The Ex Festival, Paradiso, Amsterdam, 01-03-2014

They are, in the truest sense of the word, exceptional.

And so was this whole evening.

The Ex Festival - Paradiso

Strolling into Amsterdam on a dry pre-spring morning, your dear intrepid Incendiary editors decided to do what Incendiary editors almost always decide to do when heading to Amsterdam for a gig and that’s meet up in de one and only Wilderman, a legendary drinking hovel somewhere in betwixt Centraal Station and Dam Square. Friends were met and strangers were entertained, particularly with stories revolving around Mark Lanegan. You had to be there. To put it simply, tales were told and beers of varying colours were drank, including some clear, crisp cider that worryingly had to be poured round the back, out of view. The preparations were pleasant and mild; after all, we had a job to do but not relaxed enough to stop one of us almost venturing into the vending machine food hell of Febo to prepare himself for the night ahead. Thankfully, a hasty retreat call was issued moments before disaster struck and we arrived at the Paradiso in time to see its hefty wooden doors cast open, welcoming the collection of strays and vagabonds gathered around its steps into the building.

Having heard tales of the misadventures in the Paard van Troje and elsewhere over the past few days (your dear narrator was present for this one gig only) it felt a little strange to wander into the main hall and come face to face with what appeared to be an orchestra’s worth of equipment. Honestly, there was stuff everywhere. It wasn’t only that the stage was full, which it was, but there were instruments EVERYWHERE, there was a full band set up on the main floor, underneath the stage and even on the steps to the left – otherwise known as our regular vantage point. In fact, for quite a while there were more amps, instruments and cables on show than audience, but somehow – as always seems to happen in this venue – as Space Siren picked up their instruments and took their places on the aforementioned stairs, a crowd seemed to magically appear out of nowhere and our evening’s entertainment kicked off in earnest.

Now then, I must get this out of the way first. Space Siren were brilliant but their show was ruined by the air biscuits some bastard was dropping around us. Honestly, if that were you, and you’d know it if it were you, we frankly should not need to say that smells of that strength and eye-watering power really should not be emanating from a healthy body. Truly, for the sake of your own health and in case we ever need to stand in close proximity to you at a future event, we suggest you see a doctor. Now.

Space Siren at the Ex Festival, Paradiso, Amsterdam

Public information messages aside Space Siren were, as we said previously, brilliant. Props to whoever sorted their sound out because, even though they were stuck in such a weird place, they sounded clear, crisp and utterly fantastic. We here at Incendiary have followed the band for a number of years now but I have to say I’ve never felt as exhilarated by them as I was here. Honestly, it seems now, to me at least, like they’ve simply been wrestling with an idea for years and only now it’s coming to fruition. Their ability to weave waves of noise and melody and play with shades of light and dark in their music is growing ever stronger. When they unleash that squall of guitar noise on you, they simply take your breath away. Space Siren, on current form, are better than they’ve ever been – and they’ve always been good. The last couple of songs here were simply frightening! Great stuff.

 

After that we moved, almost instantaneously, to the group of instruments at the foot of the stage where I came face to face with Chocolat Billy. Let me tell you, words may fail me when trying to describe Chocolat Billy but I’ll give it a go! I am not, however, going to attempt to describe the drummer’s shirt. I admit defeat in that one. But ok, here goes, Chocolat Billy.

Chocolat Billy performing at the Ex Festival, Paradiso, Amsterdam

Imagine if you will, a mixture of Gang of Four and the BBC Philharmonic Workshop playing a soundtrack to an adult Muppet Movie. Honestly, that’s about as much sense as you’re going to get out of me on this one because Chocolat Billy are absolutely bonkers. Really, truthfully bonkers. They pass instruments round like they’re playing parlour games. Their front man spends half his time trying to be a pigeon and singing the parts of all the animals in Old Macdonald’s Farm, from what I can gather and yet, AND YET! I fucking loved them. Don’t ask me why. Don’t ask me how they did it. I don’t fucking know. Maybe it was the fact that the three guys in the band looked like they were having so much fun? Maybe it was the fact that the keyboard player looked like she’d rather have been anywhere else on the planet instead of standing on the floor of the Paradiso? Maybe it was that shirt?!?! Maybe it was the peacock dancing? Maybe it was the fact that some guys that resembled members of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers in the audience started body popping along to them, even if it was plainly obvious to everyone that neither of them had ever body popped before. Or maybe it was just because, from the moment they started to the moment they finished their blissful set, it’s because I smiled from ear to ear and laughed out loud more than once. Yes, it was probably that. Je t’aime Chocolat Billy. Je t’aime.

And then there was that shirt! Seriously, that shirt.


Han Bennink and Peter Brotzmann perform at The Ex festival, Paradiso, Amsterdam

Next up, the Walrus and The Carpenter. Ok, so actually it was Han Bennink and Peter Brotzmann, two legendary gentlemen of the Dutch and German free jazz scenes I’m led to believe. Free jazz is not ‘my bag’ as it were, so as far as I was concerned, their show consisted of some quite awe inspiring drumming and some quite appalling clarinet and saxophone torture. Still, you’ve got to admire that drummer, even with the headband. I can dig the rhythm man but I don’t get that squiggly honky stuff.

I must give a fond shout out to the MC for the evening, an elderly gentleman with a narrow, rectangular box strapped over his shoulder. The box contained a wheel and a flap and projected gusts of dry ice up his armpits whenever he hit it. I’m not sure what it all added up to but I know that it was more entertaining than any other deodorant advert I’ve ever seen, that’s for sure.

Polite applause must also go out to Lena, a girl of such alarmingly young age that I felt like I’d somehow been transported into a school recital. She came; she played a couple of songs and sang quite sweetly. Sweetly enough that I’m sure she’ll have a gold star next to her name in the class register next week. Someone give her a lollipop. Whether we hear anything else from young Miss Lena in the coming years remains to be seen but she absolutely nailed her appearance here, that’s for sure.

Moving swiftly on from that, on this seemingly never ending conveyor belt of entertainment – you barely had time to catch your breath from one act to another, let alone relieve yourself or find time to refill your refreshment glasses – we were treated to a delightfully thrashy, patchy Trash Kit performance, which is pretty much as I expected as Trash Kit are a delightfully thrashy, patchy kind of band. They’re a bewildering mix of incredibly accomplished musicianship – just watch that bass player and drummer go to work – and frighteningly amateurish stage/song craft. They make a decent racket but half the time it sounds like they’re playing different songs from one another. Actually, that’s going too far because half of the stuff they play aren’t actually songs at all, in the traditional verse/chorus stake, they’re just short, sharp bursts of energy. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to admire about Trash Kit. A lot. You just may find it hard to love them. Which is probably exactly how they want us to feel.

Still, once they’d wandered off we were left wondering what happened to our little deodorant seller. We weren’t the only ones. Thurston Moore seemed quite upset at the lack of a wind-induced introduction and so it was left to Incendiary’s own editor and guiding light Richard to do the honours.

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Summoning, well, quite frankly who knows what he was summoning but he got the job done. Although it worries me at just how comfortable he was on that stage…. Worrying times ahead, methinks.

Anyway, back to Thurston Moore. It’s testament to just how fucking well this f was going down with the crowd that Moore’s brand of noise rock was given such reverence here. Let me tell you this now; if it hadn’t have been for the way this night’s line up had prepared the crowd to simply open their minds and accept whatever was thrown at them – and let’s face it, nobody could have been prepared for Chocolat Billy, or for what Han Bennink and Peter Brotzmann did to that clarinet – this particular set could quite easily have gone down as bad as those farts had earlier in the evening. Somehow though, amazingly – and this is in the Paradiso let’s not forget, the spiritual home of bar chatter – the place was near silent for Thurston’s show. His show consisted, in the simplest terms, of a few short poem recitals and a lot of white noise and yet it was so much more than that. It felt like a performance, in the truest, most theatrical sense of the word. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised to find a video of it playing in a darkened corner of the Stedelijk Museum next to a loop of that one video they have of a man jumping up and down in hole. I don’t mean to sound sniffy about this, this performance was art-rock snobbery of the finest order. It made you appreciate the fact that music doesn’t just come from a desire to please – then again, Han Bennink + Peter Brotzmann had already seen to that – but rather this was music as texture, as mood and just watching Moore play with noise, layer upon layer of noise, was frankly hypnotic. It was a mesmerizing show and forty minutes passed in what seemed mere moments. It was a brave, honest and truly inspiring show. Marvelous stuff.

After that? Well, I simply lost my heart to Fendika. A group of super-talented Ethiopian musicians and dancers, Fendika’s music is so full of joy, so full of life that I found myself dancing almost despite myself and I must get my hands on one of those lion mane wigs. Seriously, that’s some impressive headwear. Flippancy aside though, I felt like I was witness to something truly spiritual. Again, this is music for another purpose to the standard rock and roll we all love and hold so dear. This was music for life, music for energy and music for just sheer celebration and the dancing – the dancing! – truly awe inspiring and, in the case of the body popping, shoulder rocking moves of the man, quite painful it seems. I’m not sure I can truly do justice to Fendika, they were simply magical and I feel blessed to have witnessed them in such close proximity. Theirs is a performance I hope to never forget.

Felakit performing at The Ex Festival, Paradiso, Amsterdam

Then, finally, after a few more deodorant blasts, we came to The Ex and if they hadn’t have played a single note, they still would have been treated like heroes for organising what has to have been one of the most enjoyable night’s entertainment I’ve had the pleasure to witness in many a year but thankfully they blew the fucking roof off the place! I still think they could do with a bass player in their current line up, but when you’ve got three guitars barreling along to the thumping drums of the magnificent Katherina Bornefeld you simply can’t help but bounce along with them. The Ex have somehow managed to keep themselves going for 30 odd years by sheer will and determination alone. They do things not because they think they’ll sell but because they probably just feel like it’s something worth doing and although they’re about as fashionable as Chocolat Billy’s drummer’s shirt, they simply know how to belt out a tune. And they know how to make you dance too. My word, the energy of the band is quite remarkable – and for a group some 25 albums into a career, that’s a badge to be proud of. They were, at times, quite exhilarating here and when they weren’t they were still bloody good. The Ex are one of the most honest, down-to-earth bands I’ve ever come across because you can tell there’s no bullshit with them. They just get up there and play and when they do, you’d better stand back if you’re not prepared to go with them because they kick up quite a fuss when they get going. They are, in the truest sense of the word, exceptional.

And so was this whole evening.