Iceage and the Copenhagen Punk Scene

By Maleika Twisk

Growing up in the musical Beige Age (the 2000s) has been a frustrating experience. What I mean is that the vast majority of music being put out at the moment is eye-wateringly boring and unstimulating. Before you contradict, Uptown Funk is a very good song (if slightly formulaic) but slap base just awakens those obscenely groovy pelvis-dislocating moves, so I stopped listening to it for health and safety reasons. But thank the lord for the emerging Copenhagen punk scene. Turns out the Danes might not be the happiest people in the world, because coming out of their country is some of the most angst-ridden, raw and visceral contemporary music that has hit my ears since The Rat by The Walkmen (listen to it).

The Copenhagen punk scene is incredibly tightly knit, with members mingling in each other’s projects. Bands include Iceage, Vår, Lower, Lust for Youth, Croatian Amor, Marching Church, and Sexdrome. They’ve been associated with the record label Posh Isolation, run by Loke Rahbek who’s in both Vår and Lust for Youth. Recently he’s been giving out his new album in exchange of naked selfies.

The two most successful bands, Lower and Iceage, have since been snapped up by the major American record label Matador Records. It was in the second half of last year that I was scrolling the pages of NME’s New Music section in desperate hope of finding something new that was vaguely interesting that I stumbled across Iceage. They’d released a driving country rock single called ‘Lord’s Favourite’ from their then unreleased third album Plowing into the Field of Love. Thus commenced my quest into the depths of Danish punk.

Iceage are a four piece band who formed in 2008, when they were about 17 years old. Since then, they’ve released three studio albums all sung in English: New Brigade (2011), You’re Nothing (2013) and Ploughing into the Field of Love (2014). My brother Samir best described Iceage’s sound with these wise words: “Chaos. The lead singer sounds like he’s drunk and trying to sing.” It’s all wickedly sharp guitars, accentuated bass cleverly woven into the drums, and a lead singer whom you can’t actually understand through the thick Danish accent, but know deep inside that whatever he’s saying, it’s coming from somewhere deep and ugly. Like many people, my brother has refused my attempt to make him like Iceage because their sound is off-putting to new ears. But, as I said to my little bro, if you just listen a little longer you pick up the musical complexities and feel an overwhelming need to write about their brilliance in school newspapers!

Image is a huge part of the music industry. I suspect a lot the attention awarded to Iceage has been because of how they look: like a boy band put together by Simon Cowell except 122% more good looking. The lead singer in particular, Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, has accumulated a cult following due to his devastatingly good looks. Like the Sex Pistols and Joy Division forty years, Iceage have been accused of flirting with fascist imagery. They’ve been targeted by the media because of their Nordic rune covered album art and the fact that they sometimes sell flick-knives at gigs. This all has been associated with the rampant anti-immigration movement spreading across Scandinavia. I suspect that it’s all a bit of healthy social disobedience and has nothing to do with fascism or racism.

I went to see Iceage live at Ancienne Belgique in December last year. At first, I was baffled by the monstrous queues outside AB; who knew Nordic punk was so popular? So I waited patiently for half an hour only to find that the queue was for Sam Smith (that explained the teenage girls camped out at the front of the line). I was directed by one of the bouncers to a tiny empty backroom. Well I say empty, but there was a poky looking guy with suspiciously bloodshot eyes. The band came on fashionably late and delivered the most exhilarating performance I’ve ever witnessed. They have incredibly good punk posture. The drummer was always in reach of a large goblet of red wine and Rønnenfelt had the swagger of a rock star. Turns out the poky looking guy was chemically altered (which at ISB is called ILLEGALLY altered) and had an incredible amount of energy. Seeing them live was life altering. I swear on my honour that the lead singer looked into my eyes and straight into my soul on at least two occasions. A tip, if you ever have the luck to see Iceage live in a tiny venue like I did, do not take pictures with your iPhone if you’re near the front because Rønnenfelt will swat it to the ground, possibly shattering it.

In conclusion, keep your eyes and ears open for Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s upcoming jazz (?) album This World Is Not Enough from his side-project Marching Church.

How Many by Iceage, crackin’ song:

(the counsel of Zeinab Twisk was consulted for the wording of the Uptown Funk joke)