By Gabriel Mathews
What better way to wrap up my stint as an Angeleno than a two-day Danish punk festival in an old church in the neighborhood I have the most ties to? This event, a grammatically dubbed 13 Torches for a Burn, was to be a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing, an “Only in LA” type of thing, something I’d inevitably regret missing. And for only twenty bucks, there was no way I was turning it down. Danish label Posh Isolation had come together with The Church on York, as well as sponsors at Part Time Punks and E. 7th Street Punx to put on the show every Iceage fan has ever dreamed of—let’s get this whole crazy inbred Copenhagen scene to perform together, in one place, at one time, for a reasonable price. Let’s give the Americans what they want, so long as they’re in that desolate capital of crossbred culture that is Los Angeles. It was such an excellent idea that my best friend and this show’s CGC flew out from New York basically just for it.
And then, as it had to, LA happened. We were all set to go into Day 1 at the Church, grabbing beers at a nearby bar when an acquaintance also attending drove past the window, saw us, and shouted, “CANCELED! SEE YOU TOMORROW AT LOS GLOBOS!” Upon investigation, we learned that, as we should have expected, the Church’s pretty-much-illegal doings had caught up to them (this kind of venue can’t exist in this kind of city) and the fire marshall had decided 13 Torches was a good time to crack down. The well-connected folks at the Church, though, had hit up their friends over at Los Globos and secured the club’s two upstairs rooms for an allnighter the following evening. So what we had on our hands was the same show, all in one go, in a red-vinyl-and-mirrors vampire den as opposed to the gloriously reverby rafters of an old Mexican worship house.
In an odd way, Los Globos seemed equally-if-differently appropriate to host this lineup. Iceage, Lower, Sexdrome, Lust For Youth, Puce Mary and the rest of the Posh Isolation crew only make sense in a few places, and the terrifyingly dark, low-ceilinged Los Globos is one of them. When CGC and I showed up promptly at 5:00, we were blinded by the black, stultifying atmosphere of the place. That Sejr then immediately took the stage felt inevitable. With Iceage bassist Jakob Tvilling Pless on guitar, Iceage drummer Dan Kjær Nielsen, Communions’ guitarist on bass, and a dude from Redflesh screaming, Sejr set the bar high for crossband pollination. Their black metal stylings were especially notable for not actually deviating much from the Iceage template aside from the extreme voice shredding of Redflesh guy and the unceasingly breakneck pace. Their quick set was an excellently evil way to start the evening.
Opening the smaller room was Deeplands, the first in a string of electronic acts that just failed to hold my attention the way the guitar bands in the other room were doing. Over the course of the night, we dropped into the small room for a few seconds of Age Coin and Croatian Amor, but nothing was interesting enough to make the heat bearable.
(Oh, that’s right, LA is really hot this time of year. Especially in crowded rooms full of sweaty punks who, as we soon discovered, were not allowed to leave the space for eight hours. I can’t say I’ve experienced a very different culture in Portland or anywhere else, but strict no-ins-and-outs policies are a really Medieval form of torture. What is the venue gaining by holding their audiences captive? I suppose I felt an interesting sense of community build with this crowd of misfits in black, a feeling that can only come from being stuck in a room with the same group of people over the course of several hours, one reminiscent of high school grad night or a very long flight. And while we thought we were going to starve, it turns out Los Globos makes a serviceable-if-overpriced chicken sandwich. But, seriously, guys, this shit is not cool.)
Marching Church ended up being one of my favorite things to happen over the course of the night. True to the incestual nature of the scene, Marching Church featured members of Lower, Hand of Dust, Puce Mary, and, most importantly, Iceage frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt. Upon climbing onstage Rønnenfelt donned a silk dressing gown and proceeded to channel some rock-god hybrid of Iggy Pop and Nick Cave for one of the least Iceage-like performances I’ve ever seen. In his main band, Rønnenfelt tends to stalk the stage menacingly, one hand clenched behind his back. Marching Church apparently gives him an outlet for his more romantic tendencies, as he sang weepy love songs reminiscent of twisted 80s power ballads, made tear-streak gestures down his face, and stretched his voice painfully into some high notes you’d never hear on an Iceage song. The result was transfixing, as Rønnenfelt sang about secret loves at the dark end of the street with a whole different kind of conviction than I’m used to seeing from him. He should wear that robe more often.
Marching Church’s frontman took the mic for Hand Of Dust, who injected some much appreciated melodicism into the proceedings. They basically played some straight forward hard rock, but the chugging guitar followed a musical thread most of these bands opted not to pick up on. I would say keep an eye on this one, but Posh Isolation bands have such a habit of breaking up (Notably, Iceage/Sexdrome/Lust For Youth project Vår are no more after one critically-lauded album) that I don’t know if it’s worth it.
Speaking of bands playing breaking up and playing their last shows ever, Sexdrome came across as the evening’s last-gasp saviors. The super tall guy in the turtleneck and chains who’d been making bouncy electro earlier as Croatian Amor and whose name is Loke Rahbek and who actually runs Posh Isolation and who would take the stage a third time later as Lust For Youth stepped up, took off all his shirts, and adopted a permanent scowl so exaggerated as to be humorous. He then proceeded to lead his band through an incredibly badass set of straight-up hardcore with a black metal edge so sharp it could saw bones. Sexdrome have a reputation for being a more violent Iceage, who have a reputation for leaving people bloody at most of their shows. While I didn’t see any blood, it wasn’t for lack of effort on Rahbek’s part. He hurled himself into the crowd, wrapped himself in the mic cord, grabbed at anyone near him, got my CGC in a headlock. This was incendiary stuff that seemed to make the lights black out all on its own (For future reference, moshing in the dark is a scary but amazing thing to do). It’s a shame Sexdrome will no longer be around, and I’m thrilled to have seen the end of it.
One of two small room acts I feel compelled to write about is Puce Mary, aka Frederikke Hoffmeier, a gorgeous Nordic woman who makes some of the most excruciating music I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. While I could only stand to be in the room for a total of about three minutes (the heat played a big part here), I was thoroughly impressed by the noises Hoffmeier was creating, which were sort of reminiscent of the three minutes I’ve ever been able to listen to of Pharmakon, but louder. She also wins best band name of the night by a landslide.
Back in the big room, the energy felt depleted. We’d already been locked in Los Globos for about six hours and it seemed unlikely that anyone would recover the fury they’d spent on Sexdrome. Luckily for us all, a little band called Communions were setting up. To see them, in their oh-so-Danish haircuts and 80s schoolboy outfits, these four really really young men looked like mini-Iceage, and having never heard them before, CGC and I expected that’s what they’d be musically as well. Instead we got a vital injection of some of the most impressive guitar pop I’ve heard in a long time. These guys had to be like sixteen years old (with the exception of their sort of scary drummer, who was maybe nineteen) but they’ve clearly spent most of those years ingesting every single bit of excellent songwriting there is to be had in this world and practicing their guitars all the while. Seriously, think of any little songwriting trick in the book—the well-timed drum fill, the perfect key change, the twobar breakdown—Communions pulled it off perfectly. Their two guitarists are wizards, sometimes reminding me of a much less boring Martin Courtney/Matt Mondanile hydra. The singer, who looked even younger than the rest of them, had a beautiful Danish choirboy thing going on, hitting high notes but somehow still bellowing all the while. I should also note that it was during Communions’ set that I finally realized all these bands had brought one drum kit and maybe two basses and two guitars to share between them. I though that was awesome—if one thing was clear about the Copenhagen crew, it’s that they really all care about each other, and that’s a beautiful thing.
Waiting for the next act to go on, the drunk girl who’d been lying on the floor giggling came over and plopped herself down next to me. “Whenza next bandgo on?” “Um, soon, I think.” “Who is it?” “Lower.” “What kinda musicdthey make?” “… punk, I guess?” “Are we gonna dance?!” “I don’t know, I guess we’ll see.” She then flew off as fast as she’s arrived, only to return a minute later. “My friend says theydonwanus to dance. Are we gonna dance anyway?”
It turned out to be a relevant question. Lower were the big surprise of the night, for me, but not necessarily in a good way. After the skullcrushing force of their debut EP Walk On Heads, I was expecting another slaughterhouse. But the moshing for the set was limited to a handful of diehards who tried very earnestly to make music this slow work for slamming. The first sign of trouble was when pudgy frontman Adrian Toubro took the stage in an unbuttoned shirt and a bucket hat (“He’s easily the least glamorous person here,” said CGC). Lower then hit us with all new material, excluding their one semihit “Craver,” and it was kind of weird. While I basically enjoyed the music, which sounds like Walk On Heads filtered through both Unknown Pleasures and Power, Corruption, and Lies, it was Toubro’s stage presence that really threw me off. The bucket hat was only phase one of his borrowing from another Manchester icon, Happy Mondays’ Shaun Ryder, as he spent the whole set strutting stupidly around stage and making silly hand gestures. It almost felt like a bad hip hop performance thrown into the middle of a very white, very Danish punk fest. It also didn’t help that Toubro accompanied his literal finger wagging with a lot of lyrical remonstration as well. The snatches I could pick out generally seemed to be berating the fashion-oriented and image-0-centric among us in really obvious, inelegant ways. Lower’s debut full-length Seek Warmer Climes comes out next month and I don’t know if I’m excited anymore.
The other smallroom band I feel compelled to mention is Girlseeker, which featured members of Sexdrome and Lower playing goofy synth/guitar jams with titles like “Lonesome and Handsome.” Maybe it was the heat, and maybe it was eight hours of very posh isolation, but I found myself bombarded by some of the most hysterically difficult music I’ve ever heard. Most of the set seemed to be everyone soloing at once over a synthetic beat, but this effect might have been created simply because the guitar and the keyboards were all made to sound almost identical. In my delirium, I couldn’t stop laughing.
Iceage, of course, are no laughing matter. The last time I saw them, at Filter Magazine’s Culture Collide®, their set was cut woefully short by some sort of problem with guitarist Johan Surballe Wieth’s pedalboard. This set was to be that one’s redemption, in my eyes. Plus, they were really the reason everyone was here, if we’re being honest. Iceage are about ten times bigger than any of the other bands in the lineup, and they know it. They were also capping off one of the most intense concert experiences I imagine most of this audience had ever been to, with only Lust For Youth playing after them, and you’d imagine this would hold them to some level of rigor and crowd-pleasing.
But, no, Iceage are beholden to no one. Taking the stage, they launched into one new song after another. This isn’t a bad thing—the new songs show an evolving band, playing around with slower tempos, longer songs, and a fun Spaghetti Western/cowpunk feel. You’re Nothing was a bit step up from New Brigade, and these songs indicate that whatever comes next will continue the same trajectory. Plus, these songs were not unfriendly to moshing, and everyone went about as hard as they’d gone for Sexdrome, with Elias Bender Rønnenfelt carrying over some of the rockgod energy from his Marching Church set into a less-evil-but-no-less-violent-than-usual Iceage performance. The problem, though, with these songs is that there were only four of them. Towards the end of the final song, the guitar seemed to stop. The rest of the band finished the song, and everyone promptly left the stage. At Culture Collide when the guitar crapped out, there was at least some attempt to fix it, a few false restarts, and a half-apology from Rønnenfelt. No such luck this time, which is okay, I guess, but this time they were headlining the fest that was supposed to be representing the scene of which they are kings. You’d hope they’d sort of acknowledge that kind of thing and think of themselves as ambassadors.
That said, the four songs we got were incredible, and after the set I found myself tearing my sweat-drenched shirt to pieces, downing an abandoned piña colada, and storming out of the venue, so it must have been a good time.
Though it wasn’t perfect, things like 13 Torches for a Burn are a huge check in the cons column of leaving LA. There’s something about this city, like most big cities, that makes entirely unique events possible. While my “only in LA” remark above was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, It’s also true that this would never have happened in Portland, where I’m from, or in Seattle, where I’m headed. LA is what allowed me to see Bon Iver in a cemetery at sunrise after being blessed by Buddhist monks and staying up all night watching Bottle Rocket and Planet Earth. LA allowed me to see Dirty Projectors perform the unperformable Getty Address, with a 10-piece ensemble, with the LA Philharmonic opening, at the Disney Concert Hall. Something about this town attracts a degree of specialness, it ups the ante. Even a deeply flawed event like Culture Collide had positives that I can’t imagine happening elsewhere—other cities don’t have the clout or the outsized ambition to bring over a hundred bands from around the world to once stretch of road. I’m thrilled that 13 Torches, my final LA show, was such an LA show.