Two of the most talked-about rock bands from Copenhagen, Lower and Iceage, were playing at Loppen last week, and it is the occasion to take a look back on this crazed post-punk and hardcore movement labeled “New Way Of Danish Fuck You”.
If you’ve been tightly following the international rock music scene, you might have noticed that the Copenhagen hardcore rock scene has gathered more and more attention from international critics. It all can be traced back to last year, when the young band Iceage released their astounding debut album “New Brigade” that received numerous praises in specialized press (Pitchfork, NME, New York Times, The Washington Post) followed by a European and U.S. tour. Let’s say that everybody wanted a piece of them at that time; and who could blame them? Iceage’s record is a solid assemble of twelve songs dwelling in frustration, anger and underlying violence, greatly produced, with a really straightforward sound to it. Iceage’s groundbreaking success shed some lights on the Copenhagen mystic hardcore scene that nobody really knew anything about a year ago (the band even curated a showcase during Distortion festival in 2011).
What people found was a small community, but oh- were they throbbing and swarming. This new Copenhagen hardcore scene has appeared just a couple of years ago when some young middle-class Danish boys – between 14 and 18 years old, too young to have a Christiania or Ungdomhuset back-story – started playing around town, and especially at Mayhem, a former car-shop in Nørrebro, where they all gathered at some point, playing together, collaborating, hanging out, and creating an alternative scene of their own. Even though consisting of a matter of a few bands, that’s all it took to launch a buzzing movement on the edges of the common danish rock scene. The bands basically are side-projects or collaborations among members of this scene: the most well-known post-punk icon Iceage, the black hardcore Sexdrome, the black metal Sejr, the synth-pop inspired Girlseeker, the lo-fi punk Marching Church, the indus-noisy Vår or the metallish Scavenger Brats.
The “New Way Of Danish Fuck You” scene – the name comes from a tattoo from a member of Scavenger Brats – is often mis-connected with an english and american seventies punk revival, due to the sometimes sloppy and brutal substance of their music, but the core of the whole movement comes from another place: boredom and utter frustration. When seventies punk were manifestoes against establishments and governments legacy (Thatcher in the UK, Nixon in the US) and ideologies inherited from the past decades, the N.W.O.D.F.Y movement’s anger is born from a will to rebel against stagnancy and dullness. On that matter, the band Lower, that released its first record “Walk On Heads EP” this summer, might be the most significant band to understand this artful take on a social off-balance symptom.
When you read that those bands, Lower and Iceage, are composed of young people, you don’t really realize that they are, in fact, really young. Because you are clouded by those reminiscences of post-punk and hardcore rock, and you can hear Wire, Black Flag or Joy Division when playing “New Brigade” or “Walk On Heads”; and you can barely imagine feeling so much anger and nihilism at such a young age. Or maybe you just forgot how it was being twenty and feeling nothing can be done. Lower has this particularity, compared to the other bands of the scene, is that they play tight (that drummer of theirs is insane), and they play a very connoted sound. Playing post-punk based on serious drum pounding and hard bass, are so fitted to Adrian Toubro’s disillusioned and lone screams. But what’s interesting with Lower is that they actually place themselves among followers, they place themselves on a timeline; contrarily to Iceage who prefers disruption and raw violence.
Even though they’d rather keep some mystery around themselves, Iceage’s name for example probably comes from the song “Ice Age For A While” by the late seventies danish-punk band The Sods – even though they refute the connection. Lower’s debut record named “Walk On Heads” probably isn’t a total question of chance either: in danish “walk on heads” is translated “gå på hovedet”. Let’s rewind. In 1982 was held in Tranegården in Gentofte an infamous exhibition called “Kniven på hovedet” (“The Knife On The Head”), where a whole new movement composed of young danish painters – Kehnet Nielsen, Claus Carstensen, Peter Bonde, Nina Sten-Knudsen, Dorte Dahlin among others – totally burst out of nowhere and ruffled the contemporary art world and academy with a wave of abrupt, violent, dark and postmodern paintings. Called De Unge Vilde (internationally translated as The Young Wild Painters), those young painters wanted to get rid of ideas as art form, but reinstate it as tangible values, using strong and crafted materials, and focusing towards raw, sensual and physical medium. This movement is commonly known as one of the most significant milestone in danish art history along the international avant-garde movement CoBrA after WWII, and the foundation of the Eks-Skolen (The Experimental Art School) in the early sixties.
The short-lived De Unge Vilde were strongly opposed to the Academy Of Fine Arts’ conservatism, stagnancy and distance with art as they intended it. Inspired by the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning and their german contemporary of Die Neue Wilde, De Unge Vilde functionned as a community, working altogether, collaborating on each other projects. They even set headquarters in a studio they named Værkstedet Værst (The Workshop Called Worst) in Rosernørns Allé in Copenhagen, trying to follow the steps of Eks-Skolen. The Workshop soon became the place to be for alternative culture, hosting exhibitions, reading and poetry performances as well as concerts from punk bands like Tapehead, the previously mentioned The Sods or No Knox. Even though the whole movement was meant to collapse at some point or another, the demolishment of the building in 1984 was the first step. Meanwhile, museums and galleries had of course a great interest in the wild scene’s works, killing the movement in the nest, as spontaneous creations weren’t as valuable as original paintings on canvas. De Unge Vilde were being institutionalized, splitting the ones that actually wanted to be part of the recognized artistic world, and the others who were strongly anti-establishment.
All that being said, where does this “New Way Of Danish Fuck You” really stand? You could draw a loose parallel between the situation of danish art in the eighties, and danish music in the late 2000s, where the danish society itself barely changed. Danish music is categorized between exportable artists (english speaking or electronic music), and those for the local market (danish speaking) – which is in fact applicable to any other country. Danish bands sporadically produce original and exportable music: The Raveonettes, Efterklang, Trentemøller, Junior Senior, WhoMadeWho, Agnès Obel etc. The major downside of it all is that we get a handful of slick and indistinguishable bands, or copycats of english or american bands: Veto / The Floor Is Made Of Lava / Turboweekend or Choirs Of Young Believer / The Rumour Said Fire / Spleen United and so much more.
It’s easy to see how bands like Iceage or Lower can’t fit in those heavy mediatized, radio friendly frames. And it’s even more interesting to see that they chose the radical solution of expressing anger and frustration through songs and words. Just like De Unge Vilde chose to go against apathy and inertia through colours, shapes and icons.
The main difference with the N.W.O.D.F.Y. is their very fine limit to pure hedonism. Of course, they want to shake society, they want to provoke; but unlike De Unge Vilde, the postmodernism aspect in this musical movement is wearing thin and could be as dead as it emerged. “I don’t know if I want to do this music forever” says Johan Wieth from Iceage, meanwhile its frontman Elias Rønnenfelt might be the most intense and self-destructive artist I’ve seen. Rage and violence could be seen through his piercing blue eyes while gazing at an underaged audience in an improvised mosh pit where contained fights were on the verge of taking over. Maybe it’s just it. Fighting a war against themselves and taking anybody along.
De Unge Vilde from the 80s worked by the concept of “lige-gyldigheden” (translated “equi-valence”) in which a piece of work should be seen only for what it is, without coated theories, without transience. The wild paintings represented chaos that the viewer had to organize and find meaning to. The N.W.O.D.F.Y. movement followed this ideology, by using their influences and their motives to shape their own expressionism concept with no consideration of time and space. Just raw and youthful energy to overcome the stagnancy of their society, with a burst and a bang, filled with rage and resentment at the world. This movement is meant to die – not with so much filth, but with a hell lot of fury.
» Iceage @ Loppen 13.09.12 // Kristoffe Biglete
» Lower @ Loppen 13.09.12 // Kristoffe Biglete
» Opening of “Kniven på hovedet” @ Tranegården 1982 // Torben Voigt
» Iceage @ Loppen 13.09.12 // Kristoffe Biglete