Iceage | smart and naive can be a dangerous combination too

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By Louis Pattison

Editor’s Note: Louis sent me an email last night, concerned that Scott and myself might have got hold of the wrong end of the stick, far as Iceage are concerned. (For more details, go here and here.) Louis is a man I trust – he’s the former Editor of Plan B Magazine, and a keen and considered music critic – so when he gets in touch to correct me on something, I take note. I thought his email raised several interesting points and so I asked him for permission to reprint it here.

Dialogue. Music criticism is dialogue. Always has been, always will be.


How’s it going? I’ve been meaning to email you about this Iceage thing, just to tell you a little bit about my experience with the band.

I like both the Iceage records a lot. I’ve interviewed them, I guess four times, a couple of times in Copenhagen. They’re quite shy/cagey the first time you meet them, the fourth time not so much.

The second time I interviewed Elias, Iceage’s singer, was in Copenhagen last summer. I sat down with him and some other local ‘scene’ sorts – people from other Copenhagen bands like Lower, Sexdrome, etc. We discussed racism, runes, Nazis, sieg heils. They gave broadly the right answers, those being: They’re not racists. The Copenhagen scene is, if you need to put a word on it, left-wing. They don’t have a problem with immigration. They have no “agenda”. They’re more interested in the personal than the political. While I was there, Elias, the singer, spoke on a panel called The Europe Lectures held at the city’s art school, which dealt with European culture and the dangers of expression of such tipping over into nationalism (it was all in Danish, but summarised for me afterwards). I’m aware this could all be a line, some sort of damage control to trick the gullible prying English music journalist and protect their burgeoning indie-rock career, but I don’t think so. They strike me as nothing if not sincere.

I think Scott thought his piece was being forensic but I think it was actually a bit lazy. It seems to be mostly based on that ‘Chic racism’ blog that circulated 18 or so months ago, but ignoring much of the discussion that it engendered (that blog was a point of discussion in much of the band’s first run of UK press, NME and Kerrang included). I don’t get the impression he’s read that much about the band, or has particularly listened to them. I feel a bit like the stuff that didn’t really fit with his premise, he left out. That Dan, the drummer is Jewish, certainly doesn’t dispel all these questions, but nor is it irrelevant.

The stuff about them being afraid to appear a pussy… well, here’s Elias (left) and his friend, Loke.

Iceage - Elias and Loke

Here’s a video by the band they’re in together, Var.

I think the piece you wrote is interesting, and I think you’re on the right track in terms of the touchstones you mention. At Incubate Festival in Tilburg late last year, I went to see Laibach with Elias. He – and I – would agree with you, they’re hilarious.

But I think both you and Scott misinterpret the source of the music. I don’t think either the first album or the new album deal in a “currency of nastiness”. The first one, broadly, is about the scene in Copenhagen, and the nature of close friendship. The second one seems to me to be very emotionally troubled. There’s a little bit of “fuck the world” in there, but the ‘You’re Nothing’ of the title track is aimed internally. ‘Coalition’ – the one Scott reckons is meaningless – seems to me to be a piece about sexuality, but that’s speculation on my part. If you can’t make out the lyrics, Matador can send you a lyric sheet (or they’re printed in full on the album sleeve).

The stuff I’ve written on Iceage has mostly appeared in print. Writing for print these days can be a strange thing – you sometimes get the sense that if an interview doesn’t make it onto the web, it didn’t happen. I had a piece published in NME a couple of weeks ago (February 9, Hurts cover) in which we discuss some of the above in a bit of detail.

Couple of brief snippets.

Johan: “When we first came out it seemed exciting to do something that was mysterious. But now a certain simplicity, getting to the point, feels more interesting.”

Elias: “I don’t think any of us have the ideological clarity to write straightforward political stuff. But if you write about yourself, or about society, you can be doubtful. You can be disillusioned. That is what interests us.”

I’m sure I’m not going to change anyone’s mind who has already decided Iceage are baddies. But I have read so much about this band that’s only half-informed, and so much that seems radically different to what I hear in the music and what I hear from the mouths of the band members. As regards the way they chose to present themselves early on, they certainly had some questions to answer. Personally, I don’t think they’re racist OR stupid. Although I think being smart and naive can be a pretty dangerous combination too.

They’re Joy Division and they’re being treated like they’re Skrewdriver. Perhaps they’ve brought it on themselves, a bit, but I think it’s a pity.

Related posts:
This blog kills fascists.
THE ALTERNATIVE REVIEW | Iceage – You’re Nothing (Matador)
Iceage | Who makes the Nazis?
Iceage | an open letter to Louis Pattison
the interview | Iceage want you to know that they’re not fascists

4 Responses to Iceage | smart and naive can be a dangerous combination too

  1. Wallace Wylie February 20, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    I don’t think Scott’s piece said anything about them being afraid to appear a pussy. Even if it did, why would kissing a man refute that? You think kissing a man makes you a pussy? Why anyone would think Scott’s piece is lazy and not think the ragtag collection of symbols, images, and associations being cited by Iceage wasn’t is beyond me. I can only imagine those that those who live in luxury and fear the stink of being overcivilised would find pleasure in Iceage. It’s the musically conservative creation of the privileged striking sparks from images which they appear to understand on only the most basic level. I fear for the barrenness of the human who finds this exhilarating.

  2. Tom R February 20, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    VAR is what kept me somewhat skeptical of the allegations (not wholly – who knows what consistency bigots keep? Who knows what cynical tactics they might try?).

    It doesn’t change the fact that I think this new record is creatively moribund. It doesn’t stir; it doesn’t rattle; it doesn’t cause reflection. If it’s inwards-looking, then it’s a ham-fisted depiction of a barren emotional landscape. I haven’t listened to the first one in about 18 months, despite liking it quite a lot for about a week.

  3. Louis February 20, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    Hey Wallace – I think the line I was looking for in Scott’s piece was “It’s music for people who live in a world where the worst thing you can call someone is a pussy.”

    Possibly I wasn’t clear in my intent when drawing attention to the Var stuff – (hopefully) it’s obvious that I’m not suggesting that for a man to kiss another man makes him “a pussy”, nor am I running you the “they’re gay, they can’t be Nazis!” line (FWIW I’m not sure Elias or Loke are ‘gay’ by any straightforward label).

    I think the Var stuff is interesting because of the very stark way some of it embraces male vulnerability. Something very new romantic about it. I don’t think Elias, in Var or in Iceage, is preoccupied by “appearing strong” (often the opposite). Again, whether you view this as contrived or a ploy is your judgement, but I’m objecting to broad statements about the essence of the music which strike me as demonstrably wrong.

    “I can only imagine those that those who live in luxury and fear the stink of being overcivilised would find pleasure in Iceage.”

    Hmm – you should see my office room 🙁

  4. Brett Lyman March 4, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    i feel sympathy for these young dudes a little bit, but not enough to defend them. if you throw around really loaded symbols like that without any real purpose (and in spite of all the hand-wringing, the ‘purpose’ behind their music continues to elude me), you’re gonna get some shit from people. people like me, who appreciate the value of a complex statement made by someone trying to convey how ugly and rabid the world can be. i don’t see how the group are remotely ‘punk’, though… punk rock, maybe, but what on earth is that worth in 2013? nothing. punk rock is nothing. neither are all these boys that wanna be nothing. i’m glad they got their wish.

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