Cool as ice
New Brigade, the debut album by teenaged Danish band Iceage, is currently my favorite new record of 2011. It’s vaguely reminiscent of some of my all-time favorites, like Wire’s Pink Flag and Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, albums right on the cusp between punk and post-punk. New Brigade has some of the aggressive energy of hardcore and some of the moody atmosphere of early post-punk, but more than anything else, it has good songs—anthemic, catchy, rockin’ songs.
I was floored by the news that Iceage is coming to Reno on July 27. It’s a rare convergence that my new favorite band would come to town—especially since that band is international and up-and-coming—garnering positive reviews in many underground music magazines, websites and blogs for the record and for their high-energy shows. (Many reviews inevitably mention the bloody, battered but grinning photos of fans and band members after concerts.) The band just played its first U.S. show, a sold-out gig in Brooklyn, in June, adding to the surreality of the upcoming Reno show—how often do we get shows this hip?
I recently spoke with 19-year-old vocalist and guitarist Elias Bender Ronnenfelt over the phone—one of the most disjointed and distracted interviews I’ve ever conducted. He was in Copenhagen. I was in Reno. The connection wasn’t the best. He speaks great English—most of the band’s lyrics are in English—but he was very slow formulating his responses to my questions, and there was a lot of background noise. Everything finally made some sense when, after a few minutes, Ronnenfelt said, “I’m on a bike … and I’m almost getting run down all the time, so I have a hard time focusing right now.”
If I have any preconception about the Danes, other than their brooding princes, it’s that they all ride bikes, so it was a nice fulfillment of stereotype.
I got the sense Ronnenfelt is a little annoyed by the constant comparisons of Iceage to bands from more than 30 years ago—like the comparisons I made above.
“Well, I can agree that we play punk music, because I guess it is punk music,” he said. “But I hope it doesn’t come across as nostalgic or retro in any way. I hate that. When music takes hold in a point in another age it just becomes soulless. … I hope that our music, the songs and the music, comes across as more than the genre.”
Part of the appeal of Iceage is that it plays a style of music that has, in recent years, sounded tired—post-punk or punk or, hell, rock ’n’ roll—and makes it sound fresh, young and vital.
“Shows can be good in many ways,” says Ronnenfelt of the band’s no-holds-barred live performances. “I like when stuff happens that hasn’t happened before.”
Ronnenfelt agrees that the members’ youth is an integral part of the band’s sound.
“I won’t be playing this music in five or 10 years,” he said. “I don’t see myself as becoming a musician—like living off being a musician—but I just really hope that I don’t play these songs when I’m older. That would be embarrassing.”
The band is so young and volatile that they’ll either implode and break up within a year or two, or they may cool and mature into a different kind of band and have a long, interesting career. Either way, this won’t be a show to miss. The age may be ice, but the iron is hot.