by Pil and Galia Kollectiv

"i'm losing my edge/ to the internet seekers, who can tell me every member of every good group/ from 1962 to 1978..."
[LCD Soundsystem,"Losing My Edge"]

Being knowledgeable about music sure isn’t what it used to be, now that any kid can run a Google search, download on Soulseek and buy on eBay faster than you can say broadband. The elders of punk, who were there in the early days and pogoed all ten of them at the first Sex Pistols concert, those who lost their right arm at Woodstock only to find it ten hours later when the acid wore off - who needs them? It’s only a matter of time before a giant iPod descends from the heavens and buries both them and their filthy record collections.

We’ve come to expect such an immediate conversion of reality to information that it’s almost a shock to come up against fragments that don’t add up to neatly classifiable discographies on allmusic.com. Nevertheless, every once in a while the primordial cyber ooze conjures up a name that frustrates any attempt to tie it down to any concrete information. In this case, barely a name, just three letters that you are more likely to find on a site devoted to sex with animals or some kind of equally perverse computer programming language than to succeed in relating it back to the band it describes: Xex. But even though most of the story of Xex seems to have been swallowed up by the black hole that will gradually eat up anything that doesn’t find its way into internet code, it is well worth trying to reconstruct it from what little traces of it have survived the digital revolution.

As a result of the disturbing time warp commonly known as the eighties revival, Xex’s music sounds more contemporary now than it probably ever did when the band was in existence. Certain aspects of it never really went away, and you can sort of recognise them on all kinds of dark/gothic/electro/minimal/synth compilations from the eighties onwards. However, it doesn’t quite sound right next to your bog standard post-human, post-apocalyptic theme tunes of despair that usually fill these compilations. Something about the joie de vivre expressed in the face of the impending soviet invasion, or the glee with which the band suggests novel ways of torturing a poor cat, somehow doesn’t sit right with the deathly seriousness of their compeers.

So where did Xex come from? Whatever happened to delete their memory from the collective consciousness that has managed to dig up just about every other forgotten new wave relic in the name of retro? What fate could have brought together two stern looking men, two rather comical moustaches and a lady named Thumbalina in a derelict recording studio in Brooklin for three cold nights in February 1980? The real story of Xex lies beyond the vortex that has devoured the lost souls of long forgotten failed revolutionaries, in a small industrial town north of Rotterdam, where Jonboy Diode and Wew Pierogi were about to graduate from highschool when rumours of the student revolts in Paris began to filter through to the three state-run television channels. Wew and John, who had dodged most of the exams in the electronic engineering class they were in thanks to long nightly sessions of Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream and Marxism fuelled by L.S.D. and cheap booze, decided to help the world change. They shared their first flat in Amsterdam with a local drug dealer, two economics student with connections in the red brigades, a cat named Wilson (after Brian), a multi-deck moog organ and five guitars. They cut out the band's name, XEX, from the catalogue number of the European edition of the Beatles' Revolver. At one of their first gigs at a hippie café, they were approached by an American amateur photographer named Alex Zander. Alex had a huge record collection and a Dutch girlfriend who worked at a record store. Within six months the trio had their first single out, a 12 minute song about an entire civilization living inside the toaster of a bourgeois Dutch family. Yet in spite of a small cult following, three radio plays and a mini live tour of Belgium and Germany, Xex decided to immigrate to America following the release of their e.p. "The Free Yapata Band", a series of free jazz improvisations overlaid with weird electronic noises and a reading of paragraphs from the Dutch Dada manifesto.

In 1974, the trio landed in a small Manhattan flat belonging to an Italian art student, one of Alex's ex-girlfriends, who would weld motorcycle parts to drums and sing Bob Dylan songs as she beat them with three drum sticks. Thumballina was immediately accepted to the band. With her arrived David Anderson, a shy New York Dolls and Velvet Underground fan and English Literature student with an Edgar Alan Poe obsession. Between 1975 and 1977, they were there. At CBGB they saw the Ramones, Television, the Voidoids and Suicide do nasty, weird and exciting things to rock 'n' roll. They bought the first English Punk records and began corresponding with Throbbing Gristle. They organised parties in which all the guests dressed up as Andy Warhol, got excited about the first electronic drum machines and never missed a midnight screening of Jodorowsky films. Then, in 1978 the songs just started emerging naturally, funny duets between Alex and Thumballina, electronic punk so minimal it was barely there at all. In the words of the only review to have survived into the age of the internet (or rather, an automatic translation of said review from German into English): "Xex made a minimalistic Synthesizer Pop music and invent the synthetic minimum minimum also times so occasionally. Hearing value is also the voice of the singer. The whole sound picture is so thin and economical that one already asks oneself, how it is possible to make only with a few Synthesizer tones and a rudimentary Drum Machine such a responding music which could be quite pop compatible". One track found its way onto the legendary Pulse of New York compilation. A few years later, "Holland Tunnel" was included in the European early electronic music compilation series that appeared under the name Flexipop and disappeared shortly thereafter leaving about as little trace as Xex themselves.

What's most surprising about listening to Xex today, if you can manage to do that, is how contemporary the record sounds, more Gravy Train than Ultravox, somewhere between Madonna's Like a Virgin and electro-industrial pioneers Chrome. The production is so effortless it makes Chicks on Speed sound strained and over-produced, aggressively lethargic rap if you can make out what that oxymoron would sound like, pasted loosely onto some broken keyboards with some stupid effects. The lyrics are also at least three decades ahead of their time: Group: Xex contains one of the best collections of pop songs ever written on such topics as animal cruelty

Let's get kitty confused/it's a way to keep us amused/use her like a soccer ball/punch her down the stairs in the hall/here kitty kitty, here kitty kitty/no one ever treats you nice, isn't it a pitty

The wild lifestyles of Catholics:

John the Trappist (chocolate John)/ scared as a rabbit (just like a bunny)/ dressed like a nun (what a queer)/ but they made him kick the habit (the habit)/(…)/
When I grow up (in thirty years)/I wanna be a nun (I wanna be a nun)/I wanna wear black(my favourite colour)/I hear it's a lot of fun (it is a lot of fun!)

The deadly delights of a soviet nerve gas attacks:

Soviet nerve gas is subtle/once it hits there's no time for rebuttal/there's no colour there's no smell/but it works very well/soviet nerve gas is subtle And the heavy price of fashion addiction: Fashion hurts (she can't stop crying)/fashion hurts (she can't stop buying)

But what do we know? It's doubtful if a substantial percentage of the dubious information collected above has any basis in reality. The crumbling cover of the super rare vinyl, clearly hand-glued, provides us with few clues. The severed heads, moustachioed and clean shaven alike, look on with glazed, mongoloid eyes, Devo-style, and don't add up to much beyond the bizarre names printed underneath. One wonders whether someone still picks up postcards from the New Jersey postbox listed on the back. And did Jonboy ever cash in on the electroclash revival and get back in the studio? Maybe he is none other than Gonzales? Or is he struggling in court to get royalties off of the pathetic earnings of the Idaho heavy metal trio that now works under his old band's name? Is that him under the beard, belly, sunglasses and trademark sweaty wifebeater on their website? None of these clues seem to lead anywhere. A fat guy from New York who wears big Hawaiian shirts and runs a radio station near our flat in London where he plays early twentieth century blues swears he saw Xex play live in 1980. He tells us they were hot, but he kind of looks like a chronic liar, so we're not sure we can take his word for it. On our copy of Group: Xex, someone has scribbled the dedication: "to my best brother – David", the sole testimony of a real presence behind the faded pictures. and even that's sort of sad, indicating as it does a combination of dysfunctional family relations and bankruptcy somewhere down the line.Mercifully, someone at WFMU found a dusty copy of the album (while going over the archives from Z to A) and thought it was so fantastic that it demanded immediate re-releasing. They still donŐt have a clue how electropop this noir, bizarre and downright funny could have emerged from late seventies suburban New Jersey, but weirdness needs no reason, just some home made broken synths.

Maybe it's good that there are still things you need to make an effort for, even if that only means waiting in the download queue until someone holding the files is free, or spending precious internet time hunting down preposterous facts about obscure bands. There was nothing stopping us claiming that Xex were a family of escaped circus midgets and we were very tempted – Xex definitely have an air of midget humour to them and we definitely wanted dwarves in their story. In any case you would be hard pressed to find evidence to the contrary. It's gonna take way more than just a candy coloured top of the line luxury iPod to kill the kind of geeky imagination that makes you come up with these moronic fantasies. Even if you have all the information alphabetised, digitised and compressed to a "minimum-minimum", if you're the kind of person who feeds their most compulsive obsessions with music 24/7, you'll probably continue to find narratives of this kind in the sea of disinformation that flows out of misheard lyric fragments and lo-res images shot in the dark of Dutchmen, dwarves and other deviants.

* no cats (or dwarves) have been harmed in the writing of this article.