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The Ex: 27 years of Dutch art-punk

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A committed, open relationship: The Ex
  • A committed, open relationship: The Ex

For a glimpse of the future of Ex-like music, be sure not to miss the opening set by Barcelonan DJ and producer DJ/Rupture, who mashes up and haywires African, Jamaican, Moroccan and Philadelphian musics (amongst a myriad of other sources). The result sounds like no one else on earth. "He's my favorite DJ," says The Ex's Andy Moor. "His musical approach, as a DJ, is fantastic."


It would be sacrilege to compare the four members of Dutch art-punk band The Ex to angels. To call these musical multi-disciplinarians, raised in the squats of Amsterdam and fed on punk's carnality and anarchist agitprop, anything but earthly and heretical seems an affront to both sides of the cloth. But, as Ex guitarist Andy Moor prepares for the American premiere of Wings of Desire -- a stage production of Wim Wenders' film, for which Moor composed the music -- the angelic nature of Ex-dom becomes apparent.

"If you join The Ex, you have to dedicate your life to it," says Moor, by phone from Boston. "I don't want to sound like it's joining some kind of religious cult or something, but I know that I've sacrificed a lot of things I'd like to do in my life [to be in this band]. But I don't regret that, not at all -- I'm very, very lucky." Like Wenders' angels, The Ex inhabits its own world, observing, rubbing shoulders, and even conversing with the rest of the music and art world, but always with the knowledge that their own realm will call them back.

Sixteen years ago, when Moor left his own band (Scotland's much-missed Dog Faced Hermans), The Ex he joined was already a decade-old institution. Launched in the halcyon days of punk, The Ex arose from the same milieu as 'cross-the-channel comrades Gang of Four and the Mekons, linking together punk's attitude with fierce political ideals and ears open to music from any source.

That openness, over the length of the band's survival, has made The Ex's penchant for collaboration and musical diversity legendary. From the band's early work with mates such as Chumbawamba and the Mekons, in the 1980s they moved towards anarchic jazz, noise and ethnic music, spawning collaborations with everyone from Sonic Youth to bands of Iraqi Kurds and tours that took them past the Iron Curtain.

The past year has seen The Ex put out two releases, one a CD compilation of the band's first decade of singles, many of which sound almost like regular punk rock; the other a collaboration with Ethiopian saxophonist Gétatchèw Mékurya and guests. (The Ex will tour Ethiopia in January, a country they've visited frequently, as Mékurya's backing band.) To Moor, this breadth of musical movement shows a common thread.

"The connection is the energy and the commitment to the music you're making," says Moor. "Believing in the music you're making, not trying to impress, but celebrating the music you're playing at that time. Whether it's punk, or African or Hungarian music, there's no difference in the approach: not emulating, and not striving for virtuosity, but finding our own voice. In that sense, The Ex is the same in 1979 or 2006."

One long-term collaboration The Ex has been involved with has recently drawn to a close. Rozemarie, the upright-bassist who has anchored the band's bottom-end since 2003, has departed. Rather than seek out a new bassist with both the appropriate musical abilities and the above-and-beyond level of commitment necessary, The Ex has reverted to a four-piece, with baritone guitars replacing the low-end. Despite the steady stream of side projects, according to Moor, maintaining The Ex as a noisy, thunderously powerful and essential band is still the most important thing, 27 years on.

"We [each] do all these side projects, and The Ex does side gigs," says Moor, "but we always want to come back to our core. That's the monitor, the reference point. And we have to make sure that that core is still strong, that we're not doing these other things to compensate. But so far it is: When we play, just as a four-piece, that's still my favorite combination."

 

The Ex with DJ/Rupture, Allies and Xanopticon. 8 p.m. Sat., Dec. 9. Garfield Artworks, 4931 Penn Ave., Garfield. $12 ($15 at the door). All ages. 412-361-2262 or www.garfieldartworks.com

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