Thirty years is a long life for a rock band, and maybe the secret to keeping it going is to keep things in a constant state of flux. The Dutch group the Ex has had a communal, open-door policy, with members leaving and new ones joining almost yearly since its inception in 1979. Perhaps the most notable change in the group’s history came last year with the departure of vocalist G.W. Sok, whose politically minded speak-sing delivery was a distinct feature of the group from the beginning. In typical Ex fashion, though, the group chose to see this loss as an opportunity to re-energize themselves.
“It wasn’t as if his departure was a sudden thing,” says guitarist Andy Moor. “We’ve talked about it on and off for about five years, and the effect has been quite a relief on both sides. There are other things he wanted to do, and he didn’t seem that inspired anymore. And it’s been a kick up the ass for us because we had to find someone new and really work hard with a new vocalist.”
Though firmly rooted in the noisier side of rock, the Ex has drawn on a number of influences. They’ve collaborated with Sonic Youth, Dutch jazz musicians Han Bennink and Ab Baars, avant-garde cellist Tom Cora, Kurdish musicians, and even comedians. The band has frequently played with Ethiopian musicians, toured that nation three times, and in 2006 recorded one of their best albums yet with legendary Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Mekuria. They keep things identifiably Ex with repetitious, rhythmic guitars and African-inspired drumming. Across 20 albums, numerous singles, and more than a thousand live performances, their music has been ceaselessly energetic and intense.
Terrie Ex is the only remaining original member, with Moor, who joined in 1990, ranking second in seniority. Arnold de Boer has picked up the vocal duties, as well as adding guitar and electronics.
Though they’ve taken routes rarely traveled by most bands, they’re still frequently referred to as punk or post-punk.
“The only reason the Ex are called punk is because they came out of that time,” Moor says. “We’re sometimes still labeled anarcho-punk at some concerts and some people will show up expecting that, and other people won’t even give it a chance because it’s already labeled.”
The anarcho-punk designation stems more from their continued commitment to traditionally leftist political ideas than any musical leanings. The Ex is political in the best sense, in the way the members operate their band and live their lives.
“It’s a kind of community spirit, the idea we’re in this together, every aspect of it,” he says. “And the musicians we choose to play with usually feel the same. It’s more than playing music together on stage for an hour; it’s much more of a social thing. And in the end the music benefits from that.”