#POIDH is not a viable life philosophy. You only live once, that’s the motto / make it yolo.
13 TORCHES FOR A BURN – SILVER LAKE, LOS ANGELES (5/17/14)
Movements aren’t any good without poses. An army needs a gesture to unite behind – Roman salute, raised fist, Roc-A-Fella diamond. Movements collapse without moments of easily coordinated participation. Battles and manifestos take time to process. Poses are instantaneous.
The pose of the Danish punk scene is a dramatic bend at the waist with the non-dominant hand held behind the back. It’s an elegant pose, much more refined than anything one usually sees at a punk show. It’s typically accompanied by hardcore stage pacing and immaculate Scandinavian grooming. This comes off as intimidating but oddly polite, as if one is being challenged to a duel. It’s an act of aggression, but a very formal one: rules of etiquette will be followed, but one or both of us will almost certainly die.
The dueling pose is one of many elements that unite the Copenhagen hardcore noise groups centered around blackened label Posh Isolation and made famous by crossover Pitchfork Stars Iceage. Other things they share: spiky guitar riffs, “Boy Meets World” haircuts, general Aryan beauty, musical instruments, brotherly love. Last year’s “Dokument #1″ compilation boasted 18 bands and 23 musicians, and last weekend’s two-days-compressed-into-one “EuroMagic” punk “festival” 13 Torches For A Burn was no less incestuous. It’s difficult to say how many people performed last Saturday on the second floor of Los Angeles’s Los Globos nightclub because everyone from the Copenhagen underground looks more or less the same. They dress the same, they play the same instruments, their hair is the same shade of blond (the exception being the delightfully miserable Frederikke Hoffmeier of Puce Mary, whose blonde is distinctively more platinum than that of her male counterparts). They all maintain the same look of woeful ecstasy mixed with abject malice (onstage and off), and when they need to distill this into a physical posture, they all strike the same pretty-boy fight stance.
Sejr, the new blackened crust band formed from members of Iceage and the remains of what was once (and may still be – it’s never very clear) Redflesh, was the first act to perform and thus the first to assume the mandatory position. Sejr’s singer, who unless I’m mistaken is named Witch Slayer, wore denim cut-offs, aviators, and a camouflage hunting cap and pranced like a pre-Industrial dandy. The music was frightening and highly competent. He maintained a look of complete disgust throughout.
This mixture of the blackest end of punk rock and effete foppishness is hardly news for anyone who has been following this stuff for the past several years. Perhaps its greatest perpetrators have been Sexdrome, the hardcore project of label head Loke Rahbek. Sexdrome were something of a guest of honor at 13 Torches – Saturday’s set was supposedly their last. They ended their career in prime style, Rahbek stripping out of his black turtleneck and stocking cap and contorting his delicately beautiful face into a scowl that redefined human indignation while his fans beat one another bloody. He ended the set sprawled across the stage, shirtless and drenched in various body fluids, few of them his own. He cut his mike and stormed away without the slightest hint of a thanks f0r the memories.
Out of the these ashes emerged the North American debut of Posh Isolation’s youngest act, a quartet of blond fifteen-or-so-year-olds called Communions. If there is a Copenhagen band bound for future cross-over success, this is the one. Their Hitler Youth charm harkens back to ”New Brigade” Iceage, but their sound, is, by Posh Isolation standards, disarmingly cheerful. Their guitars are spiky and their vocals sound like anesthetized moaning, but there’s an element of hopefulness in their guitar tone that sets them very much apart from their older brothers. Their hooks and chord progressions are borderline pop perfection, and singer Martin Rehof’s angelic request for increased vocals was one of the few endearing moments of the night.
The evening’s other biggest surprise was an astounding performance by Marching Church, the solo project of Iceage frontman Elias Rønnenfelt. Marching Church comes across as sloppy, highly forgettable bedroom noise on record, but Rønnenfelt’s live performance took on a kind of beauty that the Western hemisphere hasn’t seen since pre-dreadlocks Axl Rose. Dressed in a paisley smoking jacket with his long hair pulled back, Rønnenfelt sang a set of original torch songs with an almost unpalatable air of sincerity. He may be the first person within his lifetime to croon the line, “I hunger after you” without a visible hint of irony; he is almost certainly the first person in forty years to execute a tear drop gesture as anything more than a joke. Near the end of the set he grabbed a handful of change from his pocket and tossed it dejectedly into the audience. Melodrama, in the moment, is real. Sometimes it takes beautiful Danish boys to remind us of of this.
Yet another surprise, for those who hadn’t seen them before, was recent Matador acquisition Lower. Lower’s debut EP sounds like a slower, doomier version of “You’re Nothing,” but live they evoke the Haçienda Club fun of early Joy Division. Unlike everyone else in Denmark, vocalist Adrian Toubro is something of a slob: poorly dressed, bucket-hat wearing, slightly fat. His closest performative predecesor seems to be either the Happy Monday’s Shaun Ryder or Biz Markie. His open-armed gesturing was far removed from Rahbek’s delicate aggression, and it made his highly dramatic lyrics (“I was young and attractive, and reeked of success/but I threw it away”) all the more charming.
As the evening dragged on the captive audience (no ins-and-outs for a nine-hour concert at a poorly ventilated club on a 95-degree day – Los Angeles nightlife is some kind of thing) grew restless and the bands grew increasingly intoxicated. A past-midnight of the spectacularly stupid Girlseeker (featuring multiple dual keyboard-guitar solos per song and titles like “Handsome and Lonely”) proved that at least some of these kids are human. Boys danced; girls got drunk. On one occasion I saw Witch Slayer smiling.
Around 1:00 Iceage finally took the stage. Elias Rønnenfelt, out of his smoking jacket and most of the buttons on his shirt, could barely manage to execute his signature flat announcements of song titles. He used the low ceiling for support and rolled his eyes in Romantic ecstasy as he staggered through a series of non-album cuts in complete awareness of his very-not-punk homoerotic rock/sex-god status. The crowd swung punches at him and he punched back. At the end of the fourth song he cursed under his breath and stormed off the stage. Guitarist Johan Weith seemed to have injured his arm and clutched his elbow as he followed Rønnenfelt offstage. “Fuck you too,” muttered a young man near the front. “They’re on drugs,” his friend reported.
Hannes Norrvide’s Lust For Youth began almost immediately in the adjacent room, but for the punk rock kids, the night was over. The bass from Los Globos’s downstairs club night reverberated through the floorboards as a very different party came into full swing. I left feeling exhilarated but oddly unsatisfied. Despite being covered in Loke Rahbek’s sweat, I felt no connection to him or anyone else around me. I was witness to one of contemporary punk music’s most intimately loving communities, but despite the interminable amount of time we had just shared together I felt entirely apart from their united experience. “No one dances quite like my brothers,” professes the lead-off lyric of Rønnenfelt and Rahbek’s now-defunct Vår project. No one, including me. I encountered a pose in which I could not take part. I accepted the invitation to the duel, and I lost.
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“Pics or it didn’t happen” is not a viable life philosophy. You already know, doe: you only live once, that’s the motto – make it YOLO.