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EX (Buy CDs by this artist)
Disturbing Domestic Peace (Hol. Verrecords) 1980 (Hol. Ex) 1995
History Is What's Happening (Hol. More DPM) 1982 (Hol. Ex) 1995
Tumult (Hol. FAI) 1983 (Fist Puppet) 1994
Blueprints for a Blackout (Hol. Pig Brother Productions) 1983 (Fist Puppet) 1994
Dignity of Labour (Hol. VGZ) 1983 (Hol. Ex) 1995
Gonna Rob the Spermbank EP (Hol. Sneeelleeer) 1983
Pokkeherrie (Hol. Pockabilly) 1985 (Hol. Ex) 1995
1936 (The Spanish Revolution) EP (Hol. Ron Johnson) 1985
Live in Wroclaw [tape] (Hol. Red) 1987
Too Many Cowboys (Mordam) 1987 (Fist Puppet) 1994
Aural Guerrilla (Hol. Ex) 1988 (Homestead) 1989
Hands Up! You're Free (Hol. Ex) 1988
Joggers and Smoggers (Hol. Ex) 1989 (Fist Puppet) 1994
Dead Fish EP (Hol. Ex) 1990
Mudbird Shivers (Hol. Ex/RecRec) 1995 (Crosstalk/Ex/RecRec) 1996
EX/DOG FACED HERMANS
Treat [tape] (Demon Radge) 1990
EX + TOM CORA
Scrabbling at the Lock (Hol. Ex) 1991 (Fist Puppet) 1993
And the Weathermen Shrug Their Shoulders (Fist Puppet) 1993
EX & GUESTS
Instant (Hol. Ex) 1995
VARIOUS ARTISTS
Support the Miners' Strike (Hol. Records Against Thaatchism) 1985

This hard-edged Dutch anarcho-punk collective adheres to only the purest ideals in rock music. Starting in 1980, the Ex uncorked an endless stream of do-it-themselves vinyl and tapes on a variety of label names (finally settling on Ex Records in '88). Following Crass' example (if not quite that group's sound; the Ex has a cutting Gang of Four rhythmic edge and something of a Fall-like declamatory style), the Ex use their work as a sonic and graphic vehicle to promote a wide range of left-wing socio-political causes. Along with the piercing and articulate punk rock, most of the Ex's albums contain vast amounts of printed material.

Disturbing Domestic Peace includes a bonus live single and an illustrated lyric booklet. History Is What's Happening is a studio rendition of the band's 1981 live set. Dignity of Labour is a four-single box that focuses on the decline of a paper mill factory near where some members of the Ex were squatting. An illustrated book explaining the issue keeps the songs' political content from being overlooked; instrumentation includes saxophone and marimba.

Jon Langford of the Mekons, an occasional figure in the world of Ex, entered the picture as the producer of Tumult; he also plays drums on the four-song Rob the Spermbank 12-inch. The record's poster announces "hometaping is killing record companies...and it's about time."

The Ex employs such musical implements as organ, beer crates and oil barrels on the double album Blueprints for a Blackout, further expanding its sonic palette with guest musicians. A poster and info packet about the eviction of a massive Amsterdam squat accompany the LP.

The Ex moved to support striking British coal miners in 1984, organizing a benefit/agit-prop tour and releasing a joint live album with several likeminded bands. Pokkeherrie is a collection of new songs the group had performed on an anti-military tour. The double 7-inch of songs from and concerning the Spanish Revolution came with (or vice versa) a 140-page book about that chapter of 1930s anti-fascist history.

The double-LP Too Many Cowboys — which was released in the US, complete with a 24-page newspaper — combines live and studio recordings of such no-nonsense songs as "Butter or Bombs," "Olympigs," "Vivisection" and "How Can One Sell the Air." Following a live cassette recorded in Poland, the Ex compiled an album (Hands Up! You're Free) of its three John Peel sessions ('83, '85 and '86).

Langford produced Aural Guerrilla, an evocative and tightly crimped knot about a variety of righteous causes. A bracing blast of barbed wire guitar delivered at reasonable speed with clear (but passionate) vocals, Aural Guerrilla is one of the Ex's best; potent highlights include the pro-animal ecology of "Evolution (?)," the anti-rock-star venom of "Meanwhile at McDonna's" and "Welcome to the Asylum," an attack on Holland's shoddy treatment of refugees.

Joggers & Smoggers (the Ex's third double album) reroutes the music from its usual head-on collision and spotlights a few guests, including Sonic Youth guitarists Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore, as well as jazz hornmen and a bagpiper. While tracks like "Shopping Street" are brash cacophony, others are far more restrained.

With Langford again co-producing, Dead Fish (available as a 10-inch vinyl record or a 3-inch CD wrapped in the same sleeve) is one of the Ex's most stirring releases yet, as the group sneers at how the record business has belittled music's significance.

After ten years, the Ex had come close to the end of their artistic tether. Their work was all good, but they'd bumped up against the limits of their (considerable) musical skills and their records were sounding similar to each other. (Glorious exception: the machine-gun single "Stonestampers Song," the Ex's first collaboration with Dog Faced Hermans, with whom the band subsequently shared a live cassette, Treat, and a guitarist.)

So the Ex expanded its sonic vocabulary with two major undertakings. The first was the 6 series: six singles, released in 1991 and 1992 and later sold as a set, with sleeves modeled after a famous Russian poster. They were, respectively, "Slimy Toad" (straight-up skitter- punk), "Millîtan" (a collaboration with Kurdish folk musician Brader), "Hidegen Fujnak a Szelek" (a strikingly beautiful Muzsikas cover sung by drummer Katrin), a double- 7-inch excerpting a live performance (with guest appearances by the Hermans and master free-improv drummer Han Bennink), a joke number ("This Song Is in English," performed with cartoonists Kamagurka and Herr Seele) and "Euroconfusion," a dance 12-inch with sampled percussion. It's almost all great, and you can hear how much fun they're having.

Scrabbling at the Lock, a collaboration with New York avant-garde cellist Tom Cora (who had played with Curlew and Skeleton Crew and made a handful of excellent solo records) in early 1991, is the Ex's first genuinely great album. The combination seems peculiar on paper, but it's a match made in heaven. Dedicated to taking advantage of its full range of sonic capabilities, Cora is the closest thing the cello has to a Jimi Hendrix, and the Ex were expanding how a punk band could sound by exploring improvisation and traditional music. The results are adventurous, fresh and lovely-and also rock like a house on fire. Highlights include an even better version of "Hidegen Fujnak a Szelek," the six-minute juggernaut "State of Shock" and "Batium," a whiplash-rhythm arrangement of a piece by the late Turkish composer Ismet Siral.

The Ex toured the world with Cora and subsequently recorded And the Weathermen Shrug Their Shoulders, which suffers only in comparison to Scrabbling at the Lock. Cora takes the lead less often on this denser, darker album; although not as immediate, it has its share of great songs, particularly "Dere Geliyor Dere" (another Siral piece) and two excuses for singer G.W. Sok to run off at the mouth and sound good doing it: "What's the Story" (with lyrics taken from an interview with film director Sam Fuller) and the hilarious fake materialist manifesto, "Everything & Me." It's also got "War OD," the climax of many of the Ex's shows with Cora, and one of the sharpest songs they've ever written, politically and musically.

In 1995, the Ex — minus Cora, but plus a new member (extra vocalist Han Buhrs, who ended up singing on most of the album) — reappeared with Mudbird Shivers. Buhrs, as it turns out, is practically a vocal twin for Captain Beefheart. That's fine: he's got the range for it, and provides a useful counterpart to Sok's one-note bellow (they duet on a few tracks). "Embarrassment" has a great lyric and a great riff that don't really belong together; otherwise, the album is superb, abrasive, daring and full of unexpected kicks, including a slow, bulbous cover of the traditional "House Carpenter."

The Dutch term for free improvisation translates literally as "instant composition" — hence the title of Instant, a 32-improv, double-CD set that finds the Ex's instrumentalists (Sok not among them, but including Buhrs on "toffee-tin bass" and harmonica) joined for duos and trios by a party's worth of guests: Han Bennink, Tristan Honsinger, Ab Baars, Michael Vatcher and others. Hence, also, its aesthetic. A lot of these ad lib tracks could pass for composition-type compositions, or even for rock ("Karremans' Last Measure," "If the Hat Fits the Suit"). Nicely annotated, bravely executed and totally cool.

Seven early Ex albums (and the 7-inch boxed set Dignity of Labour) were reissued in the mid-'90s, the first time most had ever appeared on CD. History Is What's Happening, in particular, is worth checking out for the dead-on Gang of Four riposte "E.M. Why?."

[Marlene Goldman / Douglas Wolk]