Age of dissent
For ten years, The Ex have been at the heart of Amsterdam squat culture, working collectively and commenting on local and global events in their records and printed works. They’re also one ofthe finest bands in Northern Europe, as Alastair Mabbott relates.
Earlier this year. the streets of Amsterdam were livened up by a smart new carrier bag which featured a picture of the city‘s mayor. Ed van Thyn. above the legend ‘A Real Amsterdam Scumbag‘. The perpetrators were. ofcourse. The Ex. the band which has been Holland‘s foremost underground musical and cultural ambassadors for the last decade. and they had a bone to pick with him. ‘You try to use every bit of the South African people‘s glory for your own benefit.‘ thundered an open letter handed out in the streets. ‘The question we‘re asking is What did you actually do yourself? Under your administration. anti-apartheid activists were snatched from their beds. their houses searched. they were detained and interrogated for days.‘
Not that this hypocrisy was all that had stoked the rage of the doyens of Amsterdam squat culture; the city‘s reputation for tolerance. unmatched by anywhere else in Europe. was being eroded by the council‘s plans to gentrify it. ‘ encouraging yuppies to move in to the city centre while cutting back on affordable housing and driving out squatters. Laws passed in 1987 made life in the squats harder. and the drive to secure the: 1992 Olympics galvanised the council and police to clean the city up further.
So. is the fertile scene that produced The Ex and allowed it to ﬂourish being wiped out? The very personable Ex-man Terrie. tracked down to Newport while unloading the van for the evening’s gig. thinks not.
‘When new laws come in. we have to improvise and find other ways around it. The basic idea stays the same. It's getting more and more difficult in certain ways. but there are still lots of possibilities to do the things you want to do. We do things in our own way and do them as strong as possible and work together with people who are in the same line. There are people who like to run a shop or I run a studio or do benefit gigs. That whole scene I we are a part of. and supporting each other you j
keep it alive.‘ Their relationship with the police. no doubt to
their great relief. seems stable enough.
‘They don't think we‘re dangerous enough. I think. The whole squat scene is really covered by the police. They know who we are. and we've had some strange things. being arrested with a bent
van and things like that. We can do what we want.
but we still have to be careful. You know they‘re watching bits ofit.‘
The Ex formed in 1979. and a year later released the first of an ongoing series of albums. singles and
one-off projects. most retailing for around half
normal price. They bore titles like ‘All Corpses Smell The Same‘. 'Weapons For El Salvador‘. History ls What's Happening. nearly all written and sung in their pleasingly idiosyncratic English. An early single. ‘The Dignity ()f Labour‘ set out to
: show ‘how a multinational corporation managed to destroy a factory and its labourers on purpose‘.
Ex releases are usually supplemented with newsletters. illustrated booklets and items like the infamous paper bag. but in 1986. the band released one of its most ambitious and unusual projects. a gatefold single with a l-l()-page booklet celebrating the 1936 Spanish Revolution. The package included two old Spanish revolutionary songs and
. gave ‘the anarchist point ofview‘. That. and their
latest project. the ‘6‘ box — a series ofsix singles. one released everv two months. which can all be collected together in a specially-designed box — are the kind of releases that the richest major record company would baulk at. but The Ex. somehow. make ends meet.
‘lt‘s not easy. moneywise.‘ Terrie admits. ‘but
' we know people who run an alternative printers.
so we can do it quite cheaply. It‘s just possible. bUl
not very easy.‘
For most small bands playing their debut gigs in Holland. The Ex are the first point ofcontact — ‘because we have loads ofeontacts and we've been going so long and we know good addresses to stay or record or where you can put on gigs‘ — which goes a long way to explaining their diverse collaborators: from Thurston Moore and Lee
Renaldo ofSonic Youth through avant-garde
cellist Tom Cora (now based in Amsterdam) and
Kurdish singer Brader. They also acted as
something ofa magnet for The Dog Faced
’ llermans. who moved over en masse from Edinburgh to live there. The two bands are now close friends and collalmrators.
Despite their political activity and lyrical stance. Terrie insists that the musical and political sides of
. The Ex are ofequal importance.
‘1 mean. we’re not only playing music because we want to get lyrics across. The music is as important and says as much as the lyrics. I think.
It‘s also the whole attitude that comes to it. that‘s ' really important. People at live gigs seldom understand the lyrics. but the way we organise it
and the way we play. that makes things clear — that
we're not going for the money or the career.‘
The [51' and The Dog Faced I lermans play M oray House. Edinburgh on Sun ll) and Queen lllargaret Union. Glasgow on Tue 1.2.
The List 8— 21 November l‘)‘)l 29