Zoilus by Carl Wilson

Archive for September, 2009

Email of the day: Butthole Stravinsky

September 28th, 2009

From Brent Brambury. He was just looking for a listing but that wouldn’t have done it justice. Annals of Omnivorism dept.:

“I’m doing an Opera 101 this Friday to look at the upcoming spectacular Stravinsky production. Robert Lepage will be there, along with one of the singers and the conductor. As you may know, they are flooding the pit with water and it’s gonna be insane.

“It’s at 7:30 and because we are anticipating a crowd, we are doing it in the Bradshaw Atrium of the Four Seasons Centre. It won’t last long so everyone can go to the Butthole Surfers afterwards.”

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Joe Pernice: Interview Outtakes

September 24th, 2009

joe_pernice

As promised, bits of my interview with author/musician Joe Pernice (tonight @ the Dakota) that didn’t appear in my profile of him today in the Globe.

We start off talking a bit about music, books and changing technology.

Joe: We’re having a contest, if you do the best Twitter review of my book you win a Kindle that’s filled with 10 books that I like. I’m like, I want to win that contest - I want that Kindle out of circulation! When you own a book, it is more than just the ideas in the book; there’s something romantic and something pleasing about it. … I like to hold a book. I wonder how books will affect people when every book looks the same, if you’re reading it on a Kindle. I think music is faring better - people don’t care that every CD is the same. So maybe it will be all about the ideas. It’s true that with albums, you might be holding a gatefold but the thing that contained the magic was out of your hands, over on the other side of the room, being played. [...]

I never had a huge record collection. I do collect bicycles. I’m a freak for those. I probably have 10 bicycles right now. For me that’s a lot. I continually get rid of some, give them away as gifts - build them, restore them, get rid of them. I think it’s all about a time of your life. I have very specific tastes. It’s certainly attached to some pivot in your life.

Does that connect to the bicycle in the book?

I don’t know, the bike in the book is this girl’s, rundown bike and here’s a grown man who that’s his only means of transportation. And he’s not too proud to do it. On the other hand… My friend Warren Zanes, I was telling him about this bike I was restoring, and he’s got this kind of nasally voice and he goes, “Ahhh, revisiting the boy to discover the man.” And I was like, fuck you, Warren. So I don’t know what kind of crazy mechanics are at work in my head. But it’s a good hobby and I don’t apologize it.

(more…)

Joe Pernice on ‘the Funhouse Behind the Funhouse’

September 23rd, 2009


Photo from The Big Takeover.

It’s in tomorrow’s paper, but my profile of musician, fellow 33 1/3 contributor, TV star and now, first-time full-length novelist Joe Pernice is up now on The Globe & Mail site. Joe reads & plays at the Dakota tomorrow (Thursday). There was a lot more to our conversation at TODO on Ossington a couple weeks back then could be squeezed into the article, so perhaps I’ll post some additional outtakes later.

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Happy Fucked Up Day

September 22nd, 2009


Fucked Up at the Polaris Prize gala at Toronto’s Masonic Temple last night, photo by Timothy Neesam/CBC.

The unprintable becomes the unbeatable: The Polaris grand jury gave a joyous belch in the face of predictability and complacency last night, complete with celebratory food fight, awarding the $20,000 prize to Toronto hardcore (or, as Metric tweeted, pop-core) band Fucked Up, who performed at the gala with guests Owen Pallett (Final Fantasy, the first Polaris winner) and Lullaby Arkestra. Not exactly a consensus pick, but an important recognition of a group that’s risen through the ranks of a sometimes-too-uniform subculture to become a vital, unique voice. The band says they’ll use the money to put out a benefit record to raise awareness of the hundreds of missing aboriginal women in the west, this Christmas.

I couldn’t be happier, but it must be said that nearly every performance at last night’s gala made a powerful case for the worthiness of the nominees, K’naan’s absolutely superstar-quality set in particular, but the rest as well, even those whose records I don’t much care for personally. Word was that final voting was very close between Fucked Up, K’naan and Joel Plaskett. This year’s event was much more like a TV-awards-ceremony taping than ever before, with the live streaming going out on MuchMusic, and yet that was paradoxically liberating, so the rest of us got to feel a bit like we were having a private backstage party, and it really seemed to inspire all the bands to play for keeps. A special mention should go to Michael Barclay’s supremely elegant introduction for Chad Van Gaalen. (And for more of Barclay and his beguiling partner in crime Helen Spitzer, see their thorough morning-after dialogue.) Any flagging faith was utterly restored, and any kvetching can be put off, gratefully, till next year. Thanks to Steve Jordan and a hundred other people for making it happen.

Gather Ye Smokebutts While Ye May

September 18th, 2009

One should never announce blog posts in advance. It’s a trap. I will still try to conclude the Ex series sometime this weekend, despite intervening distractions, disasters, entertainments and existential voids. Meanwhile, some news, linx, and l’Shanah Tova too.

It’s been widely reported in Toronto that the long-running Wavelength music series is switching venues, after many years, from Sneaky Dee’s to the new Garrison club at 1197 Dundas W., just past Ossington. What hasn’t been announced anywhere except at the show itself, so far as I can tell, is that the Trampoline Hall Lecture Series, the monthly night of “lectures by people on subjects they’re not expert in,” where I’m the doorman, music selector and sometime curator, is making the same move. Monday night’s final Sneak’s show came nearly five years to the day since our first there, Sept. 20, 2004. (Trampoline Hall itself will reach its eighth anniversary in December, which if you do some math means it sprang forth in the spirit of “9/12.” If you want to tiptoe through the topics of TH’s past, there’s an app for that.) The new space is better for TH in every way, from its feng shui to the fact that our friend Shaun is no longer just the booker (as he was at Sneaky Dee’s), he’s the owner. Meetcha there.

The Polaris Prize gala looms, as the nerdiest of Canada-nerds make predictions and lay wagers. I hate to break it to you, but having been in that non-smoke-filled Grand Jury back room, I don’t think there are any external signals or augers you can read; it simply depends on how the conversation goes between that other bunch of nerds. I’d bet against a repeat winner, so that eliminates one of the noms, but everyone else has a chance. To pass the time, though, you can read my ruminations on why Fucked Up’s my top pick, the interiority of indie, Canadian music in general and the Aqualung Act in the Polaris blog’s “Better Know a Jury Member” series.

Also in the Polarized column is this article in Exclaim!, in which I’m quoted, on the demographics of the jury and the nominees. Lots one could say here but in essence this is a bit like looking at the Tony Awards and bitching, “All these nominated plays are from New York!” The regionalist complaints (like our parliamentary system) privilege geography over population and inevitable cultural-magnet patterns so disproportionately, not to mention ignoring the way artists (and critics/broadcasters/etc) move to cities from other places, to the extent of taking place in a bit of a purist fantasyland. I don’t mind the criticisms but the statistical fixation is legalistic and unproductive and, to be blunt, boring Canada 101(,000).

In other prize-season news, there’s just over a week left to cast your online vote(s) in the $5,000 ECHO Songwriting Prize, designed by the Canadian songwriters’ body “to identify what’s next and what’s best in current independent music.” I was on the panel (photos helpfully provided for demographic dissection) what picked tracks by Timber Timbre, D-Sisive, Land of Talk, Sebastien Grainger and Joel Plaskett. Now it’s your turn to finger the winner. Oh, wait, that came out wrong.

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‘It’s too late - there’s no one left
that I even wanna imitate’
RIP Jim Carroll, 1949-2009

September 14th, 2009

I want my will and capability to meet inside the region/ Where this gravity don’t mean a thing/ It’s where the angels break through . . ./ It’s where they bring it to you/ It’s where silence, silence can teach me to sing…. I want a world without gravity, it could be just what I need (what I need!)/ I watch the stars pull close, I watch/ I watch the earth re-cede! - Jim Carroll Band, “Wicked Gravity,” 1980

I’ve been surprised by all the reactions on all the social-media to the death of Jim Carroll - most of them making the obvious “People Who Died” jokes, but many full of real emotion and quoting any of the countless apropos lines and images from his poems and songs. Surprised, because I’ve always had the foolish feeling that aside from that song (and the Basketball Diaries, especially the movie of course), Carroll was almost my personal secret. “People Who Died” was almost certainly the first real punk-rock song I heard, or was certainly the most punk-rock song I’d heard when it first came on the radio while I was staying in my grandparents’ basement in Selkirk, Manitoba, and along with Peter Gabriel’s “Games Without Frontiers” and the serious literature that I’d just begun reading - Joyce, Hesse, Camus - it made me guess that there were emotional registers, certain kinds of seriousness, that I hadn’t yet accessed. I was 12 years old.

Unlike Gabriel, whose album I bought pretty much right away, Carroll’s kind of seriousness might still have scared me - or more likely his kind of cool - and so I didn’t at first look for more of his work. But then, looking at an issue of Penthouse for, as you may imagine, entirely other reasons, I read this profile of Carroll. I have a very distinct memory of being locked in the bathroom reading about this impossibly handsome, incredibly talented, terrifyingly reckless young man - I’m convinced in fact that this article is the reason I’ve never ever been tempted to try heroin in my life. But all the glamour that Carroll invested in poetry was also a revelation.

I’d been writing stories and maybe a few attempts at song lyrics. I’d heard Patti Smith (the guys at my local record shop made sure the kid got a copy of Horses early in our guru-grasshopper relationship), but hadn’t understood yet that she was a part of a milieu, and that milieu was New York poetry. I bought Catholic Boy and later Dry Dreams and was both mesmerized and energized - probably the number-one album on my personal jump-around-at-the-mirror hit parade. I knew not just every word but every inhalation, every inflection, every stylishly slurred syllable (”I-watch-the-Stars-pull-close-I-waa-ITCH!, Ah. watch. th’. Earrth. Ree-ceeede“). I wanted to be Jim Carroll but clearly I wasn’t going to have his story. Nor his looks (just look in the mirror you’re singing into). But I was a Catholic boy, too - I could contemplate being “redeemed through pain, not through joy.” And I could perhaps emulate his ridiculously fine-grained, articulate disdain: “I want the dilettantes and parvenues to choke on my wrists/ They think the pearls, they think the pearls that I wear are pills/ I want their gravity to shatter, but it really doesn’t matter/’Cause I got somthin’, I got somethin’ in my eye that kills.”

In short he was the first person who really made me imagine being cool, because he seemed to have a whole alternate system for it rooted in intelligence and vision and a bemused lack of interest in social obligations. Wanting to be cool for the first time is no small thing (and the last time you want it is probably a big deal too). Wanting to do it by writing poetry? A little misguided, but usefully, indeed magically so.

I feel disloyal for not following Carroll’s later records and books as they became less punk, more mature and sure, less the direct unfiltered flow of inspiration that Ted Berrigan saw in 1969, when he paralleled Carroll to Rimbaud and almost seemed to feel that Rimbaud suffered most in the comparison (I suspect if Berrigan had also been going to parties with Rimbaud, he wouldn’t have had that problem). I don’t think I was the only one who neglected him, stopped listening. It must be tough to be the former prodigy, then get middle-aged. With someone else a death at 60 would seem horribly young, and I’m sure those close to Carroll must be feeling that way. My sympathy goes to them. But when I heard that music and read about him in 1981, it felt that by the time he was 30 he’d lived more lives than most people ever do, than I probably ever would. I am grateful for the challenge he presented, to make life that vital (which I understood in some sense also meant to risk it) and to somehow taste or at least catch the scent of its mercurial, mutable essence. I’m still working on it, Jim. This song is for you, my brother.

Highly recommended: A reminiscence from poet Tom Clark (and others in the comments).

Ex Week No. 4:
Love in Outer Space with Canaille

September 13th, 2009

Today we continue our series celebrating The Ex and Getatchew Mekuria’s Canadian visit with a guest post from Zoilus contributor Chris Randle on tonight’s opening band, Toronto locals Canaille. Tomorrow, as we wave the band goodbye, I’ll complete my video retrospective on Ex-history, and struggle to represent in words the extraordinary sound and spectacle we experienced this weekend. - Carl Wilson

When Jeremy Strachan told me “I don’t really know the Ex’s music too well” and that he only recently became acquainted with the Dutch punk masters through his longstanding Getatchew Mekuria fandom, it was a surprise. Now I think it’s almost perfect. After all, it was Ethiopia’s legendary Mekuria who made the first move in this cross-cultural relationship, inviting the foreign cult band home to play with him. And although Strachan is best known from defunct hardcore outfit Rockets Red Glare and breakneck sax-and-buckets duo Feuermusik, the new-ish quintet Canaille might be his first group you can’t mosh to.

“I guess I wanted to form a group that was a little less brooding and intense, like every other band that I had been a part of,” he says. “Every band seemed to be grippingly serious about stuff. I wanted to try to write in a way that embraced different…sentiments?…And also try my hand at writing straighter jazz, which I’d never done before.”

We’re not talking about military poise, though – Strachan’s primary influence at the group’s founding was a cloaked titan from an earlier jazz era. “I downloaded two gigs of Sun Ra at one point and I was just digesting all of this stuff. Part of the reason I think I was attracted to it was this sort of mysterious, murky discography. There’s so many shitty-sounding recordings that were obviously just done in his living room…the compositions reappear again and again, but I like the quirkiness of them, I guess, that they were referencing all these different jazz traditions.”

Still, despite his ascension through the Arkestra’s “fucking endless” discography and “the exorbitant amount of money” he paid for a captivating Space Is the Place VHS at 19, Canaille have since cruised elsewhere in the universe. Strachan says: “I really like his way of orchestration. You know, he’d have a bass clarinet and a trumpet playing a harmony line while a baritone would be playing a solo and the accompaniment would just be some weird, primeval electric piano and a timpani…So I arranged a handful of Sun Ra tunes for the debut, but we don’t really play them too much anymore. Only ‘Love in Outer Space’.”

I’ve heard two songs from Potential Things, Canaille’s imminent debut, and while they bear those traces – “Vincent Massey” swings otherworldly – the musical debt is increasingly less evident. Strachan has already picked up a guitar again for a pared-down “electric” variation on the group. Apart from a small mob of Canailles and some work with the “big band” version of Feuermusik, his main project right now is the musicology PhD he just began, focused on Estonian-Canadian, John-Cage-collaborator Udo Kasemets. There may be more intuitive subjects for a musician who’s spent the last decade blurring borders between punk and jazz ; then again, considering that the 90-year-old Kasemets keeps composing new and untried pieces, there might not be. - Chris Randle

Ex Week No. 3:
Our Man on the Inside -
Toronto’s Brodie West

September 12th, 2009


Brodie West, left, with The Ex and Getatchew Mekuria, photo by GABURU on Flickr.

Our series of posts this weekend continues celebrating the visit of The Ex and Getatchew Mekuria to Canada, tonight and tomorrow at the Polish Combatants’ Hall in Toronto (the site of one of the Concrete Toronto Music shows I co-curated with Jonny Dovercourt last year). Part 2 of the video retrospective should be up tomorrow, and Zoilus contributor Chris Randle also has an interview with Jeremy Strachan of the band Canaille, who open for The Ex tomorrow night. But today, I’ve had an exchange of emails with Brodie West, a Toronto alto saxophonist and improvisor (Zebradonk, Drumheller) who for the past several years has been a frequent collaborator with the band, to get his perspective on how they work and their interchange with Mekuria.

Give me a little outline of your musical background.

I grew up on Vancouver Island - Nanaimo - and started playing the alto saxophone at 12 in elementary school. I learned to play many old pop melodies from my grandmother, a piano player. Then school jazz band and then Humber College for jazz - I didn’t receive a diploma, but that hasn’t mean anything to me so far. It was really good for me to hear and play there with Don Thompson and Pat Labarbera. At that time i was completely into John Coltrane, Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden - jazz was my main thing.

I started to improvise with the Woodchoppers Association and formed Zebradonk; in 1998 we went to Amsterdam. I met Han Bennink in 1999, and first played with him in Toronto at Mike Hansen’s studio. Went again to Amsterdam in 2001 to study with Misha Mengelberg - counterpoint and improv/noise class. Around this time I was also starting to check out more indie-rock bands, and classic rock too - living with [Woodchoppers leader] Dave Clark for a while, I was hearing lots of classics which I had missed through my jazz obsession.

I moved back to Amsterdam in 2005, and went to Ethiopia in 2006 with Heather (my wife), Han Bennink and Terrie (of The Ex).

How did your work with The Ex begin?

I first encountered the EX while on tour with Han in Canada - we shared a night with/opened for them at a gig at Lee’s Palace. Then in 2006 when Heather and I arrived in Amsterdam - we went straight to an Ethiopian restaurant to meet Han. Terrie was also there - these two are very close, coming from the same rural region of Holland. There was a lot of talk about Addis Ababa. A few weeks later they invited us to travel there with them if we were so inclined… We were totally convinced. While we were there Getatchew visited the hotel where we were staying - the Baro Hotel in the Piaza area, highly recommended! - and with his saxophone gave an example of the 10 or so melodies which we were to play with this band.

It was a few weeks later that Terrie proposed to me to join the group as he had the idea to have a horn section. I think it was also with some encouragement from Han.

What’s the creative process like, working with them - in terms of conceptual direction, musical coordination, etc?

To prepare for our first engagements and with the idea to record, we rehearsed these [Ethiopian] melodies for two weeks, referring to previous recorded versions, and really settling on the song forms/structures, before Getatchew arrived. I got the impression these rehearsals were structured in a way not very unlike how Terrie, Kat and Andy usually put together their music… and Jos was busy with words and how they would relate with the Ethiopian meanings.

There is not a whole lot of conceptual discussion. We were not overly concerned with making things perfect - it was mostly that the bass and drums would stay together and everyone would be able to anticipate changes and shifts through the songs.

From what you’ve seen of it, what’s their process and dynamic with Getatchew like, and what steps do take to they fuse their approaches and styles?

Really, a lot of time spent together and not a lot of compromise musically. Somehow the direct simplified use of language - Getatchew doesn’t speak too much English - so we had to find ways of sorting things out without a lot of discussion. Laughing, and try again - GO!

What particular qualities of the Ethiopian tradition have you found interesting or learned from?

For me the most difficult challenge has to do with the scales. The music relies on these scales - 5-note scales - for the sound, the harmony. There are songs that are popular in Ethiopia which are just called after the names of the scale, “Tezeta,” for example, a love song - Getatchew named his daughter after this scale! it is beautiful, and can be played in a minor or major way. For me, if I am to take a solo on one of these songs it takes quite a leap to depart from these scales - is it then a question of staying with, and playing within this limit harmonically, or what? This has been something i’ve meditated on a bit.
Getatchew uses the term “broken note” - to distinguish a note which falls outside the scale.

The Ex are famous for the radical politics that are interwoven with their musical approach. How does that come into play in actual musical work with them (if it does)?

Everyone is free to chose their own approach to the music - that is true, and it is not expected that we should behave in any kind of appropriate, professional manner. There is no boss officially - but Getatchew is a Lion. He can really direct the band, that is for sure!

How do you think this project copes with the kinds of charges of exoticization, romanticism or touristic attitudes that arise any kind of fusion of ‘first world/’third world’ musics like this? Is it an example that can be applied elsewhere.

The musicians of The Ex have a strong identity and have developed their approach to the point that they would be unable to play music from the standpoint of another tradition. They could not play Ethiopian music in a traditional way, this is a case where what you can not do - because from a technical standpoint you are not proficient in that way - is what makes it great! It is not by accident either. I thought quite a bit about that because i went to jazz school and I learned that the more you practice the better you will get - but it really depends what you practice, more than how much.

Any other reflections, or upcoming projects of your own?

I have a new band that features one of my all-time favorite musicians to play with, Ryan Driver, on piano, a bass player who i started playing music with when i was 14, Brent Tanemura, and the most amazing trumpet player, Nicole Rampersaud. The band is called Legends of Jazz Piano - we’re playing my own melodies which might sound familiar because they are not overly original. But i think it’s pretty good Jazz. I absolutely love to hear what the musicians do with my songs.

I should also say that it is such a great pleasure to play with Getatchew Mekuria, and The Ex and Xavier [Charles, clarinet], Joost [Buis, trombone] and Colin [McLean, bass, formerly of the Dogfaced Hermans]. We play music which people can dance to! Getatchew’s playing is so meaningful to so many people - his music has touched almost every Ethiopian, it is generous and beautiful. I don’t know what to call it, but everyone should hear it.

Ex Week, No. 2:
A Tumbled History
(Part 1, 1979-90)

September 11th, 2009

If you’ve spent a little time around Dutch people - or at least the ones you can run into at music festivals, or as visitors to North American cities’ art scenes, and so on - perhaps you’ve noticed, as I have, that they tend to combine an air of relaxation (which can be cheerful or grumpy, but either way I simplistically credit to the country’s general social liberalism, with tolerant mores yet a secure social-safety net) with an extraordinary degree of energy, which I attribute to a strong culture of physical fitness. They’re the healthiest hard partiers I’ve seen, and the most laid-back of restless souls.

No doubt if you’ve spent more time around Dutch people, you don’t have any such reductive stereotypes. But I do find them handy to explain the joyous contradictions in the sound of Amsterdam’s The Ex, who are in Canada this week for a series of shows along with Ethiopian sax veteran Getatchew Mekuria - the incredible way in which improvisational looseness is combined with rhythmic precision, radical anger with gentle irony, combustible noise with subtle detail.

And with all that energy, the Dutch band that formed in an anarcho-punk squat in 1979 has gotten a great deal done in 30 years, crisscrossing the world and evolving through myriad unpredictable stages, including major lineup changes, while preserving a recognizable sonic core (in short: barbed wire, dancing) and a consistent ethos of autonomy and compassion; with each metamorphosis they do not cancel out or leave previous developments behind. So gradually they’ve come to seem less like a typical band - which, in the natural metaphor provided (like so much else) by the Beatles, resembles a small group of buzzing, forward-moving insects - than like a coral reef, or the ever-expanding supercolonies of ants or fungi that can run beneath the surface for thousands of miles.

Rather than recount that process here - you can find it on the band’s site, wikipedia, etc. - I want to document it visually as best I can. There are gaps in the record (at least where the archaeological site of YouTube is concerned), but it’s a rough guide.

1980: Fuck Elise (Amsterdam)


Rare visual documentation that The Ex really was, once, your typical young punk band, wan and snotty and simplistic. I find the absence of women almost shocking – it wouldn’t last long and would become permanently unthinkable when Katherina took over the drums in 1984; her crisp, complex percussion lines are, to this day, part of the secret of the chaos-clarity blend noted above. (There have been other women in the group at various stages. But even in this crude infancy, notice that the band’s bird-flipping seems to be about the overplaying of a certain Beethoven bagatelle, with Terrie (I believe) willing to risk the impatient boos of the conformist-punk crowd by plunking out a sarcastic statement of the theme. Maybe not the most articulate denunciation of elitist culture in their catalogue – not to mention the not-exactly-feminist approach – but a sign of thematic impulses that would return, deepened, in the coming years.

1981: The Sky Is Blue Again (Amsterdam)


What did I say about Dutch speed? One year later, with a song from debut album Disturbing Domestic Peace they’re still obviously of their Crass-etc. moment, but the goofiness is gone, and vocalist G.W. Sok (whom I’ll call henceforth by his given name, Jos) has begun to solidify his signature, wordy, visiting-lecturer-on-meth mannerisms. And the Dylanish harmonica was certainly non-standard equipment.

1983: Bouquet of Barbed Wire (Amsterdam)


Sabien Witteman was the first female drummer in the Ex, from 1982-1984 (she’s now a successful painter and photographer in Burgundy, I believe), with a startlingly different personal style than Kat’s, though some of the same searching rhythmic approach. Then again, Jos himself is in a not-so-flattering football-ref jersey – 1983 was not a kind time for fashion. But this is stone-classic early Ex, the lead track of the first of a series (that arguably just keeps going) of sonic-breakthrough albums, Tumult (coproduced by the Mekons’ Jon Langford). Sure, it sounds a helluva lot like the Fall, but its churning, stalking pace is such that it wouldn’t sound so out of place if they threw it into a set today.

1984: Jack Frost is Innocent (TV)


What’s this? A proper music video? You won’t find many of those for the Ex. Perhaps there was a brief thought of breaking through to larger audiences during that post-punk/new-wave period - after all Tumult was nothing compared to the quickly following Blueprints for a Blackout, in which a sound-sculpturing (or, in this video, dismantling) spirit became central to the Ex-periment - double-bass, organ, violin, oil-barrels, accordion, beer-crates, piano, marimba. Likewise the lyrics were becoming less hectoring and more apt to convey their agit-prop autonomist lessons via more absurdist parables and such. Don’t miss the cute coda with the banana.

1986: They Shall Not Pass (in spirit, Catalonia)


Okay, spoke a bit too soon. This heavily didactic tune comes from 1936, a double-single package marking the 50th anniversary of the Spanish revolution; kind of standard Clash-era strident-studious punk, but I wanted to include this video for all its terrific historical photography, posters and other images.

1986: No Fear (Utrecht)


Dim sound on this clip, but the video archives seem to thin around the middle decade of The Ex’s existence, and you do get an excellent view of: Kat’s kit style (it’s as if she plays the drums with her posture); the guitar-scraping, springs-sproinging, prepared-instrument approach that would be all over the Too Many Cowboys album (including this track, the following year), leading the band away from anything like traditional punk rock; and, finally, Jos with megaphone, which would be his signature prop (with its political-rally associations) for many years.

1990: Das lied der steinklopfer (with the Dogfaced Hermans)


In the late ‘80s, perhaps with its original base in the anarcho-Amsterdam scene getting a bit dispersed (a decade will do that to a radical youth community), The Ex started making much more diverse connections. On 1989’s Joggers and Smoggers they begin collaborating with members of Amsterdam’s vibrant improvised-music scene, which would be a crucial influence on their future directions (it also included Lee and Thurston from Sonic Youth). At the same time, they become almost sister bands with similarly imaginative, political, post-punk units from around the world, including not only Canada’s No Means No, Mecca Normal and Rhythm Activism, but most pivotally, Scotland’s Dogfaced Hermans, with whom they recorded this song, by Weimar-era Jewish anti-fascist journalist and satirist Kurt Tucholsky. That’s the great Marion Coutts, I believe, on vocals; after she quit music a few years later, (see Comments). DFH guitarist Andy Moor would become a permanent member of The Ex.

Makin’ Jaw-Jaw With Nick Hornby

September 11th, 2009

This Sunday at 1 pm at Harbourfront’s Enwave Theatre in Toronto, as I’ve been mentioning in the listings but not talking about upfront, I’m doing a live interview with British writer Nick Hornby. Hornby’s done his share of music criticism but his best writing about music - and in particular, about attachment to music and the ways it shapes or is misshapen by personal identity - is of course in his fiction, most notably High Fidelity and the new (midlife-rather-than-quarterlife-crisis edition) Juliet, Naked, which is in a nutshell the tragicomic tale of what it’s like to be married to someone who spends all their time on music discussion boards, on one hand, and what it’s like to be an object of obsession on those discussion boards, on the other.

I’d love to see you there but I’m also in the midst of preparation for the interview (which will follow a short reading by Hornby) and would be happy to hear what questions or topics you’d want to hear covered, whether or not you can attend.


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