Building a Broken Mousetrap
Touchstone // Unrated // $15.98 // January 29, 2008
Review by Daniel Siwek | posted February 20, 2008
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Their motto is "Going forward in every possible direction," but this release has The Ex, captured in the space and time of NYC, 2004, where they played a gig at the Knitting Factory - a venue that's not only a stones throw from Ground Zero, but also represents the epicenter of the city's Avant-garde scene. Their first single was called "Stupid Americans" back in 1979, and twenty-five years later it looks like The Ex is trying to remind us of that message. It's not that this Dutch group are anti-American (it's clear that they were heavily influenced by bands like Minor Threat/Fugazi, Circle Jerks, and other North American acts), but like many voices of protest coming out of Europe, they need us to know how our decisions, from an election to going into war, affects the rest of the world. And their visit to the States couldn't have come at a more appropriate time, as they were around for the Republican National Convention that was taking place about 50-blocks up town at Madison Square Garden.

When you break it down, this Jem Cohen documentary is more like a concert movie, which cuts between the performance, exterior city shots (around The Garden and the hoopla surrounding the convention), and a construction site in the Netherlands. It's obvious that the heavy construction equipment, dirt, and concrete are supposed to echo the views of Ground Zero, and the fact the show was recorded on 9/11 of that year further cements the imagery. Vocalist G.W. Sok gives a little speech about how the Republicans are trying to win with fear, before going into "Henry K.," a song that could have been written by Jello Biafra (in content, not style). Drummer Ketherina Ex isn't the only percussive player in the band, as in Gang of Four-like fashion, the guitar line-up of Terrie Ex (you noticed that two of them have a Romones-ey name?) and Andy Moore engage in an rhythmic interplay that seems more like rapid gun-fire exchange than guitar chords and leads. The next song, "Sister," is a slower, more brooding piece, where the double-bass - played by temporary member, Rozemarie - is finessed with a bow, achieving a sound that would make John Cale jealous. "I.P. Man" can be open to interpretation, but from the title and attitude of the song, it sounds like knows if a kiss-off to the annoying technology we are increasingly forced to rely on. Like many of their songs, the rhythm is relentless, punching, and pounding, but it comes down in time for a few moments of deconstruction. The guitarists don't waste time playing ridiculous notes, instead, one drags a screwdriver up and down the fretboard, while the other pulls on his low-e sting with such force you think it's going to pop. The bassist also uses her instrument for things other than "notes," messing around with harmonics. And as a vocalist, Sok spends less time on melody than he does on feeling, most of the songs have him yelling in a panic rather than actually singing. It's the perfect compliment, however, to the groups overall sonic explosion.

For the second part of the concert, we make the transition from black & white into color, and it is also where we get the most crowd interaction of the DVD. Their notions of the experimental Avant-garde comes out once again when they play "The Iduuno Law," a song that has them all placing little transistor radios near their guitar pick-ups, further broadcasting the noise. It's a slow and hypnotic build but before you get lulled into a relaxation, we get, "Theme From Konono," a tribute the group from Congo whose instruments were made from junkyard scraps." The show ends with the frantic, "Dog Tree," and after a long applause they take the stage to sing, "Huriyet," which is the independence song of Eritrea, a country they visited when they went to Ethiopia that year. Most of these songs appear on, Turn a double album that also came out that year, but you don't really need it or any of their albums to enjoy the show - providing you like this kind of music in the first place.

Shot in digital video and 16 millimeter, and presented in full-frame, the footage is mixed together quite effectively and artistically. The B&W stuff is mostly crisp and clean, though the 16-mil footage was milky at times, but not to a fault. The color footage was nice and warm, with browns and reds being rich and deep.
Fans of 5.1 will have to settle with this 2 channel Dolby Digital soundtrack, and there's not too much surround action here, which is actually fine considering most rock shows get their ampage from the stage out. The audio track does a fine job making you feel like you're deep inside the Knitting Factory.
There are no extras here.

Final Thoughts
Jem Cohen is no newbie to shooting bands, his experience includes artists like R.E.M. and Fugazi, and it's apparent that he's comfortable getting the band on stage, without being on stage getting in the bands way. The Ex aren't new kids on the block, and whether you've been into them hardcore (no pun intended), or you're just into hardcore, this DVD warrants some attention. If you're into the international scene, then this is a great example of a veteran hardcore band from the Netherlands, a band that has their own brand of deconstruction. The DVD should also appeal to fans of John Zorn and the Knitting Factory scene. If I had one complaint, it would be that there isn't any extra footage, especially interview footage. Some back stage shots would have been nice, but at least some type of commentary or post-script from the band would have been great for the extras.

Intro to Part One
3:45 AM
Henry K.
I.P. Man
Intro to Part Two
Confusion Errorist
The Idunno Law
Dog Tree
Theme From Konono

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