28 February 2013
It seems laughable that the heated and increasingly hysterical online debate that swirls around Danish punks Iceage –are they or aren’t they, like, properly sinister? – is applied to a band who herald tonight’s stunning gig by pumping MC Miker G & DJ Sven’s cheesy Eighties Madonna revamp Holiday Rap through the PA moments before the room explodes in a maelstrom of guitars and feedback.
The alleged controversy surrounding Iceage is equally absurd when you remember that this is a band whose name is often mistaken by Google for a cute animated film about mammoths. But if search engines also happen to throw up an identically titled song by early Joy Division incarnation Warsaw, this would be nearer the mark, because it’s from this doomy post-punk hub that Iceage channel their grumpy but exhilarating noise.
To be fair, there is some truth in the argument that the band are to blame for the endless questions about their imagined unsavoury political sympathies that currently distract from their powerful music. But, despite all their fire-hoods-and-fighting-dogs videos, along with a terrible decision to offer self-branded flick-knives as merchandise on a recent US tour, Iceage clearly have much more to offer than the self-consciously ‘edgy’ imagery that, for now, defines them.
Songs like Ecstasy and Everything Drifts, from new album You’re Nothing (an impressive progression from 2011’s debut New Brigade), are built on hardcore foundations, but don’t be fooled; these are constructs of deceptive intricacy performed with impressive attention to detail.
Brittle and uplifting melodies can be heard amidst the disciplined cacophony; guitarist Johan Wieth’s clanging riffs spark like lathes and pull you in, while singer Elias BenderRønnenfelt prowls the stage, stooping eye-to-eye with the audience then stretching up to grab an overhead electric cable, fans’ hands reaching from the surging crowd to stroke his chest during Awake, while the frontman – his face intensely focused, body twitchy with youthful energy – half sings, half screams: “We’re running out of time!”
Early on, when he’s still coated and hooded, there’s a hint of Liam Gallagher’s beautiful-yob swagger about Rønnenfelt. Later on, coat tossed aside and stripped to his shirt, swaying to the brutal beat, adored by girls and boys alike, he’s like a hardcore Morrissey. You simply can’t take your eyes off him.
Meanwhile, the music is energising, surprisingly textured, and within the confines of what is loosely described as punk, it is also bold. Morals is a slow-fast slamfest here, but its recorded version is propelled by – gasp! – a piano. Likewise, Wieth’s twangy Sonic Youth-via-Duane Eddy hook on Awake is the best example yet of Iceage’s knack for burying pop gold beneath multiple layers of distortion, noise and fury.
If anything, Iceage are selling themselves short by resorting to shock tactics when we should all be fully focused on their thrilling music. But, hey, cultivating a dark and vaguely menacing atmosphere never did Ian Curtis’s lot any harm, and they actually named themselves after properly sinister stuff, not once but twice.
On tonight’s evidence, Iceage have more than enough talent to rise above the storm and prove their worth. Dismiss them at your peril.