The infectious madness ofEGA Legionnaire

Talking burnt popcorn, paper airplanes, garage-punk, and giant Danish lizards with one of Copenhagen’s most eccentric bands.

Published: November 28, 2017Words: EGA Legionnaire & J.Scott StrattonPhotographs: Jens JuulArtist Link: EGA Legionnaire

Ican honestly say that there have been very few instances in my life, where I have stood in the audience watching a band and found myself wondering, “what the hell am I watching?” Yet, seeing EGA Legionnaire at the newly reopened, and poorly conceptualized Dispensary (formerly Drone), was just one of those times. Although, the caveat of this experience was this – I had a fucking blast!

I get the impression that this sensory overload – along with a heaping portion of, “what the fuck?!” – is exactly the vibe and audience reaction that the Copenhagen-based five-piece is going for. Mixing a raw punk and indie sound with, what can only be described as odd mash-up of performance art and vaudeville, EGA Legionnaire will leave you entertained, slightly confused, but definitely feeling like you’ve gotten your money’s worth.

I will admit that a little gets lost in experiencing the band purely in audio or video format – as much of what makes the group unique is in the live performance. That is not to say that the music is without its merits, though. The low-fi raw punk vibe, which I can almost guarantee is recorded live, harkens back to a time when the best underground punk bands could only be found on 7 inch – by way of some nomadic Distro following a band through town.

With recording software and programming becoming easier to procure in recent times, something has been a little lost of that honest, pure and DIY nature – that could once be found in the bands that only had enough resources for a worn-out SM58 microphone, a blown-out P.A., and some dodgy acquaintance with limited recording skills.

After experiencing EGA Legionnaire’s raucous and crazy live show, and listening to what songs I could find online, I realized I might be missing half of the story to this crazy mix of Copenhagen musicians. Knowing I was probably making some misguided assumptions, I did what I usually do and reached out to them to learn more about their smorgasbord of musical madness.

Let’s start with easy stuff. Give me a little background about the band.

Back in the day, that is to say, 2015, we started as a “case-core” duo with just suitcase drums and bass guitar. Given we were not all that coordinated, it was tough trying to yell—much less sing—anything intelligent or interesting on top of that.

As luck would have it, we somehow still managed to put on a compelling enough live show to have a few friends in the audience who were enthusiastic about joining up with vocals, guitar, and synth. We’d actually all known each other for quite some time, but the idea of making music together as a five-piece somehow only came to us in 2016.

So is that when the band’s non-traditional instrumentation and theatrics became part of the bands live experience?

A big part of it is not being all that comfortable with, or moved by, the idea of performing in front of an audience without actually involving them. So a lot of the theatrics are about getting the audience to feel like they’re a part of the show, and that we’re conscious of the role they have to play—that they aren’t merely consumers of a scripted product. We also just need outlets for our dorky theatrical sides.

The non-traditional instrumentation, especially the drums made of suitcases and bicycle wheels and washing machine spare parts, mostly stems from that fact that long ago we couldn’t really find a drummer with a traditional drum set who wanted to be a part of the songs we were writing. So we built our kit own with junk we could lay our hands on. From that point on, there was no reason to say “no” to a bit of accordion here, or some Vietnamese flute there, even if that didn’t quite jive with the idea of a “garage punk band.”

Tell me how the various performance objects – the popcorn maker, the paper airplanes, etc. – fit into the structure of the music? Do specific objects reflect specific lyrical themes?

In some cases, there is a strong conceptual link. The paper airplanes we throw during a song called “Terrain,” which is about freedom of movement and international migration. And the cans we ask people to bang together work hand in hand with the cheesy dad pun in a particular song title. But on the other hand, the various contraptions we’ve used to spew hot popcorn on the audience have been deployed during various songs since we began, and that usually has been dependant on when the oil was hot enough and which one of us had forgotten to plug the machine in earlier. So we can’t claim a pure coherent aesthetic all the time. But Chance is as valuable an ally as structure and skill, right?

What about the name of the band? How did that come about?

The name EGA Legionnaire is partly a reference to the old PC “Enhanced Graphics Adapter” which could display 16 colors simultaneously, and a nod to a penchant for military history among some of us in the band, which is admittedly a strange undercurrent in a band full of leftist misfits. But we wanted an honest name which reflected some of our inspirations, even the subtler ones from our childhoods.

In retrospect, there’s an inference to be made concerning our aspirations as a band. We’d like to consider ourselves an elite special operations unit like the French Foreign Legion, but at the same time, we’re happy with the limitations imposed by old-school hardware like a graphics card that only allows for a measly 16 colors at a time.

Ah, that explains a lot about all the 16bit graphics references. Beyond that, how do translate the conceptual nature of the live experience into the rest of the elements of the band – like videos, album art, etc.?

Most of our flyers—when we make them ourselves—are based on screenshots from old computer games or other images that fit our name or pool of interests.

Again, audience participation is an element. Our first album we released as a 240g tin can, with the album art on the label and the music available only as a download, but you could eat the ecological tomatoes inside. This caused some confusion with people who weren’t prepared for the possibility of getting both food and music in the same container – an aesthetic that correlates with the fundamentals of our live show.

EGA Legionnaire interview for Blacklisted Magazine

The videos we’ve done have a lot of tongue-in-cheek images, lyrical and conceptual references, and mad hyper-pixelization to make things less crappy. That might give the impression that we’re joking around and just out for a good time, but if you get past the visuals, most of our songs have an ideological or a political underpinning. We simply don’t take the fact that we have strong opinions on serious subjects as an injunction against being goofy when it comes to the way we perform or present or package our art.

So underlying the compelling live experience is the music itself. What are some of the influences that drive the musical aspirations the band?

Obviously numerous and tough to single out. Maybe the biggest influences are ones that we’re not even aware of ourselves. And it’s not something we’ve ever really talked about—it’s not like we met because of a bunch of flyers or online ads dropping names and insisting that to form a band together, we all had to come from the same school of thought.

Each of us has a fairly different musical upbringing, and one of the band’s tenets is that pretty much anything is allowed. But there’s some new wave, some Washington DC hardcore, obscure Italian pop, there are progressive rock fans, and riot girl influences. Throbbing Gristle, The Ex, PJ Harvey, other contemporary artists, etc. But beyond musical influences, we’re all pretty inspired by the DIY aesthetic. Some of us did improv theatre, and all of us like absurd sketch comedy.

And of course, each of us either packed up a life elsewhere and came to Denmark as a foreigner, or is a Dane but with plenty of distinguishing baggage.

So what’s in store for the future?

Well, Denmark just spent 56 billion kroner on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. We’re obviously excited to see those ensure air superiority over the Kattegat. And between now and the second coming of Reptilicus (for which the F-35 is remarkably ill-suited), we’ll be recording another album with more guitar and some other new instruments, and we hope to play more shows in Germany, Norway, and Sweden. And Jylland.

Unfortunately, I believe we might have to defer to the Japanese should Reptilicus return. They seem to have those kinds of things sorted out. But in the meantime, do you have any famous last words?

So it goes.