Danish punks, Iceage, prove their valor one aggressive anthem at a time
Iceage isn’t Bruce Wayne multiplied by four, per se. The bandmates don’t lead double lives. They don’t wear protective suits with built-in abs. And they certainly don’t have capes blowing in the wind behind them (if they did wear capes, they’d be sweat-matted and sticking to their skinny jeans).
The Copenhagen-bred twenty-somethings do, however, thrive in the darkness of their hard-hitting rock, instilling hope and admiration in fans, which includes the “Godfather of Punk” himself, Iggy Pop, who once spoke of Iceage in an ABC Radio interview: “It’s not easy to be that dark. A lot of people that try to express negative energy sort of just flail; they kind of come off like hamsters or something, where the more they try, the sillier it is.”
But every enigmatic and powerful hero also has a few nonbelievers, and in Iceage’s case, these are people who take Iggy Pop’s “negative energy” compliment in the opposite direction, scrutinizing not the actual music, but the band’s other artistic choices—like when they briefly sold switchblade knives with an Iceage insignia or donned cloth face masks with pointed hoods in the “New Brigade” video.
Asked how it feels when people focus on aspects of the band that have nothing to do with their music, guitarist Johan Wieth says, “Well, it’s a poor thing.” He doesn’t sound vehement. His tone is matter-of-fact, and his cadence is fluid, carrying words both candid and carefully chosen.
“A lot of people always talk about negativity in reference to us and what we do, and I think it’s actually a common misinterpretation because it’s not about negative emotion, it’s just about emotion,” he explains. “And then because your way of expressing yourself seems aggressive, the emotion itself must be something vile—I think that’s not true.”
It’s important to remember that Iceage is a group of childhood friends. Since kindergarten, Wieth knew Dan Kjær Nielsen (drums), Jakob Tvilling Pless (bass), and of course Iceage’s phenomenal frontman, Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, who bares his soul with such a lack of inhibition, both sonically and physically when performing, that he’s often compared to Joy Division’s Ian Curtis. No, these friends don’t cultivate evil, Wieth reiterates when discussing his favorite part about being in Iceage. “I get to create something beautiful with people that I love,” he says. “And something meaningful, at least for the four of us.”
When paired with Rønnenfelt’s blaring yet lyrical language—introspective and self-defeating to an impressive degree—Iceage’s wild and volatile music resonates hard and quick, making all 28 minutes of the band’s sophomore record, You’re Nothing, released last February, “something beautiful.”
You’re Nothing’s bizarre beauty grows with each listen. Guitars get louder, drums roll with a startling acidity, and Rønnenfelt’s vocals become richer as they get raspier, as if he’s mastered how to sing without breathing. The disconnect one feels from one’s body and the subsequent desire to break free from it is a harrowing and breathtaking theme winding throughout You’re Nothing, captured most brilliantly halfway through the LP on the piano-laden “Morals” (“If I could / leave my body then I would / bleed into a lake / dashing away / disappear”). But then it all comes back to the title track itself and the repetition of the line “you’re nothing,” which, ironically, makes you want to be something. Suddenly Wieth’s earlier characterization of Iceage’s music makes total sense: “it’s not about negative emotion, it’s just about emotion.”
“I hope they think it’s really good music,” Wieth says of listeners. “I don’t know what it can do for them and what they want it to do for them. If it makes them happy, that’s great. If it makes them sad, that’s fine too—just if they feel something.”
So what does Wieth do to put himself in a good mood? “I drink a cup of coffee, have a cigarette, and watch a movie. That’s probably what makes me happy again,” he says. As you might have guessed, he takes his coffee black.
Iceage performs at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 8, at the Catalyst Atrium, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $10/adv, $14/door. For more information, call 423-1338.