Here Come The New Brigade: An Interview With Iceage
, March 1st, 2011 12:41
Noel Gardner knows punk like no other - so when he says that Iceage's New Brigade album is one of the finest punk rock records of recent years, you should pay attention. He talks to them about the price of beer in Denmark and weird newspaper headlines
Live photograph courtesy of Frederik Korfix
"It is energy, mad and not least the youth vigorous." Not my words, but those of the Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet, writing breathlessly about New Brigade – the debut album by Iceage, four vigorous youths from Copenhagen who formed in 2008. And then put through an online translator by me. Ekstra Bladet is about the closest thing Denmark has to the Daily Star, although as far as I know it doesn't actively support the notion of groups of extreme right wing football hooligans forming political parties, and isn't owned by a man who should literally be assassinated. All the same, you probably wouldn't expect much from their music criticism, yet I'm with Henrik Queitsch on this one. (He is a board member of the Association Of Danish Music Critics, mind you.) "Just find that they four 18-19 exuberant boys to Iceage amid parody 'ingen future, by forever playing by a intensity and fandenivoldskhed, there's decideret liberating and refreshing." Real talk.
You won't need to speak Danish to read the lyrics to any of the twelve songs on New Brigade, which came out at the start of this year and is, might be, whatever, one of the best punk rock records released in years. (Unlike most people who write that in non-specialist music magazines, I don't mean "one of about three punk rock records I've heard in years," either. I wrote about it a minute ago in my punk and hardcore column I do for The Quietus, so go here instead of making me repeat myself.) They communicate almost wholly in English – on the album, on their debut seven-inch from 2009 which you can still buy from the Escho label, on their blog – but are also given to obfuscation and abstract imagery. In a sense, this gives them a transatlantic kinship with 'mysterious guy hardcore' bands of the last few years (Sex Vid, Dry Rot, Cult Ritual, some other people who probably broke up), but Iceage are a breed apart from this messageboard-bred strain. Their records have production values worthy of being called that, and sometimes tangible bursts of melody.
They even made a video, albeit a fucked up and budgetless one for 'Broken Bone', the most indie-rocker-friendly song on the album. If I said it was kinda like Liars trying to ape Jay Reatard, I wouldn't feel too much like I was playing to the galleries. It's strange, though: when I listen to New Brigade, I hear a band unmoved by chinks of commercial light and writing songs for no-one but themselves and, perhaps, the gaggle of kids in their nameless Copenhagen scene (more of which later).
Iceage don't have any distribution or PR outside of Denmark, although New Brigade will imminently be released on vinyl by US label Dais – previously responsible for various Throbbing Gristle-related archive items as well as younger bands like Cold Cave – and you can get the CD from Tambourhinocerous, a Copenhagen label manned by people from the band Oh No Ono.
I don't specifically want Iceage to 'get big', but they do instil in me a wish for them to be heard by everyone who claims an interest in broadly leftfield modern rock music, which most of the bands I feature in my column don't. I'd also – just putting this out there – like it if people in the UK could walk into a record shop and buy New Brigade. These guys fucking rule, in short, so go fill your face with their gouging and utterly alive no wave punk jams, read the interview below, and laugh at me for making so many of my questions longer than their answers. (Vocalist Elias Rønnenfelt was the man at the other end, although pointed out that they were 'group' answers.)
I'm guessing - maybe wrongly - that the name is something to do with the song by [late-Seventies Danish punk pioneers] the Sods – Peter Peter from that band produced your single on Escho, so there's a link right there. Is he well known as a punk rock producer? Who are some of your favourite old Danish bands? Not many made it over to the UK, I don't think, so my knowledge is pretty poor.
Iceage: No, the name doesn't come from the Sods song 'Ice Age For A While'. We were just brainstorming names and Iceage came up. As for good old Danish punk groups you should check out Kalashnikov (the Ødelæg & Hærg seven-inch is really good), Snipers and Brats (later to become Mercyful Fate).
How is the Danish punk scene right now? Are there lots of good bands, and do people come out to watch overseas touring bands or locals or both or neither? Were there any bands who especially inspired you to start Iceage? Do bands like Gorilla Angreb, Cola Freaks and No Hope For The Kids have a good rep in their home country, as they seem well regarded by the worldwide punk community?
IA: Better than ever. Here's some of the newer bands we like: Skurv, Kolyma, Pregnant Man, Love Potion, Jackman, Even Dwarfs, Red Flesh, Pagan Youth, Sexdrome, Fathom Suns, Girlseeker, Garrotte, and more.
Shows with good local bands tend to be the best in my opinion, although once in a while foreign bands come by and do great shows. And yes, people seem pretty good at coming out to gigs. The last time two times we have played people have been rejected 'cause there couldn't be any more people in the venue.
I've heard it said that you guys are part of a Copenhagen scene called The New Way Of Danish Fuck You. Is this a real thing? What are the things that tie the bands together and what are they saying fuck you to?
IA: It's true that there is a lot of new great bands coming out of Copenhagen, and that we are all friends or know each other in some way or another. Most people involved are pretty annoyed that people are calling it 'New Way Of Danish Fuck You'. That was just something our friend Lukas has tattooed on his leg, not supposed to be the name for the 'scene'. We hope people will come up with something better.
I've never been to Denmark but my friend told me that he paid 11 Euros for a beer recently in Copenhagen. I guess maybe that's extreme, but I find this very scary. Do bar prices have an impact on the punk scene, ie more shows at venues where people can bring their own beer or whatever, instead of bars/clubs? Is there a big culture of getting drunk/fucked up in Danish rock and what's you guys' opinion of that sort of thing (considering that you maybe weren't 18 when you started the band)?
IA: Then he was definitely at the wrong place! At a normal 'bodega' we pay around 19 kr. (£2) or less for a beer. At our release show beers was 10 kr. (£1). And yes, I guess Danish youth drink a lot; it's legal from 16. We have tended to get pretty fucked up before concerts too…
In Danish punk, or Danish music in general, is there a lot of protest music? Songs against the government, the royal family or the establishment, or whatever. I guess a lot of people would say that there's not so much to be angry about in a country with one of the highest standards of living in the world, but Sweden and Finland do pretty well on that front too and both have produced lots of famous, angry hardcore.
IA: In the early 00s there were lots of punk bands singing about those subjects. The most famous of those were probably Paragraf 119 and The Assassinators. I guess some people grew pretty bored of that. Not many are singing about those subjects anymore.
What are Iceage songs about? The lyrics are really cool but hard to understand. Are words or phrases used because of how they sound, rather than what they mean?
IA: Every song is about something. Our lives, what surrounds us, feelings, states we've been in, thoughts.
Subjects include lucidity, sex, brotherhood, time, visions. But it's not our job to explain the songs, and it's kind of hard to give you an answer as the songs concern various subjects.
All your lyrics are in English. Is there any particular reason for this – did it concern you that people outside of Scandinavia might not understand you? Is it more 'expected' that Danish bands (punk or otherwise) sing in one language or the other? Do you get bands singing in Danish for reasons of... not nationalism necessarily but a kind of 'fuck you' to the English language which everyone seems to be expected to understand?
IA: Nah, singing in English just fell to us most naturally. I think lyrics in Danish often sound weird - very direct.
Where did Elias get the name for Marching Church [his murky, noisy solo project with a tape on the Posh Isolation label]? The actual church seems to be based in quite a few countries, but not especially large. Do you consider it to be a black metal project? I've seen it described as postpunk and noise as well. Finally, what's the deal with the Grå Fraktion LP that Marching Church appears on? Almost all the bands are making their debut on this album so is it mostly one-off projects and do you know who's behind them?
IA: I took the name from the lyrics of the Iceage song 'White Rune'. I'm not bothered whether it's black metal or whether it's… I don't know. I don't care about what people call it. It's not supposed to be anything particular. Grå Fraktion was recorded in a bunker over the course of a weekend. Evilblood is the solo project of our guitarist Johan. He wrote a tape and then ditched it. He currently has another project called Megan.
Elias, you also produced a couple of zines last year – what were these about and were they mainly text-based or picture-based?
IA: They're called 22.214.171.124, and are a collection of text, collage, drawings and photos. They also have some contributions from friends. So far I have made two issues but I'm out of copies. I have scanned the second issue, you can have it here.
I get the impression that the band Sexdrome are kind of your closest buddies in rock, as you play a lot of shows together and Loke helped you do the lyrics on 'White Rune' – they have this really cool abstract quality that reminds me of some Bone Awl lyrics. Am I right in thinking this? Who's more popular in Denmark, Sexdrome or you guys (or do most people who like one band like the other too)?
IA: Yes, they have very good lyrics. Loke Rahbek, the singer of Sexdrome, recently released a collection of poems called Pornografisk Værk. Also very good. But that's in Danish. We have probably gotten wider exposure as our music is more accessible, but most of the people who usually go to our shows also go to theirs.
When you play shows, are the crowd about the same age as you or older? I guess you listen to a lot of stuff from before you were born, as the album has an early-80s kind of vibe to it in a way – how did you discover all this stuff? Do you see yourselves as part of the generation that just downloads everything and doesn't buy records?
IA: People are mostly 17 to 23 years old, though some might be younger or older. We download loads of records but we also buy loads of records.
I don't know what you might think about this but when I first heard New Brigade, as well as thinking that it was really great, I thought that it could end up being really popular. I mean not megastar popular but in the same way a band like No Age or Fucked Up is popular. Have many people said this kind of thing about Iceage and what do you think of it? You seem pretty DIY to me but maybe it's just that no-one has offered to be your manager yet, or sign you to a huge record label. Have you had coverage in the 'mainstream media' (magazines, websites etc) in Denmark?
IA: Some guys have offered to manage us, but we have declined as we like to stay in control ourselves. The guys at Escho help with a lot of stuff though. We've had pretty huge coverage in Denmark; we don't really know how it happened, everything just went amok. We've been in every Danish newspaper and on the radio news with headlines such as "Teenage bullies full of anger and anxiety". It's all pretty weird.