Chapter 33

Pixieland - Where All The Dead Jazz People Go

" The endless legacy of the past to the present is the secret source of human genius."

Honore de Balzac




Upstairs, post-gig at The Cafe Damberd, Ghent, July 1985. It's mid-way through that year's Gentse Feesten, and the Ether in Ghent is particularly warped, the collective mood somewhat circumspect. Just last night, in the middle of a massive storm, an electrician has died, electrocuted while trying to cope with a deluge of water down the side of one of the stages.

An interview is taking place, with Birgit Virnich of the West German Radio Station WDR.

The album "Shove it!" has been released and a tour of France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland beckons. Over in one corner of the cavernous attic Louis is trying to master the mouthpiece and fingering of a newly acquired trumpet. Gene is similarly pushing himself outside his comfort zone, as always. He is busy learning how to extricate unearthly noises from a baritone saxophone, his own recent acquisition.

Xero is a tad introspective, deep in thought following his own brush with death - his own electrocution earlier in the evening by the faulty pandemoniphone.

©barbara christina wuellenweber

"It's no good" he says, sitting back in his chair, shaking his head and ruefully surveying the dials and wires of his Creation. "It'll have to be pensioned off. Either that or re-named The Death Pandemoniphone."

Birgit's friendly manner helps the three of them to feel at ease, and during the course of a couple of hours of chatting and taping, she records several interesting conversations for posterity.

BV: "Could you see what you're doing as a fashion that people might take to and that you could reach something like 'cult' status?"

Xero: " could be but - I don't know - I mean, it's a bit tricky really. We're having it here in Ghent 'cause we've played here a lot - people expecting things now where they didn't before. They expect it to be different and wonderful and completely separate from the last time every time they see it and of course it isn't really. I mean, we do 'compositions' which stay more or less the same - the important parts - the improvising - the tunes are whatever they are: funny or vicious or sad or happy. But a lot of people expect it to be like the first time they ever had an orgasm every time...."

Interview-orgasm by solomonrobson


BV: "You pick a lot of things up from scrapyards?"

Xero: "Yeah, I make instruments out of junk, hence the name of the music really."

BV: "Do you like that name?"

Gene: "Yeah!"

Xero: "Yeah....well....a lot of people have always called it 'punk jazz' here. With this group. In Europe. I don't know who started it (it wasn't us) - but somebody started it in a review and they all call it that now, and put it on posters and things. But we do play some 'funk' as well from time to time - so that's, like, 'jazz funk'. So it's, like, 'jazz funk' and 'punk jazz' and we use a lot of (sighs) found objects so JUNK seems quite appropriate.......if you ask me."


Interviewjunkscrapyards by solomonrobson

©barbara christina wuellenweber

"....That sort of attitude I think is one of the things that makes us try to do new things as much as we can. It's always in our minds to try to do things differently - or to try to do the whole thing radically differently - but that's the thing that we can do, cause we've made it up. The music that we play as a group, we can make all the rules up for it. We can do, if we want to, a country and western night. Cause noone can say ' ah you're a heavy metal band and you have to do this and do that for 25 years '. I mean, we won't do anything like that. We can play any tune we want. Either make em up or 'find' one that someone else has made up and it 'becomes' ours.

We can borrow from any style we fancy at any time. So...'cult' - I don't know. I suppose you could, but it's probably not narrowly defined enough to be brilliant for a 'cult' thing."


InterviewAttitudeCult by solomonrobson

Xero Slingsby gave us an invaluable insight into the true trajectory of genius and something fleetingly, instantaneously intangible that some people refer to as "Jazz". When asked all-too-precious questions about Genres or Techniques or Musicianship, he would always shrug his shoulders and play down any suggestions that he might be a bit Special by saying that all he did was blow down things and wiggle his fingers around. And all Gene and Louis did was hit things and pluck things, respectively. When he made a mistake, he reckoned the best method of dealing with it was to repeat it a few times so that everyone would think he had intended it all along. He was proud of finally working out what all of the keys on his saxophone did, bar one.

"That one there - I'm not quite sure what that one does."

©barbara christina wuellenweber



Xero often railed against locking music up in "serious" institutions such as Music Colleges and Jazz Societies and against agonising over the Meaning of it all. To Slingsby, music was a thing of the people and for the people and was, most of all, to be Enjoyed. All of that soulless "trad" jazz and dixieland, and all of that arty, wanky, self-important "Modern Jazz" stuff, to Xero that was the music of the hell realms, on continuous loop. His favourite retort to those that waffled on about Jazz was "Jazz is Dead! I killed it"

Wherever Xero is now, you can be sure he'll be playing "Pixieland, where all the dead jazz people go" and there will be much jumping about, whooping and hollering, lots of sweating and smiles all round.