Zagreb’s KSET, though not sold out, was nicely filled when Colin Stetson’s Ex Eye opened this year’s ZEZ Festival with a bang. Or a series of bangs, because Ex Eye’s drummer Greg Fox definitely attracted the most attention.

Ex Eye are, as they said at the beginning of the show, “from all over the place”. Grouped around the well-known saxophonist Colin Stetson, the band has released one album so far (self-titled, Relapse Records, 2017). They are promoted as playing post-metal with a sax, but actually, most of the time, the music they make can only be classified as experimental.

What characterizes experimental music? In regular music you have a pattern (you can also call it rhythm or melody) that is first established and then broken. The breaking of the pattern is done repeatedly, resulting in another, more complex pattern. In experimental music chaos prevails, with a pattern emerging only now and then. There are no traditional songs or melodies, the instruments are often not played in a traditional way, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t see or recognize anything in the music. Experimental music manages to express convincingly what the lyrics or melodies of traditional music often cannot communicate: basic instincts, primal fear, confusion and chaos. The sounds that Collin Stetson extracted from his saxophones reminded me often of animal fights, animal mating rituals, of life-threatening danger and of the most basic principle there is on earth, the survival of the fittest.

Stetson, who has worked with Tom Waits, Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and almost anybody else you can think of in alternative music and jazz, stood in the middle of the set. Drums behind him, guitar and synth to his right and left. He played two saxophones, bass and alto, and while all musicians create Ex Eye’s incredible and mighty sound together, Shahzad Ismaily’s synth being a very important part of the mixture, the guitar might have gone a bit under, and the drummer Greg Fox might have stolen the show. In the most intense moments, you got the impression that Greg was drumming for his life and that he wanted to get out of his set all it’s got to give. Playing like that is obviously physically exhausting and the band had to take short breaks a couple of times. They played for about an hour. Playing longer was probably impossible.

The supporting local Magickal Wow Band, newly formed and consisting chiefly of members of Seven That Spells, had placed their drummer and his kit on stage, while the rest of the band members (bass, guitar and synth) had positioned themselves in front of the stage. The drums, powerful, repetitive and energetic, dominated their twenty-minute show as well. Together with the bass the drums were the backbone of the band’s sound, while the guitar and the synth added a more experimental character, but with a recognizable psychedelic feel.

All in all, a great evening.

(Review Slavica, Photos Joza Bolonic)