Elias Bender Ronnenfelt of Iceage on Copenhagen DIY, gear and zine controversy
The members of Iceage, from Copenhagen, Denmark (due tonight at Rhinoceropolis), are all under the age of 22, but in its relatively short time together, the band has garnered a buzz for the sonic savagery of its live shows and the harrowingly resonant emotional tenor of its music. Its debut album, New Brigade, recalls the haunted desperation and urgency of early Joy Division and the nervier end of Wire, with none of the rough edges sanded off.
With clear connections to the experimental-music scene in Copenhagen, Iceage straddles the worlds of noise and punk rock in a way that is similar to, but sonically very different, from the bands that came out of the Fort Thunder scene in Providence, Rhode Island, in the '90s -- the kinds of bands you're likely to find on the 31G imprint. We recently spoke with singer and guitarist Elias Bender Rønnenfelt about DIY and noise in Copenhagen, gear, and a controversy surrounding his zine.
Westword: Aaron Miller of the Bleak Environment label booked your show at Rhinoceropolis, an internationally renowned DIY/warehouse venue in Denver. Is that sort of underground-music world and the culture that surrounds it part of your experience as a band and as people?
Elias Bender Rønnenfelt: Yeah, there's a place we play a lot called Mayhem. Lots of good punk and noise shows.
A bit about Danish punk bands has been getting out lately. Can you tell me about some of the noise projects going on?
Copenhagen has really blossomed into a great noise scene. There's a lot of stuff in the underground and Posh Isolation artists. One of my favorite Danish noise projects is called Damien Dubrovnik.
Is that harsh noise, or some other variety?
It's kind of power electronics but they have a very original take on it, especially the new stuff.
You've been playing music from a relatively young age. How did you discover punk, post-punk and other music that's outside the mainstream?
When I was twelve, I don't really know how, but I started getting into mainstream punk bands like the Ramones and the Clash and stuff like that. Then my interests expanded, and I started researching other stuff, and then you get deeper and deeper down into stuff.
What was your first experience with seeing live music that perhaps inspired or influenced you to make the kind of music you're doing today?
I don't know. Maybe it was more inspiring seeing live shows that I wasn't satisfied with [laughs]. I remember being frustrated when I was pretty small with a lot of the shows I was going to. I think right now in Copenhagen, there's often shows I really like.
In an interview for Cvlt Nation you listed one of your top five albums as Hymns of Faith, by Crisis. Have you drawn any inspiration from their later project and the early releases by Death in June? Some of the guitar work on New Brigade is reminiscent of The Guilty Have No Pride.
I really like Death In June. But I don't know whether the guitar is consciously influenced [by that].
Is the name of your band in any way a reference to the Margaret Drabble science-fiction novel that inspired the name of the Joy Division song?
No, not even the Joy Divison song. We were just brainstorming words, and that became the name.
There's a level of energy and aggression in your music that seems to require a heightened emotional state when you're playing it. Would you say that's true for you?
When it works right, yes. If it's a good show, yes. And that can sometimes decide if that's a good or bad show -- whether you're able to get into that or not.
What is it like for you after the performance is over in terms of your emotional state, and how do you deal with coming down from the burst of sustained energy required for playing that music?
I usually rush outside, away from people [laughs].
When you played in the U.S. for the first time, did you experience any kind of culture shock during your stay here?
It was different. I've never been in a place like this before. It's hard to say, but everything is really big and the people are different. But I'd also say that a lot of the stereotypes and the expectations [you have] all come through. We saw pretty much everything you could expect from that part of the USA [New York]. For shows, I'd say in general that it's pretty good.
In playing guitar, do you tend to use standard tuning and a standard guitar set-up?
Mostly it's the regular kind of tuning, but we have a lot of songs, maybe four, where the E string is tuned to drop D. Then the song "Total Drench," we never play live because you have to tune every string into the note A, and that would take ages to do on stage.
What kind of guitar do you play?
I play an old Swedish guitar called a Hagström. A '60s Swedish guitar. It's broken now, and I hope we get it fixed before the tour. I didn't bring it last time.
Is there a particular type of amp you prefer?
It's called a Roland Jazz Chorus.
In that Quietus interview, you said one of the subjects of your lyrics is visions. What kind of visions informed some of those lyrics?
I think I was referring to the song "Collapse," which is about one time when I was walking home very late at night and I had a dream vision of controlling the weather.
One of the issues of your zine, 188.8.131.52, supposedly has some imagery that looks to American eyes like pictures of members of the Ku Klux Klan. Is that true? Where did that come from?
I see that, but it wasn't really meant to be the Ku Klux Klan. It was just meant to be a picture of two guys in a gang who stab another guy. I can see why you'd think that. But I didn't think of it like that. Maybe you're not so conscious about the Klan when you're from Europe, I don't know. But, yeah, of course I know about the Klan.
Is there anything you're looking forward to seeing or learning about while you're touring the USA?
On this tour, we're hoping to get to see the Redwoods. We're playing in a cave in the desert outside of Las Vegas. Those might be the two things I look forward to the most.
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