Psychobilly noir

A lot of Americans like to talk about how great it would be to move to Europe, but if you’re one of these aspiring expatriates, you might want to start saying, “I’d love to move anywhere in Europe except Denmark.”

Turns out that, in a continent rife with simmering youth movements that seem 40 years out of date, the country of more than five-million people is one of the few to experience honest-to-goodness anarchic rebellion. Last year, nearly 700 protesters were arrested during three days of rioting instigated by the forced closing of Ungdomshuset (Youth House), a building that had stood for more than a century and which had, since the early 1980s, been a headquarters for Copenhagen’s counterculture. People came and went, artists thrived, and everyone from Nick Cave to Björk played there. Danish band the HorrorPops, now proud residents of rock-and-roll hub Silver Lake, California, are still pissed off about what happened.

“It was a piece of Danish culture that should’ve been kept alive,” guitarist Kim Nekroman says while “freezing `his` ass off” in New Haven, Connecticut. The HorrorPops, a crazy mix of everything from pyschobilly to new wave to ska, is currently in the middle of a cross-country tour there. “I remember when I was younger, it was a place for punks and outcasts. All kinds of bands played there. I’d been there several times, I’d played there with my other band, the Necromantix. But eventually it was sold to this Christian cult who decided they wanted to save all these punks.”

The residents, many of whom became squatters for almost three years as organizers fought in the courts to protect Ungdomshuset from its new owners, a Christian sect called Faberhuset, were not interested in negotiating their salvation. Protests ensued and helmeted police types arrived to save the day. Nevertheless, on March 5, 2007,
Ungdomshuset was demolished under heavy police protection; construction workers wore masks so they couldn’t be identified and
targeted later.

Now, you might be wondering why the Ungdomshuset matters to you, or why an obscure event of only local consequence was covered around the world. On a philosophical front, it matters a lot. What it represented, and continues to represent in the hearts of so many, is freedom and a sense of resilient rebellion against an international movement toward capitalist-driven political homogeneity. Now, that’s a simplification that deserves to be picked apart by more than a fair share of our readers, but it’s not exactly easy to describe the overriding essence of a phenomenon without the length of a thesis paper to support your thoughts. Fortunately, the HorrorPops did it for us with “Boot2Boot,” a fiery song off their latest album, Kiss Kiss Kill Kill, which chronicles the band’s rage over what happened. Or, as Nekroman puts it, “The song is really a tribute to the spirit of that house.”

Lead singer and upright-bassist Patricia Day sings, “They’re persecuted, prosecuted, abominated, aggravated/everything you possibly could to us has been done.” But it’s when she cries out, “I’m tired of being wrong,” repeatedly that her earlier lyrics, “Do you want to follow?” start stinging.

“It’s kind of like a small, Midwestern town,” Day says of her homeland. “You can’t really look too differently, or be too different, or stick out in any way. That’s Denmark for you.”

Despite the emotional power of “Boot2Boot,” it remains the only song on Kiss Kiss Kill Kill that doesn’t actually belong on the diverse album. The other 11 tracks are all conceptually bound by a cinematic theme, with titles like “Thelma and Louise” and “Hitchcock Starlet.” The title itself even sounds like a Herschell Gordon Lewis B-movie, though it probably owes more to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, critic Pauline Kael’s 1968 book of film reviews. Consequently, Kiss Kiss Kill Kill qualifies as a concept album, with the HorrorPops taking their stab at scoring a spring blockbuster.

“We’re all big, big movie lovers,” Nekroman says about why the album was put together this way. “Whenever I hear a song — it could be one of our songs or somebody else’s song — I always put pictures to it, I always see a movie in my head.” Besides, after three years living in the shadow of the Hollywood Hills, how could the proximity not start to influence the HorrorPops’ eclectic work? “We’re located in the biggest city of the movie industry,” he adds.

The irony is that the HorrorPops were founded on rebellion, on an absolute disdain for conforming to the norm, and now they’re making music in, and drawing inspiration from, a city famous for mass-marketing beautiful clones ... er, people. Of course, it sounds a hell of a lot better than Denmark these days.

“We go home and it’s like, ‘Oh, the HorrorPops have found some success in the US,’ but, in Denmark, if you’re not a big mainstream act, they couldn’t care,” Nekroman explains, echoing comments Day made to us two years ago when explaining why it had become necessary for the HorrorPops to leave Denmark. “Being an artist in the U.S. or UK, it’s an official career, being an artist. But in Denmark, they don’t give a damn. Like, ‘Why don’t you sign up and get a real job?’”

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