Princes of Denmark
by Kevin J. Elliott

Presently, not much is known about Iceage besides the fact that their underage punk revolution is causing quite a stir in the quartet’s native Denmark. Whether they’re playing dumb or keeping mum about what they do and how they do it, the best possible angle from which to approach Iceage’s incendiary debut, New Brigade, is one that allows for an entirely new jargon in the punk lexicon. One could calculate that the group—Dan Kjær Nielsen on drums, Johan Wieth on guitar, Elias Bender Rønnenfelt on vocals and guitar, and Jakob Tvilling Pless on bass—spent their tween years stumbling over everything from Wire to Fugazi and onto Refused and early Liars, perhaps even a Pavement record (or something equally slacked and scruffy from the raging ’90s), but such fuzzy math is unhelpful in absorbing the ever-shifting current that surges through the brief New Brigade. It’s an album artistic in purpose and design, but born out of boredom and dripping with nihilism, hope and youthful energies. As cliched and tied to their forefathers as it sounds, Iceage is the shape of punk to come. That claim may sound premature until you actually hear the sonic assault crafted on New Brigade. Songs like “White Rune” and “Rotting Heights” are built with sharp, thrilling riffs mined from a hardcore garage party, but end up drifting into a woozy realm that reveals the band to be more shambolic and riotous—not to mention incredibly melodic—than stock punk. The whole affair should be buried in mountains of praise, as there’s a feeling throughout the record that something this spontaneous may never happen again for the band.

While both controversial (for their violent live shows) and glazed with praise in Denmark (currently the country’s premiere musical export), they have yet to even touch ground on these shores. All of that is about to change once What’s Your Rupture? issues New Brigade, after the first pressings on Dais were snatched up in record time, and the group debuts at the Northside Festival in June. In a communal stroke of solidarity mirroring the engaging spirit of New Brigade, my interview was with a band that would only answer questions as a band. Through an e-mail exchange, I learned as much about Iceage as I possibly could without ruining the mystery.

Were you all in bands before Iceage? How did the current incarnation of the band come about and how long have you been playing together?

We have played in different punk bands since we were 12–13, mostly with each other, but nothing that you or anybody else has heard about. We started rehearsing and writing the songs we play now with Iceage in late 2008, not really with a purpose to start a real band, more just to pass time. But we found the songs we started making worthy to present to people.

When it comes to describing New Brigade, the first word I think of is “urgent.” I’m curious to know a little about how you write songs and how they come together as a band. Is it something you labor over, or is it more of an organic, spontaneous burst?

We can’t just spit out songs. We spend much time finding the right riffs and melodies. Usually one of us has made the verse and chorus of a song. Then we try to play it together and improve it. Next time we rehearse, someone might have come up with another part for the song that fits. I guess it’s spontaneous in the sense that it’s all ideas that have popped into our heads all of a sudden, but we don’t use just any idea we get and only pick what we think is relevant. I don’t present a melody to the band unless I have had it in my head for at least a couple of weeks and still think it’s good. But of course we also make fast decisions when there is no doubt that they are right. Also, we don’t do jamming.

And recording? One thing that sets New Brigade apart from a lot of other punk and hardcore records is the fidelity. Is there a lot of thought and process when you recorded the album?

Not really, only to play the songs as precise and with as much energy as possible. We chose to record in an actual studio because that felt like the right thing to do for these songs. We recorded the songs with all of us playing together at the same time, with no overdubs. We spent three or four days in the studio—I can’t remember.

Being so young, do you find you have a hard time playing shows in Denmark and making a name for yourself amongst your older contemporaries?

No. In the start we had to put up our own shows because nobody knew we existed, but then slowly we started to get more and more offers to play shows. We also still put our own shows up too, though. When New Brigade was released, every fucking newspaper wrote about us, and we were even in the news, so we haven’t had a hard time making a name for ourselves.

I hear a lot of hardcore influence in what you do, and the closest comparison I can think of is the early Crass records, especially given the newness of your sound and what sounds like an overt philosophy. Are they an inspiration? If not, what has been the motivating inspiration for what you do?

We have all listened to Crass, and they are a band who we admire. I don’t know whether they’ve been an inspiration. Most of the time we don’t know who our inspirations are. I don’t think we have ever talked to each other about what we wanted to sound like. The last thing we want is for someone to think we are trying to recreate some specific era. That’s a mistake a lot of bands nowadays make.

And your logo might have something to do with it. Does it have a particular meaning? Is there a political or philosophical force that drives Iceage?

The logo is an “I” on top of an “A.”

I’m sure being from Copenhagen, you might get asked about Freetown Christiania quite a bit. Is there a sense of pride having that community as part of your city or is it something you guys are against?

We’re not proud of Christiania. It started out as a good thing, and still is in many ways. Now it is controlled by the Hells Angels and the gangs, from which we can buy hash.

I read that a Danish newspaper referred to you as “teenage bullies full of anger and anxiety.” What exactly is that referring to?

This. (Be sure to translate the page.)

And it looks like your shows are pretty riotous. Is there an element of violence that you encourage at your shows?

We only encourage it if it is something that feels like a natural reaction to our concert. If we were playing hardcore in the vein of Madball or something like that we wouldn’t be honored if someone moshed because that’s the standard custom to do at that kind of show. That’s routine, no emotion. We feel honored that we can induce violence in people, because we play post-punk related music and people don’t usually react violently to that kind of music. We assume it must be because it feels natural for the people who do it. Your fans are called “victims?” Where does that term come from? Do you think of yourselves as confrontational?

No, we do not see our audience as victims. I assume you’re talking about the guy with the bloody head on our blog with the word victim written beside. He’s called Emil and he was a victim in the sense that he didn’t take part in the violence, but he got pushed into the crowd and then he banged his head into his bottle or a person and broke his head. I think he had 10 stitches.

Overall, I feel though your music is cathartic and aggressive, it’s got a positive and very creative attitude throughout it. So that leaves me with my final question: what is the New Brigade?

At some points earlier in our lives, we felt alone a lot. We don’t do that anymore. The New Brigade is our growing circle of like-minded people.