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LIVE REPORT: The Ex Festival
Richard Foster , March 7th, 2014 12:01

Operation notes from the Dutch underground... Richard Foster reports from The Ex Festival, Paradiso Amsterdam on March 1 2014. Photos by Kasper Vogelzang

I'm in bits; standing on the steps of the Paradiso, and waiting for the doors to open at the incredibly early time of 6pm; the time you'd normally sit down with a tray dinner to watch the football results. My head's a wreck from watching The Ex Festival the night before at the Paard van Troije in Den Haag. Now we all know the genius of The Ex, but that Paard gig was a multi-sensorial attack, a nerve shredder, an atomizer; in one of the most unromantic venues in the Netherlands. If the festival was that good at the Paard, what on earth is it going to be like here? Celebratory, that's what. I just know it. From the minute we walk into the Paradiso main hall and notice the weirdly inspiring greenish-yellow lighting that bathes the place, we just know that this is going to be a special night. We also saunter in laughing at the band's new found respectability here; they even got their minute of fame on the unfeasibly popular light entertainment digest, De Wereld Draait Door, the previous week; rubbing shoulders with the over-coiffured media robots of TV land; their punchy sound broadcast throughout this stolidly respectable country. The world must be tipping on its axis. It's a joy to see The Ex finally being treated with respect in the Netherlands.

The Ex are a generous and forward-thinking bunch. We know this because they have picked a whole host of tremendous guest acts. First we get Space Siren, playing in a corner of the main hall, but sounding like the world's ending. Surely the most brilliant and complex of all the current crop of Dutch underground bands, Space Siren are thunderous on this night, the audience picking up on their fine gradations of tone and passionate feel for rhythm. A love affair made with feedback and a splash of Gothic melancholy...

Then it's time for a floor show in front of the main stage; a perfect setting for Bordeaux's Chocolat Billy. How to describe these French? Mad as loons, that's how; conjuring up a non-rock shamanic rock sound that teeters on the edge of Henry Cow ridiculousness but then triumphantly out Zappa's Zappa... Their set dissolves into some mad hippy dream; with people wandering around doing their own thing, sitting on the main stage, or freaking as the band thumped out a deranged floorshow. ...Who's the fuzzy haired loony who's taken his shoes off and pogoing? Come to think of it who's the mad compere? He's using some weird wooden box to blow gusts of shining, purple-coloured wind up his shirt and he's barking like a dog.

I turn to my pal; I whisper, it's only 7:30...

But there's no let-up. On lopes Thurston Moore; at turns uomo universale and gook; one minute reciting his verse in High Vedic style, the next, rolling about on the floor with some kid from the audience... limbs entwined, two bodies melting together in an orgy of feedback. Moore's screeching guitar suggests that sensuous and brutal sounds can indeed (just for one transcendent moment) be made flesh. Trash Kit follow Moore's alpha male attack with a sensuous punchy counter; their sharp, cool and brittle pop at turns charming and refreshing a reeling audience. Following that (and more barking from the mad compere) Terrie Ex's daughter Lena, a young teenager, conducts her own campfire singalong on the main stage; holding the crowd with her charm and talent. Incredible, and beautiful.

It's not even 9:30.

We find out the compere's called Peter Zegveld; now he's coming on like Kurt Schwitters singing a popular Aria. I know this all may sound a teensy bit mad but it's happening in front of us. We're saved by that Jazz odd couple, Han Bennink and Peter Brötzmann; playing their white hot, hip-shaking free jazz. Old gits with sky high attitudes; out punking the punks; Brötzmann walking onstage with overcoat and plastic bag, a mix of Eric Morecambe and Eric von Ludendorff... Han Bennink, not to be upstaged, uses of one of his feet as an extra drum stick. In fact, Bennink's a Rocker. His extraordinarily voluminous, shapeless, trousers are a thing of wonder.

More madness from Peter Zegveld, and things feel more hysterical, unhinged... The grand old venue is expectant... We've got two gigs to go and we know that we're about to undertake something heavy. We're young Jötnar on the penitential road back to Asgard. First, Fendika. This Azmari “band” offers up a devotional and then begin to control the Paradiso in the way that is scary, shamanic. These existentialist urbanites around us don't know what's hitting them. Shaken up, spun round, entranced by the sensual promptings of the masenqo and the expressive percussion, we are rendered jelly; lost in the psychedelic eddies and counter currents of the melismatic vocals. Erm, hang on we're being told to go down on our knees en masse. We comply. We dance. Resistance? Impossible. This is wild celebration, and the stage dances are killer display of athleticism and happiness; some dance beautifully free, some a tad pervy, all revelatory. And get that male dancer, running round in a red tank top and lion's mane, (or Limahl wig, take your pick) whilst blasting out peal after peal on a hunting horn. What's going on?

Then The Ex. Drawing their set from their recent two LPs, Enormous Door and “Catch My Shoe”, The Ex blast us, they tighten the screw, squeeze what emotional mush is left in us and spit it back in a furious display of power and precision. The Ex. On the Paradiso main stage. The Ex, laying down the law; righting the rule book. People groove; or gawp at the way Kat, Terrie, Andy and Arnold construct their sound. The Ex are like some weird machine, constantly being deconstructed and reassembled; a vehicle that never breaks, one that travels vast distances to create its own hinterland, one that allows Kat to take the reins for the pulverizing stomp that is 'Addis Hum'; one that can build up pressure in a detached, patient, and ultimately triumphant manner. Their power overwhelms. 'Every Sixth Is Cracked' sounds like some corn thresher that's slowly coming towards you; menacing but impossible to deny. Can we take any more? We have to. Best is saved till last. Out jump the Fendika dancers and musicians, a kukri is drawn and wild incantations are uttered. A magic stick is held high, and children invade the stage to dance wildly. I've never seen anything like it.

Afterwards people babble and squawk. No-one makes sense, it doesn't matter. The basement serves hot Ethiopian food; and a wild assortment of grooves shake the room. The train home's a headfuck. Where am I getting off... the night's pixie dust is thick on the ground. Oh, Netherlands, in The Ex you have a great and wonderful thing that you can be proud of; don't forsake them.