(Clan of) XYMOX - Medusa 1986 - 1987 (Biography Part 2/5)

poster_difjuz_xymox200pxThe recordings for XYMOX's second album "Medusa" initially proved difficult, when XYMOX went into the studio with unfinished songs and each musician wanting to implement their own ideas. After 10 days in the studio without the completion of even one song, 4AD chief Ivo Watts-Russell was by no means convinced by the material produced so far and beginning to lose patience. [1] (hier zum deutschen Text)

After this wake-up call XYMOX successfully pulled together to work with producer John Fryer. "Medusa" (BAD 613, 1986) became an album of dark atmospheric songs punctuated with occasional psychedelic electro-pop and haunting crescendos ("Louise", "Michelle", "Back Door"). The wrenching "Back Door" is one of the highlights of this masterpiece, its finale grandiose guitar solo making your blood run cold. The elegance and perfection of the 4AD label had left its mark on the music of XYMOX who, with their elegiac melancholia, now bridged a continental link between the Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance. Yet no 12” was pulled from "Medusa";  only “Louise" was released as a 7" in the Netherlands, via Megadisc, with the title track on the A-side and "Michelle" on B-side.

xymox1986_300pxThe remarkable music XYMOX produced on "Clan of XYMOX" and "Medusa" was brought about through the creative interaction of all three band members. Anke described the songwriting at XYMOX in an unruhr-2005 interview as follows: "The 'old' XYMOX was always a combination and working together of three individuals: Ronny, Pieter Nooten, and I. To me, XYMOX was never one of them by themselves, and I consistently believed in the strength of the artistic combination of us three. Sometimes things were kind of rough (and there certainly were good reasons for Pieter to leave a few times before he left for good, and before I did), but there was a magical energy between us which resulted in some great music." [2] This contradicts Ronny, who still claims that XYMOX has never been a band in the traditional sense, but that XYMOX always was "his baby"; that he directed the musical direction [3] and wrote most of the songs. [4] Ronny craved the role of bandleader and tolerated no other people beside him in the spotlight except (and unwillingly), Anke. [5]

Pieter’s contribution to the songwriting and sound of XYMOX has particularly been downplayed by Ronny. Pieter has said: "In the beginning we did it all together. It's true that most of the songs were distilled from my demos. "A Day" , " Stumble and Fall" , "After The Call" , "Equal Ways", but also "Louise", "7th Time", "Medusa" and "Back Door" are all my compositions. I also contributed keyboards to sample material and other songs. Ronny did most of the guitars and vocals, later he got fairly talented in writing. Anka was also very creative, especially with sequencers and samplers and later songwriting. She also got very demotivated at some point. Her talent got totally snowed under by Ronny's rampant ambitions." [6] Later, when Pieter had left XYMOX, and with the release of his superb solo album "Sleeps With The Fishes", his obvious musical abilities became apparent.

Clan of XYMOX - Michelle (Belgium TV 1987 mit Szenen aus "A Day" - first video version)

On the European tour following the release of the "Medusa" album, XYMOX played for the first time  with a live drummer, Wim Anvers (on synth pads), bringing the band to five permanent live members. Frank: "This was a very exiting period .. It was like being on a roller coaster. Before I really knew what was happening we were touring in the USA ... It was a very hectic time with many ups and downs but I still look back on those years with Clan of XYMOX in the mid eighties as one of the highlights of my musical career". [7]

The next Clan of XYMOX release, in the summer of 1987, appeared on the legendary 4AD compilation "Lonely Is An Eyesore" (CAD 703) for which a new version of "Muscoviet Mosquito" was recorded, this time produced by John Fryer. For this compilation 4AD’s Ivo Watts-Russell asked each 4AD band to contribute one song, with Nigel Grierson producing a video for each song (Throwing Muses and XYMOX had other producers). The result was a beautifully packaged snapshot of the 4AD catalog at this time, with a number of classic tracks from the bands involved (including Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, This Mortail Coil, Colourbox, Dif Juz ...). "Muscoviet Mosquito" was released by Virgin in France as an one-sided promotional single.

Shortly afterwards, Pieter left XYMOX, unnerved by the conflict with Ronny. He worked by himself on new songs and sent the tapes to Ivo Watts-Russell who was enthusiastic and suggested a collaboration with guitarist Michael Brook. [8] The resultant "Sleeps With The Fishes" (4AD, 1987) was a quiet album of songs of delicate, beautiful soundscapes. An epochal work, which set new standards in the ambient genre.

ankewolbert1987The departure of Pieter, as a major songwriter, left a gap in XYMOX that needed to be filled. Ronny was looking for new creative input, which he found in the person of Bert Barten: "I was having dinner with a friend in a restaurant in Amsterdam and Ronnie and Anke were sitting at a table next to us. We heard each other talk about music. We turned to each other and started talking about composing etc. The next day we met in the studio. Ronny told me he had made two albums for 4AD records. We listened to them together and for me it was one of the best music I heard for a long time. It had a very international sound and it connected straight away to the gothic vibes I was in at that time. The trouble all starting bands have is that they make a lot of demos and as soon as the first album is out they can make a second album. But at the third album the demos run out and it becomes difficult to write new material, especially under time pressure from a record company. Ronny was searching for new material and after listening to each other’s material we decided to start working together on new songs from that time on". [9]

The first result of this collaboration with Bert Barten was the "Blind Hearts" EP (4AD, BAD 711), produced by John A. Rivers (i.a. producer of Dead Can Dance, Love & Rockets), recorded at Woodbine Studios and released by 4AD at the end of 1987. With this release, the band returned to the original "XYMOX" name. This change can of course also be seen as marking the change of direction in their sound: this12", poppy with such abandon – extremely unusual for a 4AD publication - was released barely a year after XYMOX had created their blueprint for dark, ambient wave with the album "Medusa". This musical development Bert Barten also felt responsible for, as a new co-songwriter, "The ideas and melodies I brought to the table were more accessible, more commercial than the material XYMOX had written before. Ronny and I used to argue a lot about it. It gave XYMOX a push in another direction". [9]

clanofxymox_blindhearts_poster234The band’s characteristic combination of elegiac synth structures, heavily distorted guitars and Ronny Moorings’s emotional vocals were presented using new, danceable pop structures clearly freed from the heaviness inherent to Wave. Melody Maker picked "Blind Hearts" as Single of the Week, in the U.S. it peaked at number one on the import charts, and consequently laid the groundwork for the successes XYMOX were yet to celebrate.

Music manager Raymond Coffer (of Love & Rockets fame) became aware of the Dutch band and took them under contract. Soon after, he arranged an US tour, after which XYMOX was offered a choice of contracts by major US labels. With the American market in sight, they signed to Wing Records, a subsidiary of PolyGram, and left 4AD after three years and two impressive albums.

Clan of XYMOX live@Maassluis/NL (~1986/1987)

part 1: Subsequent Pleasures (1983 - 1985)
part 3: Imagination (1988 - 1991)
part 4: Metamorphosis (1992 - 2001)
part 5: Vaselyn, Hypercycle, Born for Bliss (Post-XYMOX)

[1] Ronny Moorings: The Xymox-Story - in: Gothic II, 2002, ISBN 3896023969
[2] Mic: Anka Wolbert "In a mad devotional style" - unruhr.de, 2005, retrieved: 27.02.2011
[3] Dennis Wollnik: Clan of Xymox - Orkus, 06/1997
[4] Christophe Labussière: Clan of Xymox - Prémonition, 2003,  http://www.premonition.org/premor.php3?lien=actu/actu.php3X1Xactuid=219003&ta=10, retrieved: 27.02.2011
[5] Maxymox: Pieter Nooten - DSide.it, 2008, http://www.thedside.it/interviste/int65.asp, retrieved: 27.02.2011
[6] Mic: Pieter Nooten "To be honest I never listened to pop music" - unruhr.de, 2010, retrieved: 27.02.2011
[7] Phil: Frank Weyzig (Born for Bliss, White Rose Transmission etc.) - gothicrock.ru, 2010, http://gothicrock.ru/din/e107_plugins/content/content.php?content.264, retrieved: 05.03.2011
[8] Jeff Keibel: "Moving Forward: A conversation with 4AD founder Ivo Watts-Russell" -  Facing The Wrong Way, 2009, http://www.fedge.net/ftww/interviews-ivo_03.html, retrieved: 27.02.2011
[9] Mic: Bert Barten (ex-XYMOX, NYX) "Twist of Shadows" - unruhr.de, 2010, retrieved: 27.02.2011

unruhr-Interview Ronny Moorings 2004
unruhr-Interview Anka 2005
unruhr-Interview Pieter Nooten 2006
unruhr-Interview Pieter Nooten 2010
unruhr-Interview Bert Barten 2010
unruhr-Tongrube: XYMOX - Blind Hearts