The Ex are the oldest independent band in the Netherlands, having recently celebrated their twentieth anniversary. If you haven’t heard or heard of The Ex—and you’re in good company—they’re a challenging, discordant, far-reaching band with an expansive catalog. Think along the lines of Sonic Youth, the classical avant-garde of the Kronos Quartet, the syncopated, angular approach of Savage Republic, and wide-open jazz improvisation. This documentary, filmed over a period of two years, does a great job of encapsulating the band, letting them speak in their own words, play their own songs, and let the viewer get a candid, uplifting view of a long-running band. Many times, I was reminded of a similar band, Fugazi, and the extremely engaging film about them, Document. There’s a definite love of the subject that permeates both films. Although Beautiful Frenzy is a little less than an hour, it covers a lot of ground at a very easy and natural pace. It covers the roots of the band, which seem almost as incidental as their music. One member happened to be a taxi driver who liked the band, only to suddenly join, and another member joined because of a shared interest in the Spanish Revolution, not necessarily the music. It’s also funny that they had a gig before they even had songs to play.
What’s impressive about the Ex is how down-to-earth and congenial they seem, while how they’ve operated as a band is nothing short of a complete rejection of the music industry. They control all aspects of the band, from being their own managers, to putting out their own records, to designing all of their artwork, to booking their own shows everywhere from bombed-out factories to huge jazz fests. They control their own destiny. It’s all matter of fact, forward thinking, and the opposite of low-thought bands that are never in short supply, willing to sell off all shreds of artistic integrity for the dream of selling some CDs.
Here’s the caveat. The Ex is not easy listening, and, no, they’re not for everyone. They directly confront casual listeners and fearlessly go from punk blasts to Hungarian folk songs, to playing with full orchestras. This said, I don’t think that I’m a fan of the band’s music. It’s organic, always moving away from any discernable center, employs expansive aesthetics, and is arresting. All of that is true, but they’re too jammy and scattered for my tastes. But don’t let that overshadow the fact that I have nothing but absolute admiration of The Ex’s approach to not only music, not only how they operate as a band, but how they approach life. They’re very compassionate to one another and their audience. It’s irrefutable they’re fighting the good fight, and since there are so few operational models for bands of this type, I highly recommend Beautiful Frenzy for anyone interested in music that doesn’t easily yield into any mold. –Todd (Honey Bear, 1730 E. Oltorf #135, Austin, TX 78741)