cover spines are little torn !damaged
Iceage remains the best-known band to emerge from the Copenhagen underground in recent years, but their popularity has shone a light into the murky network of affiliated punk, industrial and electronic groups centred around the city’s venue and rehearsal space Mayhem. Dig even a little into this scene and you’ll quickly hit upon the name Loke Rahbek: a member of noise duo Damien Dubrovnik, synth-pop trio Lust for Youth and the neo-folkish local supergroup Vår; a solo artist operating under pseudonyms like LR and Croatian Amor; and co-owner of Posh Isolation, a small-press label and shop in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro district. Rahbek is everywhere and nowhere, the axis on which Copenhagen’s underground scene revolves.
Puce Mary, real name Frederikke Hoffmeier, debuted on Posh Isolation back in 2010 with Piss Flowers, a cassette of obscure industrial rumblings, and since then she and Rahbek have periodically worked as a duo, The Female Form being their third recorded collaboration. But 2010’s Lucia and the following year’s The Closed Room were made while both were barely out of their teens, and The Female Form feels like a bold step forward, showcasing not just the pair’s improved compositional prowess, but also the new spaces they have grown to inhabit.
Part recorded while the pair were composers in residence at EMS, a lavish state-funded studio in Stockholm equipped with vintage Serge and Buchla synthesizers, The Female Form lingers on the threshold between gritty basement industrial and the rarified field of electroacoustic composition. Everything here is crisp and in focus, and while there are no obvious beats, a fundamental sense of rhythm lies beneath everything. „Swim“ and „With Complete Will“ find the pair layering and binding circling loops into hard, grinding monoliths of sound, allowing them to gradually accrue mass, or disintegrate into clean tones and ultra-high frequencies that needle away at the edge of human perception. Both supply occasional vocals, which are stentorian and buried, occasionally making themselves intelligible amidst the clamor. On „A Body Reimagined“, a throbbing generator drone gradually takes on an increasingly gnarly, growling texture as Rahbek issues abrupt commands: „Arms bent/ Hips forced apart.“
Information accompanying The Female Form explains that it concerns „intimacy and the (im)possible relation of the sexes.“ Like much of Posh Isolation’s output, The Female Form has a complex relationship with industrial history. It operates loosely in the lineage, but dispenses with hoary old transgressive provocations–the misogyny, the ambiguous use of totalitarian imagery–in favor of more contemporary concerns: intimacy and communication, sexuality and gender identity. Which is not to suggest that the pair are uninterested in nudging at boundaries. Damien Dubrovnik shows have incorporated elements of Actionist performance art and Artaudian theatre, Rahbek finding exotic ways to debase himself–gagging himself with a microphone and plunging his head into a bucket of ice. Meanwhile, „Impure Fantasy“, the pair’s collaboration on Puce Mary’s 2014 album Persona, pitch-shifted vocals to a gender-neutral place to explore fantasies of submission. There are echoes of that track on „Liquefying of the Flesh“, Hoffmeier speaking coolly of „punishments exchanged for favors“ as brief bursts of pink noise lash like a whip. Throughout, she shadows her monologue with panned and processed recordings of her own voice choking and crying out. In exertion, or exultation? It’s not quite clear, and the uncertainty is probably the point.
As accomplished as The Female Form is, it feels somewhat standoffish, leaving a lingering sense that its experiments in fantasy and intimacy come from a place which we, the listeners, are excluded. Perhaps in the future, Rahbek and Hoffmeier will find a way to make us feel like something more than voyeurs. Still, for a record that explores a proposed gulf between male and female experience, the participants feel very much of a kind–musically, philosophically, even visually. This impression adds a strange but inviting frisson to The Female Form. It’s always encouraging when a record that raises more questions than it answers feels less like a tease, and more like the beginning of a conversation.