Börn are from Reykjavik, Iceland, and they’ve just released a new 4-song EP on the eve of their first US tour (Tour dates and a stream of their new self-titled EP are below). The band channels the dark and desperate spirit of past fellow Scandinavian postpunkers in Kitchen and the Plastic Spoons and Cortex – or, perhaps more accurately, England’s Pink Military, and the anarcho-punk of the Dog Faced Hermans, Poison Girls or Rubella Ballet. According to singer Alexandra in the interview below, the band’s earliest efforts (as Nörn) were guided by an obsession with 80s California deathrock. But, in her words, “we are more aggressive and more punk now.”
Börn’s more recent material has an off-kilter, dissonant, early 80s Rough Trade postpunk vibe – a discordant guitar wails around Alexandra’s impressive voice, a voice that recalls Anja Huwe of Xmal Deutschland but which has its own, distinct, sometimes-aggressive-sometimes-operatic style (Think Adrienne Droogas of Spitboy meets Anne Taivan of Kitchen and the Plastic Spoons, with just a dash of Nina Hagen).
Contemporary sonic points of reference might include Vancouver, British Columbia’s Lié – or even England’s Savages. It’s when you see Börn’s devastatingly awesome live performance at the Iceland Airwaves event at the Kex Hostel, though (in the embedded video below), that you see how powerfully well the group works together as a unit. The first track on their new EP, “Engan skal hungra,” which also starts off the band’s set in the video below, is the most traditionally gothy sounding of the four new songs – and I use the word “traditionally gothy” cautiously here, because it isn’t really “traditionally” anything. There’s experimentation and pushing against the bounds of genre convention at play; the song refuses to be pigeonholed, but it is perhaps like something the early Nina Hagen Band might have made with members of The Passions or Xmal Deustchland in their ranks.
The second track is a clanging, chunky post-hardcore barnstormer. Again, I think of the powerful, uptempo aggression of a band like Spitboy in the 1990s. There may even be some of the scritchy angular noisemaking of post-hardcore bands like Fugazi or Circus Lupus in there. Incredible! Fannar’s drumming is clean and prompt and Juliana’s bass guitar pushes the band ahead rather than hovering around in the back the way some bass guitar lines do. The songs as a whole evince a frustrated tension that boils over into clashing aggression but which mostly pleads its case through tightly controlled minor notes, again thanks to Anna Guðný’s guitar – evoking feelings of anxiety, alienation, worry, tension…. The sound of a brooding psychic darkness that is fed up with its own thwarted attempts to express itself. The music is that of alienation that has gone past the point of exhaustion and which has produced a gathering force of darkness all its own, of self-realization frustrated too many times and turned into monstrous, angular bursts of energy and despair.
Unlike many of the newer school of dark punk or deathrock-influenced bands – bands which quite plainly sound gothy but will not concede that they are, indeed, gothic rock bands, probably because of the cultural baggage and reputation the word “goth” has assumed over the decades – Börn quite simply accept the deathrock and goth-punk labels, as in the interview below. And this is even though there are complicating and interesting aspects to their songs, especially on the new EP, that make them sound unique and not candidates for neatly fitting into those categories, either. The tradition of bands like Kleenex/LiLiPut, the Raincoats, and Girls at Our Best feels just as alive in their music as does the more clearly deathrock or goth-punk tradition of the Superheroines or Blood and Roses. The new EP is highly recommended, as is seeing them on their North American tour in late April and May.
Börn’s new self-titled 7″ is on Total Negativity in the USA and Paradísarborgarplötur Records in Iceland. It will be available from the band on their US tour, dates of which are after the interview below.
Börn singer Alexandra was interviewed by Oliver in April 2015. Please bear in mind that Alexandra’s native language isn’t English, so special thanks is owed to her for putting up with someone that couldn’t communicate with her in her own tongue!
For those that might be reading about Börn for the first time, can you describe where you are from, when you started, and who is in the band now versus who was in the band when it started?
Alexandra: We are from Reykjavík, Iceland. We originally started in 2010. At that time it was just me and Fannar, our drummer, but in 2011 we got Anna and Júlíana to join us.
If someone else had never heard you all before, how would you describe your sound to them? I’ve seen people say that you’re gothic punk, or deathrock, or dark postpunk – do these descriptions fit? How would you describe your music?
Alexandra: We use all those descriptions.
I’ve seen that your original name used to be Nörn, which if I’m correct means “witch” in English, and then you changed it to Börn, which means “children”…. Can you explain why you chose the original name, and why you changed it?
Alexandra: Yes, we were originally called Nörn, which does mean “Witch.” We chose it because the idea of a witch is often women taking control of their life and environment and that is often considered bad. From these ideas, being a witch becomes a symbol for female empowerment and matriarchy. We ended up changing it because there is a black metal band that started at the same time with the same name. After we had been pretty inactive and they were still going, we decided to change our name to Börn. And yes, that means “children.” We feel that the new name goes with the idea that women and people with disabilities are often treated like children, and again it plays into taking control of our own lives.
It seems I recall there was a 3 song Nörn demo on the web. Is this available anywhere, and how would you say the musical style from the demo changed (if at all) when compared to the material on your new EP?
Alexandra: You can download the Nörn demo for free. We have changed a lot. The demo is more influenced by Californian death rock (which me and Fannar were obsessing over at the time). We are more aggressive and more punk now, and Júlíana and Anna are just amazing and make the band more whole.
Do you all feel that you all are specifically influenced by Icelandic punk and postpunk bands above others? Bands like Þeyr or Vonbrigði – are they your primary influences or are you influenced by punk and postpunk acts more broadly?
Alexandra: I feel like we are influenced by a lot of things. Vonbrigði’s Kakófónía is of course there but it’s broader than just old Icelandic punk bands. Personally, I’m influenced by women in punk like Poison Girls, Sect and Good Throb.
How is the scene like in Iceland these days? What are some of the better bands you know of or have played with there?
You made a post on Facebook about how, on Good Friday, there are strange laws about dancing or having shows. Are there a lot of laws like this in Iceland? Culturally, is it very conservative there and does this affect Börn’s music in any way?
Alexandra: On Good Friday you’re not allowed to have a party or a dance in a public venue all day, but you are allowed to have a show after 3pm. For the past few years, a collective of Atheists have held a bingo before noon on this day to protest this ridiculous and Christian law and haven’t been arrested yet. I can’t recall any other law like this here. Culturally, Iceland is pretty conservative compared to other Nordic countries. We keep voting conservative parties to lead the country.
Are you all a political band? What do your lyrics tend to be about?
Alexandra: Our lyrics revolve a lot around the issue of body image, feminism and ableism, but the lyrics on our new EP are mainly about police violence and war.
Have you been to the USA before? What are your impressions of America, and what are you most looking forward to? What are you most scared of?
Alexandra: I think we have all been to USA before as individuals. It’s difficult to say what impressions I have of America; Iceland is pretty Americanized so it feels familiar. Although I find it very strange the times I’ve been there to see all the homeless people and know that upper/middle class people don’t really care. I see comments all the time online about how they think they are just being lazy and don’t deserve shelter and food because they aren’t “productive members of society.” The circumstances around homelessness are never about laziness, but even if they were lazy, would they deserve to die because of that?
What I’m most looking forward to is meeting friends I haven’t seen in a long time or even never met personally! There are also a bunch of bands that are playing with us that I’m really looking forward to seeing, like Arctic Flowers. What I’m most scared of is me or anyone else on the tour getting seriously sick or having any sort of accident that forces us to go to a hospital. We can’t afford that in America. The US police also scare me, but seeing how we are all white I guess the threat is minimal for us. I’m not used to cops carrying a gun – that’s the big difference between Iceland and America.
TOUR DATES ARE BELOW THE IMAGE:
BöRN US TOUR DATES FROM APRIL AND MAY:
April 21st – Olympia, WA at TBA w/ G.L.O.S.S., Slouch, Pines
April 22nd – Seattle, WA at Black Lodge w/ G.L.O.S.S., Underpass, Diversions
April 23rd – Missoula, MT at TBA w/ TBA
April 24th – Minot, ND at TBA w/ TBA
April 25th – Minneapolis, MN at Secret Service Warehouse w/ Condiminium, Dog Problem, Lard Boys
April 26th – Milwaukee, WI at Quarters Rock ‘N’ Roll Palace w/ Miserable Friend, Fox Face, Floods Fires
April 27th – Chicago, IL at Old Mt. Happy w/ Coneheads, Toupee, Dominadora
April 28th – Bloomington, IN at The Back Door w/ Ray Creature, Lech
April 29th – Ann Arbor, MI at TBA w/ TBA
April 30th – Columbus, OH at MINT w/ Smut, Katherine
May 1st – Philadelphia, PA at Second Empire w/ Haldol, Chondria
May 2nd – Boston, MA at Grandma’s House w/ Vexx, Laika’s Orbit, Leather Daddy
May 3rd – Day off
May 4th – Easthampton, MA at The Flywheel w/ Longings, Urochromes, Dead Shadow
May 5th – Providence, RI at TBA w/ TBA
May 6th – New Haven, CT at a house w/ Phantom Rides, Colorgaurd
May 7th – New York, NY at TBA w/ TBA
May 8th – Washington, DC at TBA w/ TBA
May 9th – Ashville, NC at Static Age w/ Ritual Contact
May 10th – Columbia, SC at Shredquarters w/ TBA
May 11th – Talahassee, FL at TBA w/ Ex-Breathers, Night Witch
May 12th – Chattanooga, TN at Sluggos w/ TBA
May 13th – Columbia, MO at TBA w/ TBA
May 14th – Witchita, KS at Kirby’s Beer Store w/ Plaguebot, Darjeeling, Fairness
May 15th – Denver, CO at Club Scum w/ TBA
May 16th – Day off
May 17th – Oakland, CA at 1-2-3-4 GO! Records w/ TBA
May 18th – Portland, OR at TBA w/ Arctic Flowers, G.L.O.S.S.