Aural Guerilla was yet another highlight in The Ex’s oeuvre. Upon its international release, the band shouted from their rooftops national boundaries are a product of limited minds. It didn’t satisfy their need and they started exploring fascinating new musical roads for their (double) album that followed two years later. The Dutch band successfully combined their unbridled musical challenges and persuasive power in as many as 34 super adventurous tracks that culminated in their magnum opus: Joggers and Smoggers.
The Ex is an incredibly productive band, and to this day their musical advance remains astounding and exciting. If you have been paying close attention to the band from early on, you may have seen it coming. After the release of their first EP, All Corpses Smell The Same (1979), and their following two albums Disturbing Domestic Peace (1980) and History Is What’s Happening (1982), the Ex emerged as being far more than your ordinary punk band, although nobody could have expected the extraordinary speed of their musical development.
The band challenged themselves to create fascinating songs from their enormous wealth of musical ideas, and they took their time after the release of Aural Guerilla. Joggers and Smoggers was also recorded the ‘old-fashioned way’, in Dolf Planteijdt’s studio – having changed its location and name in the meantime, once Joke’s now ADM’s Koeienverhuurbedrijf (ADM stands for Amsterdam Drydock Company, once a harbour division, now a cultural free-haven). For the album The Ex returned to their original four members: Terrie, Katrin, Luc, and G.W. Sok, however, they have included a long list of guest contributions.
Joggers and Smoggers is an extraordinary album, both adventurous and unparalleled. It’s so full of ideas you are simply blown away during your first listen, and at the same time so intriguing through all it has to offer, you can’t wait to press play again when it ends. The incredibly free and unrestricted compositions resulted in a sheer masterpiece. And masterpieces are created best either when the artist knows exactly where they’re going or if their genius musical mind can roam free; placing Joggers and Smoggers in the latter category.
The songs and compositions on the record’s four sides bounce from furiously intense, stormy punk (the ‘style’ the band is known for) via avant-garde jazz and (European) folk, to noise and dominating brass chaos. Drenched in experimentation, riddled with improvisation, the songs and compositions contain their first lush translations of the band’s World influences they would later go on to impress with on a much larger scale. Joggers and Smoggers maximizes the use of soundscapes, controlled by producers Jeroen and Dolf who gave the album just that bit of oomph.
As if the band’s countless ideas and sounds produced on this album weren’t enough, they were aided by their Sonic Youth friends Lee Ranaldo (Tightly Stretched), Thurston Moore (Gentleman), and Kim Gordon. They delivered their contributions on tape and by telephone (!!). Trumpeter Freddie Meurkerrie who is well-known by The Ex fans, members of the Glasgow band Dog Faced Hermans and Dutch Instant Composers Pool (saxophonist Ab Baars and trombonist Wolter Wierbos), as well as many other guests decided to chip in too.
Joggers and Smoggers is also an album that incorporates recorded band tracks and totally free ‘jams turned into pieces of music’, and it includes submitted musical pieces on tape stitched together with soundscapes, combining those with spontaneously recorded improvised lyrics/sketches. It was recorded as a musical collage, constructed as a breath-taking trip.
From the opening track Humm (The Full House Mumble) (which was indeed hummed), to the energetic At The Gate, the fierce The State of Freedom, and Waarom Niet recited by village elder de Jong (and why not), Shopping Street, Ask The Prisoner embraced by African guitar sounds, as well as overwhelming songs like Kachun-k-pschûh and Crackle Engines Vrôp Vrôp, to free jazz combining city sounds in the album finale Upstairs with Picasso. Everything here, there, and in between is equally brilliant, exceptional, and intriguing.
This album, like the others, brims with political lyrics on social injustice and political transgressions, although perhaps slightly less prominent than before as the music shoots off in every direction, requiring our full attention. We always knew The Ex were among the most interesting bands in postpunk. And yes, they’re Dutch, but this has little to do with it. Truly interesting music has no borders.
At 92 minutes, Joggers and Smoggers is an astonishingly focused yet breathtakingly loose album, and it proves the band’s newly found musical direction was a super interesting choice. Well over 30 years after its release, this album has lost none of its wilfulness and impact. Looking back, it was ground-breaking and inspired countless of bands, worldwide. It’s nothing short of a mystery Joggers and Smoggers escaped widespread public attention, being the masterpiece it is. Let’s rectify that now.