It’s not often that a Danish band of arty punk rockers barely into their 20s makes an international impact, but that’s just what happened when Iceage dropped their startling first album on an unsuspecting public in 2011. New Brigade proved an astonishing debut, as contagious and thrilling as it was experimental and challenging. Its 12 short, sharp shocks posing as songs pulsed with the anarchic fury of hardcore, the insouciance of youth, and the expansive, experimental edge of the best post-punk. And look for the hype machine to rev up yet again when Iceage releases its follow-up, You’re Nothing, on February 19th – this time on esteemed indie label Matador, home to the likes of Interpol, Cat Power, and Sonic Youth.
While just as sonically brutal as its predecessor, You’re Nothing also reveals new dimensions to Iceage’s aural assault, from the (gasp!) piano on the melancholic quasi-ballad “Morals” to the warped feedback haze and anguished, slurred vocals announcing “Ecstasy.” “I wanted to give the song a feeling similar to being on ecstasy,” explains Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, Iceage’s frontman-guitarist. “One thing a lot of people don’t get is that the feeling we want to provoke is more about being in the eye of the tornado, as opposed to actually being the tornado. Fast drums and loud guitars are the frame, not the picture; and this time, we tried not to write lyrics in unbreakable code.”
“We don’t have a strict idea of where we want this to go,” adds Iceage guitarist Johan Surrballe Wieth. “We’re more open to trying things out, and moving even further from being a punk band. Then again, I’m not sure we ever had any boundaries.”
Due to the fact that Iceage seemingly sprang from nowhere – along with an often prickly, unforthcoming attitude in interviews that’s as icy as Scandinavian winters – a mystique has evolved around the band, much to the annoyance of its members. “We don’t particularly try to be mysterious,” claims Rønnenfelt. “It’s just some things – like personal stuff, and the ideas behind our musical actions – we don’t feel necessary to put out there.” There’s even been speculation that Iceage is some kind of manufactured indie noise-rock boy band. “People can accuse us of whatever they want to,” Rønnenfelt says. “Some people think we’re pretentious or fake, and it doesn’t really bother me; then there are those who actually like our band and don’t get it, either – and that’s probably worse. It still won’t change anything about what we actually are.”
What Iceage actually are, in fact, are longtime childhood friends who bonded over music at an extremely young age, growing up together in Copenhagen. (Iceage usually write lyrics in English, although “Rodfæstet” from You’re Nothing is actually in the members’ native Danish.) Rønnenfelt, Wieth, and drummer Dan Kjær Nielsen “all met when we were 11 or 12 years old, and then we started playing a bit together at 13,” Rønnenfelt says; bassist Jakob Tvilling Pless joined a short time later. “Our initial – and current – ambition was to play music as friends,” notes Wieth. “Actually, ‘ambition’ might be too strong a word.”
“We didn’t really start with any ambitions – even to start a band,” says Rønnenfelt. “We just started playing together because a friend had to store a drum kit and some amps at Jakob’s place.” Soon after, Iceage became a fixture in Copenhagen’s underage punk scene, distinguished by improvised local venues and self-released music. That all changed, however, with the immediate notoriety of New Brigade. “We decided to put out a record of what we were already doing, and the world simply joined in,” Wieth says.
While Iceage has come a long way from its homegrown punk roots – the band starts a major North American tour on March 20th – they try to maintain that spirit in everything they do to this day. “We aren’t a DIY band – we don’t put out our own records, and don’t set up our own shows,” Wieth says. “We can’t claim to be politically correct. Still, everything we make as a band, we want to do ourselves. We want to stay in control of every creative outlet.”
“People can take what we do for granted,” Rønnenfelt continues. “What’s important is that we don’t.”