Danish punks Iceage are on a reinventive journey of continuous, sonic innovation. Intensely vibrant, uncompromising as ever, the subversive collective insists on authenticity and staying true to the international community they continue to inspire and be part of.
According to vocalist and lyricist, frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, the Copenhageners have been responding to the strong gravitational pull towards the wider, international group of supporters since they started out in 2008.
“Making music has always represented a meaningful way for us to spend our time, it became a way of contributing to the community, a way of expressing ourselves. We had no plans, and there was no strategy in place for being discovered, it was just something that happened.”
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The arty punk-collective’s fifth studio album ‘Seek Shelter’ is a propulsive depiction of emotional strength. Freshly landing on record store shelves last week, it offers immersive sounds and atmospherics. Full of striking, novel melodic arrangements, it constitutes layers of ornate instrumentation, representing the group’s majestic next step by advocating musical and lyrical complexity.
Recorded in Namouche, in a 1960s vintage radio studio in Lisboa, with Spaceman 3 and Sonic Boom’s Peter Kember steering the wheels of production, it signifies a stirring sensation of wide exploration. Capturing a world that humans struggle to tackle, a part of the record’s strength is actually its projection of glowing energy, providing hope in the midst of it all.
The feeling of geographical entrapment during the global pandemic that literally brought all live music activity to an instant halt represented a shock to the musicians. It was the first time since they first emerged on the scene a decade ago, Iceage had to remain in the Danish capital over a prolonged period of time, not knowing if, or when, the new normal might materialise.
Any effects of being in this situation are recognisable to most, and they were taxing on the singer. Having found the early days in March last year particularly hard, he would soon develop suitable coping mechanisms, until he was able to enjoy certain aspects of the quarantine experience.
Speaking on a virtual call from Denmark, Elias confesses to finding this period a steep learning curve in terms of his creative identity. “It’s certainly helped that there was nothing going on, elsewhere. At first, it felt claustrophobic, just being in the one place. I went through a phase where I would see some people. But what’s been good about this situation is that we’ve all been in this together, we’ve been forced to keep looking at the same streets that surround us again and again.”
It’s also been a period, where feelings of gratitude became a thing. “More broadly, it was about acknowledging the things that tie me to this place,” he decides. “But you go through phases, and there were definitely times where I wanted to escape the whole situation, and other days where it became more about taking one day at a time, caring less about possible escape routes.”
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The global pandemic allowed many artists to reach greater depths of creativity, and for the frontman it represented an opportunity to delve further into some of his poetry. Throwing himself into the editing of a collection of poems he had written, he soon discovered the volume and intensity of effort it involved. Realising that “What I’d thought would be quite straightforward, required a great amount of attention. I’d assumed it would be a matter of proofreading, but instead I found myself editing.”
Stuck with large chunks of time in alien, emotionally numbing Covid-19 times, he soon began to associate the editing activity with comfort. “It’s been cool to have something to edit, and without it I would have struggled to find inspiration and create new song material. Normally, I’ll just pop out and let loose, go a bit mad when I feel I need boost of inspiration, but during periods of quietude, it can be more challenging to be creative.”
‘Seek Shelter’ sees the punks take the edges of their ambition to new places, transported in a novel direction, essentially using everything in their power to move forward. The record promotes a musical and personal maturity as much as harvesting the benefits of growing together as people. Facilitating broad encounters of genre-fluidity that allow the darkness of Nick Cave to greet the warm rays of The Rolling Stones, and melding the unfiltered intensity of The Stooges with more classic formulas of The Velvet Underground.
The new release follows a decade of discographic progression. ‘New Brigade’ played with the raw edges of post-punk and hardcore, while 2013’s ‘You’re Nothing’ was a bold statement, before ‘Plowing Into the Field Of Love’ from 2014, and the more broadly acclaimed ‘Beyondless from 2018 saw the band solidifying their reputation and reaching wider audiences. “We started out as teenagers,” he interjects. “From our debut album, each record shows our growth, we’ve gained experience with each album, and rather than revisiting previous times, it feels as if you are invited to the next chapter. It’s like gaining entry to new territory, you breathe in the fresh air, feel the new songs. Each time you reach toward the ceiling, more air is released, and when you realise that, it’s because you’re pushing.”
Talking of pushing, the Peter Kember collaboration inspired a similar sensation. As big Spaceman 3 fans, gut instinct gave the band feelings of certainty that this producer was going to bring a special dimension to the project, which he did and more. “His sonic ability really lends itself to the direction we’re moving in. Making a record is a huge deal, it can be a fragile situation. We hadn’t met before working together, you only have certain moments to perpetuate the things you’ve worked so hard for and invested yourself in.”
But Kember became an integral project partner, someone who clearly understood them and their ways of working. His ability to contribute with effective, constructive ideas when tiredness kicked in, made a big difference in delicate moments of recording. Elias’ enthusiasm goes further “We had so much fun with him,” I don’t remember ever laughing as much in the studio before, we really connected over humour, and this helped strengthen the connection between us.”
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Another studio recording game changer was the inclusion of Lisboa Gospel Collective. Joining the band on ‘Shelter Song’ and ‘Love Kills Slowly’, they formed part of an objective the singer had been looking to pursue for some time. Even if it came with feelings of nervousness, deriving from what he refers to as a “minority complex”, rooted in not being a classically-trained singer, and being part of an ‘un-schooled’ group of musicians.
But, as Elias points out, it quickly became apparent that the collaboration was indeed going to one of fulfilment. ”They turned out to be extremely intuitive in their approach, and they were so gifted. They immediately started to build harmonies and play with it all, which was even more positive than what I’d been hoping for. They just lifted it all, and it felt like such a huge gift to have them lending their voices to what we were doing.”
Recording in Portugal became an exuberant experience. Adding to a prolific track record, depicting their ongoing sense of growth and learnings, is the approach to and progress in songwriting ability. As long as the source of creativity continuous to flow easily the band will make music together, and Elias is happy about how things have been going . “As a journey, writing songs is a place where I feel comfortable and at home. Hopefully, it will be an unstoppable source that will continue as part of our journey, something that never stops. It is a constant in one’s life, the main thing that always makes sense. My worst nightmare would be if this part of me died, so I just want it to continue.”
He has never wanted to leave the band. Pre-Covid, Iceage would play shows around the world, averaging some 150 a year. The only thing that sometimes would hit him was exhaustion to the point, where he would long for small breaks in the touring schedule, a break away from the hectic intensity of life on the road.
Not exactly a band of the stiff, reserved type, they tend to give their audiences everything they have during each show, and they wouldn’t want it any other way. Viewing the sense of reward gained from these high intensity live experiences as invaluable, “The thing that makes people relate to our music is something universal, it doesn’t matter where you are or what time it is. It’s about being in the moment together, establishing a connection, and ultimately it’s a way of communicating.”
The raw journey Iceage embarked on when they were about 18 and 19 involved total immersion at shows as much as the magnetic soundscapes that grew out of their recordings. Luckily, their journey looks set to be a constant, a joyous force, accompanying them and their community well into the future.
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‘Seek Shelter’ is out now.
Words: Susan Hansen
Photo Credit: Jonas Bang
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