Iceage: Playing on Prefix

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Playing on Prefix is a feature on KCRW’s Music Blog in which writers from the eclectic music site Prefix hip you to what’s coming out of their computer speakers each week.

When you read in The New York Times that Danish four-piece Iceage have been playing together since they were 12, it’s natural to be impressed, and not just because this aggressive punk(ish) band can paste a New York Times Style Magazine feature in their increasingly bulging press kit. More to the point, 12 is an incredibly young age and 12 to the present is a long time to play music with a bunch of guys. But not as long as you might think: the four members of suddenly buzzy Iceage are still in high school. More accurately, they dropped out of high school (or at least missed graduating) to be in an internationally famous rock band. Not a bad way to while away your gap year.

All this critical love starts to make sense once you hear Iceage’s debut album, “New Brigade” (What’s Your Rupture, June 21). It’s a propulsive mixture of musical aggression and disaffection that makes you want to take your shirt off and get punched in the face. This is apparently a common reaction, because more than one picture on the band’s website shows the band members stripped to the waist with blood trailing down the side of their head or splashed across their faces.


It’s easy to say that Iceage sounds like Joy Division. Something about the flat disaffection of Bender Ronnenfelt’s voice unmistakably brings to mind a certain depressed Manchester-based Herzog fan. Iceage even seems to be using the same vocal echo as Unknown Pleasures. Then, too, the similarities aren’t just in the voices. The melodically apocalyptic arrangement of some of their tracks, the way bass and atonal keyboard clacks interplay in a surprisingly compelling way (and I’m thinking here especially of the first half of “White Rune”) is Joy Division all over.

While it’s undeniable that there is some Manchester in this Copehagen four-piece, there’s much more, and this is what makes listening to Iceage better than listening to Lez Zepplin or Beatlemania. They take darkness somewhere different than Curtis and company, adding restless aggression and aimless violence, the screaming in the head of every angry young man with little to look forward to in life. It’s Danzig, it’s Iggy Pop, it’s Clyde Barrow.

Can this get old? Sure. But then again, I’m not as young as I used to be. To their credit, the band seems to agree. In that same Times piece, Ronnenfelt says “I’m not going to be playing when I’m old. I don’t know any bands that have careers we envy.” In one way, this is a savvy legacy-saving move; there’s no better way to preserve the sound of your angry youth than to stop making music before you stop being angry (see: Kurt Cobain et al). In another, it could just be more youthful nihilism that will eventually get overcome by the wisdom of age. With the band having recently finished its second U.S. tour in just two months and about to set off a set of dates in the U.K., it’s obvious they’ll have plenty of chances to walk that statement back a bit and do something a bit more sensible.

For their sake (and ours), I hope they tell being sensible to go f*ck itself.

— Written by Chris Chafin