29-31.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (March 3, 2000).
The Ex at Touch and Go/Southern Records, http://www.southern.com/southern/band/EX000/ (March 3, 2000).
Rolling Stone.com, http://www.rollingstone.tunes.com (March 3, 2000).
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