Iceage – The Haunt, Brighton – 10th September 2018

Photo by Annie Roberts

Danish post-punk six-piece Iceage, who are currently touring their new release Beyondless, treated the ears of their dedicated fans at The Haunt. They had support from Josiah Konder, who also travelled a similar distance for the show.

Now, I wish not to be mean, but Josiah Konder made a mistake touring with Iceage. Not because they were bad (they weren’t), just uncomfortably similar to the headliners – but a bit less settled in their image. Then again, for a lot of the fans in attendance, anything similar to the headliners most definitely wasn’t a bad thing.

Elias Bender Rønnenfelt took to the stage, snarling at the audience, band behind him. He looks pale, somehow sweaty already, generally just pretty exhausted and over it. Basically, he looks like an art student. It works. The band seem a lot less self-assured, it gives them a softness, brings them back down to earth and counteracts the risk of ostentation. Unlike the aforementioned Josiah Koser, they know who they are. It almost feels like they’re bored of it, but that’s before you realise how incredibly hard those boys work.

They open with the album’s title track. It’s desperate, wanting, theatrical, and awe-inspiring, with a crash of guitar and violin that lands in the pit of your stomach. The album, released in May this year, is already their fourth. They formed back in 2008, most aged 17; this is a band for whom teenage angst really did pay off well. They’ve held onto some of it, but also expanded, dropping their juvenile beginnings, and developing a raw, mature version of those earlier emotions. Story telling and drama combine in a way that could rival the best, such as Nick Cage and similarly (doomed) romantic musicians. They’re killing it (they’ll never stop killing it, shouldn’t stop killing it).

Iceage teeter along the border of post-punk, art pop, and straight-up punk, which gives the band a pleasingly distinctive sound. They were brash but delicate, urgent but also perfectly planned.

Sadly (or perhaps not) this meant no time for chit-chat. Audience interaction was kept to a minimum, as was interaction between each other. The most human moment I witnessed between them was when Bender slipped and hit the floor, hard. In this moment, a couple of the band glanced at each other and smiled, vaguely. I think they’d take it back if they could, but I thought it was brilliant. Bender swiftly got back up, unflinching. He was completely nonchalant, demonstrating his professionalism and dedication to the art. I’ve never seen someone collapse on their arse and remain so cool.

The post-punk five-piece come armed with poetic lyrics, giving them an edge that’s been lost on a lot of other punk bands at the moment. Iceage seem to have learnt that the most punk thing is to not try and be punk, to accept the softer side of their aesthetic and musical calibre. Their set list had variation (mostly provided by their latest release) – some slower more sullen songs, like ones you’d wish for at the bottom of a liquor bottle (yes, it’s worth the cliche); others faster, thrashing, evident of their Swedish hardcore influences.

Both set-ups were bound by grimace and slurred speech. Their previous albums have worked as an exploration, an experiment, to lead them to the refined sound they’ve discovered on Beyondless.

Their lyrics have consistent dribs and drabs of religious context which, coupled with their iconic arrogance, stains the band with a somewhat haunting, inflated sense of self. The crowd, and fans in general, lap-it-up. The formation of attitude, music and appearance have given Iceage a status of Godliness amongst their fans, washing away a pretension that a more skeptical viewer may easily pick up on. Bender casts himself in a Godly position, placed front of the stage, uncontrollably flinging his arms and his body into the crowd, erratically telling a story, not looking anywhere in particular.

The moments that are really breathtaking, really unique, are those after the build up (usually), when sax, violin, guitar, bass, drums and vocals collide, becoming one. The instruments create a wall of sound, though sometimes you’re still able to distinguish the sound of violin, giving the feel of a sort of post-punk hoedown.

You get a taste of this in songs like ‘Catch It’ and ‘Hurrah’. At points, the violins replicated something you’d find in a Baz Luhrmann flick; at others, saxophone and Western-style guitar that should be used in a title scene driving into the desert. As I’ve mentioned, it was dramatic, it was theatrical, it was wonderful.

Their music does what art should always do, it leaves you curious, intrigued to experience more. And that’s definitely what it is: art, beyond good tunes and carefully balanced instruments. They’ve collapsed into themselves, a vacuum of violins and sullen glances, it’s all consuming. For their hour set, I totally realised that to be true.

Annie Roberts