Monday, 8 July 2013


Iceage  |  Il Motore

June 18, 2013 – “This song’s called Ecstasy,” spoke Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, lead singer of the Danish punk band Iceage. He turned to his fellow members, three dressed down youngsters, calm faced, holding their instruments at the ready. Elias arched his guitar to the dimly lit ceiling of Il Motore. The crowd stood silent. I could see the anticipation on all of their faces. If I had a mirror, perhaps my mug would have looked the same. Four openers had walked on that stage, and played deafening hardcore rock to a docile crowd. Everyone was saving their energy for this. We all knew what was to come.

“This song’s called Ecstacy,” and we knew it would be. Elias let his guitar swing to his side. With one strum, a barrage of distorted guitars. The drum behind them all banged with little regard for traditional rhythm; it wasn’t so much keeping the beat as beating the other musicians into submission. Ecstasy is the perfect primer for Iceage’s particular brand of punk: they aren’t creating ordered music, but pure chaos.

Out of that swirling vortex, Elias’ voice arises. At first, it seems disinterested, but you can tell that his defeated tone shows signs of a profound struggle. The deafening music has betrayed him, but nevertheless he continues to sing. “Pressure, pressure, oh god no” he screams, while the guitars and drums pounds him into the dust, “can’t take this pressure.” This is the genius of Iceage: they realize the ability to undermine yourself can be your art’s greatest strength. If one listens closely, one can hear that their music is human, fallible. 

Listening to Ecstasy I am reminded of the classic image of the storm in Shakespeare’s King Lear. The titular king, cast out by all of his kin, steps in the middle of a tempest. He screams in agony to the very wind. He has lost everything, and therefore, has nothing left to lose. In this moment, the storm is just as much a part of Lear, as it is against him. The same is true for Iceage. Behind this violent punk, there is just a lonely boy crying. Like Shakespeare’s storm, the music is merely the other side of this inner angst. The violent expressions of punk music are born out of the widespread alienation of contemporary society. I see it constantly in the crowd – I feel it in myself. 

There is, however, a flipside to this anger: it can be actualized outside of music. At the end of their sublime performance of Ecstasy, Elias spun around and cracked the head of his guitar over a woman besides the stage. Her friend and others rushed to make sure she was okay. Elias motioned to the sound guy that he needed a new guitar – no apology, not even a second glance to the woman he had just potentially given a concussion. His cool demeanour wasn’t shaken, not even for a moment. He stared, like his fellow band members, to the unidentifiable centre of the crowd. They were, of course, maintain an image – one that, I would argue, betrays their music. 

I know this already sounds accusatory, but it is not my intention to put anyone on trial. I don’t know Elias, or any of the other members of the band. From the interviews I’ve read and watched, they seem nothing but polite individuals. This is precisely my point: I don’t believe the actions taken on stage to be committed by an individual – rather, I believe ignoring the woman was an appraisal of an image, rather than an expression. 

There is a hierarchy of imagery any band can choose from to complement their music. With Iceage, the band draws on the tradition laid out by both punk and post-rock icons like Iggy Pop and Ian Curtis. Elias’ smug stage presence emulates a strung out Pop, while his calm demeanour channels Curtis. My entire vision of the band was changed. I did not imagine these calm, generic rockers when I heard exuberant tracks like "You're Blessed" and In "Haze". Watching Elias perform centre stage, posing like Jesus Christ Superstar, I am reminded of the centrepiece track on their second album, "Morals". In the song Elias asks us, “Where hides Jesus?” mocking ubiquitous Christian orthodoxy of his society. But here I am, watching a boy’s best impression of him. 

Morals is a slow burn song. It starts with the guitars and drum strumming the same bar in unison, like the march of a large army, and then builds to a climatic finish, where the repetition of the song is broken, and the musicians break free through their music. Elias asks us, “Where’s your morals?” After the incident with the woman and the guitar, I could have asked them the same thing. 

“If I could,” Elias sings, “Leave my body then I would.” It is precisely in that lyric that I think the drive to dress and behave like other, mythical people arises. We want to deny our own individuality and accept the commercial identity of an older tradition. It is a shame, I think, because Iceage is a band with a sound all its own – the same could not be said for their persona. Selecting the imagery of your band should not end at "cool". When we take on imagery, whatever the kind, we must beware of its origin, context, and implications.  More importantly, if your art is a reaction against alienation, make sure you don’t perpetuate it yourself. 


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