Dutch anarcho-punk band The Ex formed in 1979; I can only assume that disgust at the election of Margaret Thatcher in the UK spread as far as the Netherlands, and that their return to the UK is partly to express their anger at her progeny laying waste to the UK public sector. That aside, the band returned on a bit of a high; new album Catch My Shoe having been particularly well received, as was the collaboration of their guitarists Andy Moor and Terrie Hessels with Scandinavian jazz bomb The Thing. Listening to the sheer energy contained within this recent work, it is quite astonishing to think that the Ex have been around for 30 years. It is even more astonishing to think that The Ex have been around for 30 years and I’ve never seen them until now.
I haven’t seen Nisennenmondai before either, more fool me. Their Smalltown Supersound album Destination: Tokyo was the sort of inspired mixture of German cosmic rock, and New York post-punk and disco that only a Japanese all-girl trio could pull off. Most of tonight’s set was an extended-to-the-moooon version of “Fan”, a minimalist odyssey of scratchy one note guitar and bass pulses with repeated bass drum kick. They even managed to lure the ageing Dutch punks from the bar to throw some lumpy, mis-shapen weight around down front, which was quite a sight.
Who are The Ex’s contemporaries? Who else has put in 30 years of service in the avant-rock wars? The Fall? Sonic Youth? And have either of those shown the hunger that The Ex have shown, the ability to continue to absorb other music, and to evolve? The Fall don’t exactly evolve, bless them, and, SYR releases and solo projects aside, Sonic Youth have been in stasis since, what, 1995? But the Ex’s music continues to become more complex, picking up scraps of not just Scandinavian improvisation, but Ethiopian jazz (their 2006 album with Getatchew Mekuria is ridiculously good) and Congolese thumb piano on its travels. The last of those sounds was to recur frequently during tonight’s set, a set which demonstrated a thrillingly parodoxical ability to be both impressively tight and on-the-point-of-collapse loose throughout. As the band tore into a set which leant heavily on that most recent new Steve Albini-engineered album, they bounced and crashed around the stage with as much energy and enthusiasm as a band half their age, Hessels attacking his guitar with a drumstick much as I’ve seen Thurston Moore doing in the past. “Eoleyo” (an African-tinged “White Riot”, perhaps) sounded more vigorous than most genre-inventing young hipsters you’ll normally catch on an Upset The Rhythm bill. As they came together in long sections of crunchy three-guitar noise squall, it was to hard to imagine them stopping. After 30 years, they’ve got nothing to prove, yet all the evidence in the world.