Hailing from South River, New Jersey, the electro group xex put out just one record, the stellar 1980 LP, Group: xex. The no guitars/all-synthesizers band lasted just a few short years, falling off the radar by the early ‘80s and languishing in obscurity until the late ‘90s, when their album was—by chance—re-discovered.
xex (yes, it’s supposed to be lowercase) was formed in 1978 by three high school students, simply for their own amusement. By 1980, the project had become a more serious thing, with the unit expanding to a quintet. In August of that year, they recorded the material that would make up their debut LP. Pressing up just 1,600 copies and assembling the package by hand, the self-released Group: xex came out in November.
The group’s lyrical subject matter is largely a means for social commentary, in which the members of xex sing about consumer culture, suburban conformity, organized religion, automated technology, the surveillance state, the rat race of life, and the threat of nuclear war. What makes Group: xex such an awesome album is that it’s a thought-provoking and super-fun record, filled with catchy songs, in which the band effortlessly blends the robotic stiffness of DEVO, and the electro coldness of the Normal and Gary Numan, with the liveliness of the B-52s. There’s a level of sophistication here, but still the air of outsider art.
There’s nary a clunker on Group: xex, but the first song is the best.
Pure electro goodness. Dig the hooky “okay” refrain.
Classic cold war-era track. Good thing we don’t have to worry about the Russians anymore, right?
There’s plenty of black humor on the LP, but it doesn’t get any darker than on this one. For anyone who’s ever had it up to here with their feline pal.
In late 1980, after losing a member, xex recorded their second album. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the dough to put it out, so the record was shelved. Around this time, Group: xex had sold out, and though they received their fair share of positive local press, the album failed to make much of an impact elsewhere.
It was during the previous year that xex got a glimpse of their fate. The unit had managed to get their demo tape into the hands of someone at RCA, and though the label dug it, they still rejected the band. In their reasoning, they gave xex the biggest—yet ultimately useless—compliment a young group could receive: “You’re 20 years ahead of your time.” Though the kudos wouldn’t result in a record deal, those words would prove to be prophetic.
xex were essentially lost to the ages until 1998, when a DJ at the beloved community radio station, WFMU, came across Group: xex in their music library. This discovery led to the authorized reissue of the record in 2004 on CD, complete with six of the songs in demo form. In 2011, the original 12-track album was reissued on LP, CD, and digital formats by Dark Entries Records. Around this time, the master tapes to xex’s unreleased second record were unearthed by the label and released on LP in 2013 as xex: Change. Though it lacks the immediate appeal of Group: xex, the production is more hi-fi, and with the addition of new synthesizers, an evolution was captured on tape. Even down a member, xex were still moving forward.
The xex: Change package includes a 35-minute live DVD recorded at Hurrah, a dance club in New York City, on April 9, 1981. The video is embedded below for your viewing pleasure. So cool to watch the band perform—something I never thought I’d see.