By Scott Creney
The way The Smiths once covered their sleeves in 60s references, the way Wu-Tang Clan embraced the language and iconography of Shaolin, the way Oasis loved The Beatles, that’s the relationship Iceage has with xenophobia and white supremacy — it may not be the window, but it’s damn sure the drapes.
Let’s check out the evidence:
1. They wear Burzum buttons. Main Burzum guy Varg Vikernes is a neo-Nazi, who murdered a guy and burned three churches, not necessarily in that order.
2. The guitarist has a Death In June tattoo. DIJ prefer the SA and National Bolshevism to outright Nazism.
3. They listed Absurd’s Facta Loquuntur as one of their favorite albums of all time, describing it as “Beautiful Norse sound filled with pride and emotion”. Absurd is one of the best-known bands in the National Socialist Black Metal scene. Their singer killed a guy too, but this one put the victim’s grave on the cover of his next album.
4. Their fans Sieg Heil at their shows, documented in photos:
(what would you do if this guy was at your show?)
5. and videos which the band themselves have allowed out into the world.
(note: you’ll have to watch for longer than a minute).
6. They chose a band called White Nigger to play a festival show they curated. The members of white nigger are known for covering themselves in brown paint and choking the people in their audience.
7. Hey check out this drawing the singer did!
8) And here’s a video they made where they put on hoods and carry torches. Whee!!
Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t think anyone in Iceage is wearing a Berzum button because they think it’s cool to murder people. At the same time, I don’t think it’s just because they’re big fans of Burzum’s ambient music either. I think it’s there because — and keep in mind this is the kindest, most generous interpretation I can come up with — they just want to seem tough. They want to look like badasses.
Which raises an important question: Are Nazi murderers actually stronger and tougher than non-Nazi murderers? I mean, didn’t the Nazis LOSE World War II? Let’s be real here. No one gets a tattoo of Wolverhampton F.C. or the Kansas City Chiefs on their arm because they want to look tough. If the guitarist wants to get a tattoo of someone really scary he should try getting the Pope (any of them will do).
But you know I’m sure this is all one big misunderstanding the band would be happy to clear up.
“That’s a collage of different things I was seeing in the news, not a pro-race-riot drawing,” said singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt in a recent interview with Vice, referring to the drawing. Well there you go. How come nobody talks about Elias’ drawings of weather forecasts and football highlights? That’s what I want to know.
And um… I hate to even ask this… but are there really stories in the Copenhagen news about dudes wearing crosses on their hoods knifing people? Not exactly, but there has been a LOT of tension between native Danes and Muslim immigrants over the past 10 years. Are you ready? Here’s some quotes from actual members of Danish parliament:
“Let me state it clearly: Muslims ought to live in Muslimland — and that’s not here.”
“There is no place for Islam in Europe and our first priority must be to repatriate the Muslims.”
“The Old Testament is an altogether Christian book which the Jewish religion has misused, with no actual right to do so.”
“It is absolutely grotesque that people from Somalia, Sri Lanka and the Far East should be able to call themselves refugees in Denmark.”
“Islam is a new totalitarian plague sweeping Europe.”
“Islam has since its inception been a terrorist movement.”
“Islam is by its very nature an evil, which must and will be combatted.”
Fact: The third largest political party in Denmark is the Danish People’s Party, whose stated platform is against non-western immigration and against Islamisation. Here’s a campaign ad they ran in every major Danish paper in 2008.
ALLAH IS EQUAL BEFORE THE LAW
GIVE US BACK DENMARK
Not that Iceage cares about any of this, or apparently even has an opinion on it. It’s just music, man. It’s just a picture he drew. And you would be a fool, a hand-wringing idiot, to even wonder about any of this stuff as it concerns the latest, greatest hope for punk rock, Iceage, and their new album You’re Nothing.
But let’s go ahead and give Iceage the benefit of the doubt and say they’re just trying to be offensive and get a rise out of people, and keep in mind this is still the most generous explanation, there are a few facts I can’t help noticing.
1. They are trying very, very hard to do this.
2. They seem to be relentlessly occupied on using this one specific way to, um, get a rise out of people.
Again. This is not happening in a vacuum — there is nothing ‘theoretical’ or ‘abstract’ about these facts. This is not oblivious children drawing swastikas on their school desks. In that same Vice article (and I keep going back to it b/c the writer at least had the guts to ask Elias about his drawings — most interviews just skip all this completely), Benjamin Shapiro goes so far as to conclude, “But if you’re genuinely offended, then you’re living in some fantasyland where racism, violence, and hate shouldn’t be analyzed or commented on. And that’s just fucking sad.” And he’d have a point if there were any actual, you know, ANALYSIS or COMMENTARY going on anywhere in anything Iceage says or does.
But there isn’t. It just sits there, waiting to be interpreted. Given the opportunity to say anything on the subject, they just retreat behind a sullen silence. Elias calls the music media “lazy, empty, and sensationalist”. Someone needs to get this guy a fucking mirror — quick.
So fine. They don’t care about anything. They won’t even dignify these questions with a response. Explanations are for weaklings. But of all the things not to give a fuck about, of all the aesthetic wagons to hitch your white horse to, why fascist imagery? Why ethnic purity? Especially in light of what’s going on in your own country?
Either Iceage is filled with a bunch of racists, or a bunch of idiots. The choice is yours to make.
But ultimately I’m less interested in what all this says about Iceage than it does about the people who listen to them, the people who release their music, and the people who write about them. Over here, it looks like Iceage is on the Nordic fast-track to success. Say what you want to about their methods, it seems to be working. There’s no way this album won’t get Best New Music on Pitchfork Monday or Tuesday morning (P4K did a feature on Iceage a month ago — it probably goes w/o saying that none of this stuff came up), and I’m sure everything’s all lined up promotion-wise: P4KTV in March, Jimmy Fallon or some late night show in April/May, and then a summer of festivals. I mean, who’s got time to worry about politics when there’s money to be made?
I bet any Muslims living in Denmark, to say nothing of Europe, care very deeply. I can’t help wondering what would happen if there were a buzz-worthy US artist flirting with this shit, dressing up like Klansmen in their videos and wearing Lester Maddox T-shirts — or Sheriff Joe Arapaio. Would people have a problem with it then? Actually, they might not. Maybe they’d just hype the shit off of it and use any controversy that was generated to sell tickets to their big fucking outdoor festival. Once the band’s no longer relevant, they can just kick them to the curb and find something else to hype. There will always be more bands.
But it’s downright bizarre that the same people who would dismiss a country singer like, say, Toby Keith as a brain-dead right-wing redneck shithead are the same ones lining up to buy and promote this album.
Or maybe it’s the anger that attracts them. Maybe that’s the whole selling point. And hey, I’m all for hatred, and I’m all for anger in music, even the directionless kind. And there’s part of me that’s glad to see people in the indie world embrace something besides smooth, polished, hyper-educated fluff. I think we can all agree that this is a long way from Grizzly Bear, or Real Estate.
But don’t tell me that it’s just music. You and I both know how powerful music is, or we wouldn’t be here discussing it. All art is a public dream about the way we live, the way we see ourselves. It’s a series of signs, and I’m reading Iceage’s signs loud and fucking clear. What else is there to notice?
I guess this is where I should talk about the music. It’s colorless and blunt, like getting knee-capped with a steel rod. It’s music for people who live in a world where the worst thing you can call someone is a pussy. Well in case they’re reading this, I’ll be sure to speak in a voice that Iceage and their fans will understand. They are the biggest pussies, the worst kind of pussy there is — the one that genuflects before those with power in the belief that it will make them appear strong.
The lyrics reveal nothing.
“She gives me signals/But our hearts are not the same/Wants me to take her/But blockades run through my veins/Somehow things are still not lost/But I sure feel alienated/Is their flesh disintegrated/These days I’m numb and faded/Something denies coalition with you/Am I supposed to/Give into anything/The way I’m coded/Is like winter’s change to spring/Excess/Excess/Excess/Excess”
It’s not offensive — it’s just stupid. And not because it’s dangerous, but because it’s boring, a pathetic attempt to look tough, or interesting. I mean is this all you’ve got? Kind of/sort of half-assedly name-dropping some neo-Nazis into interviews? Personally, I can’t think of anything stronger, anything tougher, than speaking out against racism in your own country. To just sit there and blow it off, they must be cowards. I can’t help thinking of bands like Gang Of Four, Mekons, Delta 5 brawling with National Front skinheads in Leeds back in the late 70s. Compared to them, Iceage — in their silence, their unwillingness to say what they believe, offensive or otherwise — is truly pathetic. It’s all about the targets. It’s all about what’s said and what’s deliberately left unsaid.
In light of the political realities in Denmark, Iceage’s silence is unconscionable. Because you don’t have to be a racist, or have fascist sympathies, or even hate anyone, for gross horrific injustices to be carried out against a small group of people. You only have to remain silent and look the other way while those with a vested interest go about their business. You just have to keep doing your job to the best of your ability.
As for the rest of the world, just ask Tyler, the Creator how long you can get by on shock value and mediocrity. Or Andrew Dice Clay. Or 2 Live Crew. Or Sarah Palin. And if Iceage doesn’t get their act together (and I’m not even talking about their politics), they’re going to end up in the hack trash-heap right along with the rest of those people. Their music isn’t interesting enough. And to me the band just sounds like a big puffed up brown shirt, filled with nothing more than tender skin and empty air.
Enjoy your catharsis, Iceage fans. I hope it’s therapeutic . But if this is the best catharsis you can find, I feel sorry for you.
THE ALTERNATIVE REVIEW | Iceage – You’re Nothing (Matador)
Iceage | smart and naive can be a dangerous combination too - Louis Pattison answers Iceage’s critics
Iceage | Who makes the Nazis?
Iceage | an open letter to Louis Pattison
the interview | Iceage want you to know that they’re not fascists