While Denmark might not be known as a goldmine for producing great punk bands, if you’ve been reading the music press in recent months the chances are you may have come across Iceage. Rumblings of this Copenhagen band’s debut record reached the UK at the beginning of the year, as its initial release was picked up by a number of tastemaking blogs and championed in Noel Gardener’s superb punk column over at The Quietus. In his column, Gardener describes the record as ‘basically, perfect’ and ‘one of the best punk rock records released in recent years’, and I would be hard pushed to disagree.
Given that the history of punk has been mined so many times, it’s difficult to make a record that sounds like nothing else around it. Look around at contemporary punk music and you’ll find variations of Black Flag, variations of Fugazi and variations of Wire, but every once in a while something will be released that sounds completely pure. Not that the album doesn’t draw heavily from post punk influences, but everything is so right about this recording, from the songs to the production, that it manages to distinguish itself among any number of copyist acts. It’ll be interesting to see whether this album is a one-off fluke, but New Brigade captures the essence of what makes punk so damn exciting in the first place.
It’s scrappy, energetic production makes it easy to imagine in a live setting, barely held together on record you can only imagine things intensifying at shows. The guitars clatter against each other, almost lost in the muddle of noise, before being dragged out by some hook that comes out of nowhere. While this doesn’t sound like a record made for anyone other than the band themselves, there are standout tracks (‘White Rune’, ‘New Brigade’, ‘Broken Bone’) with choruses that will bounce around your head for days. Albeit sung in singer Elias Rønnenfelt’s signature sluggish drawl. While the band certainly aren’t scared to thrash out a minute long punk jam, their perhaps at their best when these bursts of near-melody jump out completely unexpectedly.
The early excitement Iceage picked up has quickly multiplied in recent months. With a US release for New Brigade on Dais, at the time of writing the band is currently embarking on a full tour of the states. Whether or not they can maintain the often fleeting attention of the modern indie press remains to be seen, but for now we’re just glad to see this record being noticed. A proper punk record from an exciting new talent.
The now prestigious Meltdown is an annual festival staged at the Southbank Centre in London. In the past, the festival has been curated by the likes of Scott Walker, Ornette Coleman and David Bowie. Jeff Buckley’s final appearance in the UK, before his death, was famously at Meltdown in 1995 but this year’s event was organised by former lead singer of The Kinks, Ray Davies and his line up didn’t disappoint.
Supporting American garage rock legends The Sonics in the Royal Festival Hall are art punk Situationists Wire.Embarking on a set filled with flurries of distortion and clanging drones, Wire’s performance contains several tracks from their latest album. The radical four-piece continue to wind down to punk’s underworld with empowering chimes and jangles. Lead singer Colin Newman’s pessimistic vocals in the title track of new album ‘Red Barked Tree’ is a highlight of the evening for the London band. ‘Outdoor Miner’, from the classic 1978 album ‘Chairs Missing’ is as gloomy and heartfelt as ever.
The London band return to the stage from an encore with their final song ‘Pink Flag’. Despite enthusiastic demands from the crowd for more songs from the band’s earlier albums, Wire are more interested in continuing to experiment and play newer material. Emphasising this new direction bassist Graham Lewis ends the song by telling the Southbank crowd that “that’s about as pink as it gets”.
Introduced by Ray Davies as a group that are a “big part of American history” and “a rock band that were around way before The Kinks even had a car” The Sonics enter the stage. Opening with thunderous renditions of The Brandos’, ‘He’s Waiting’ and Barrett Strong’s ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ it is plain to see why the band’s stripped-down approach has influenced a lot of people in the rock music world, including the likes of Iggy Pop and Kurt Cobain.
Songs like ‘Cinderella’ and Little Richard cover ‘Keep A-Knockin’ (But You Can’t Come In)’ are delightfully raucous and garage rock classic ‘Strychnine’ prompts a large amount of the audience to swarm away from their seats and be able to dance closer to the stage. This is followed by the exhilarating ‘Lucille’ and the gut-wrenching ‘Psycho’. The latter is frantically performed and filled with lead vocalist Gerry Roslie’s signature neurotic screams.
Richard Berry’s warming ‘Louie Louie’, suitably the song that led to Ray Davies conceiving ‘You Really Got Me’, is the first song performed by the band after the encore. The sinister ‘Bad Attitude’ is the best of the bunch of new songs available on the latest EP release ‘8’ which is followed by their flagship tune ‘The Witch’. Raw and penetrative, the performance of this song epitomises what the Tacoma legends were all about. The Sonics were way ahead of their peers and predecessors, and tonight they lit the room. They played hard, they played fast, and it’s good to see them back.