Cool and the gang
With a fierce, incendiary debut album, a reputation for menacing, edgy gigs and a frontman who knows how to get a reaction, Iceage are putting the fire back into punk rock. JIM CARROLLgrabs a pick and starts chipping
WHEN ELIAS Ronnenfelt and his friends first started playing music together in Copenhagen, they were simply doing it for kicks. That was about five or six years ago, a time when Iceage, their friends and a bunch of other bands were hanging out in the city in places such as the Ungdomshuset (Youth House) and doing what teenage musicians the world over have always done. Ronnenfelt himself was a particularly early starter and was playing punk rock from the age of 12.
Sometimes, though, one thing leads to another, and a truly great band emerges from all that teen fervour. A plethora of punk bands has come out of that fertile subterranean Copenhagen scene. Acts such as Lower, Skurv and Red Flesh are all worth checking out, but Iceage are the ones who’ve received the bulk of the attention. That’s down, in the main, to a fierce, incendiary and angry debut album, New Brigade, and live shows that are menacing, savage and edgy. Iceage really put blood in the music.
When they made New Brigade, the band had few plans beyond getting their songs on record. “I’m not sure if we were consciously trying to emulate any specific records,” says Ronnenfelt, “but of course many splinters of inspiration from other music found its way into the flesh of the songs. We just start playing and then it might get carried in various directions from there on. I’m not sure if we all know exactly which direction we’re trying to pull, but we’re definitely pulling.”
That Ungdomshuset scene was important for Ronnenfelt and Iceage for many reasons. “It was where I started going to shows, had my first beers and a place you knew you could go as a young, lipstick-wearing teenage boy without getting beaten up.”
It was also instructive in showing youngsters such as Ronnenfelt the importance of alternatives and activism, especially in terms of the events leading up to the police-enforced closure of the house in 2007.
“In the year leading up to the elimination, living in Copenhagen was a great and very exciting time. There was a very strong community vibe around the place I grew up, Nørrebro, with demonstrations, meetings and activities happening all the time. In the end, there was also a sense of fear and panic in the air. It felt as if the entire youth of Copenhagen were gathered to save this house. It culminated in the riots and finally the youth losing the house.”
“I don’t think anything can truly replace Jagtvej 69 [the location of the original the original Youth House], but now there is Dortheavej 61, which is a new youth house. And we have a new warehouse space called Mayhem where Iceage and most of our friends rehearse and do shows.”
It’s interesting to an outsider to see how much traction Danish culture is receiving internationally of late with the likes ofTV shows likesuch as Borgen, The Bridge and The Killing. Perhaps the growing profile of bands likesuch as Iceage and their peers is part of a similar cultural swing?
Ronnenfelt is quick to stick a pin in that pointy-headed theory. “I don’t think we have much to do with any TV series,” he says, “and it’s not like the royal family knows who we are. Though I think all the new bands from Copenhagen sound very much like Copenhagen.”
Before Iceage began to get attention, Ronnenfelt found himself in the limelight because of his hand-made fanzine, Dogmeat. He feels the reaction to some of the drawings in it, which some people thought were racist in tone, was out of all proportion.
“Over-reacted is not the right word, more like tiresome” is how he puts it. “I don’t see things as being that black and white, and there shouldn’t be a set of rules to limit what you can and can’t do. That’s what we have the law and religion for.
“That said, actively being racist or homophobic might get you a beating at Mayhem, even though it doesn’t say so on the flyer. The drawings were not meant as a provocation against PC punks or anyone really. They were scenes of Western views on racism, but a lot of people pushed the wrong button and said I’m pro-racism.”
“I didn’t have any idea of the kind of attention that zine would get; it was something I did 50 copies of on my school photocopy machine. I wouldn’t change anything though, and I believe that anyone making serious fascist accusations over that e-zine is a moron.”
For Iceage, the past 18 months have been both interesting and industrious. They have already done a lot of touring.
“When you’re touring a lot, life on the road becomes like life at home and some days are worse than others. It can be tough and sometimes hard on the psyche if you’re on a long one, but we obviously wouldn’t do it if we didn’t think it was worth it, and I still enjoy being around the other boys as much as I ever did, if not more.”
The plan for now is, well, more of the same. “Putting out the second album, writing the third one, touring,” says Ronnenfelt.
This Iceage has all the makings of being a lengthy era.
Iceage play Belfast’s Limelight 2 on Wednesday, November 21st, and Dublin’s Academy 2 on Thursday, November 22nd