Trein Maersk: A Report To The NATOarts Board of Directors


Year: 2000

Type: electronic ‘docupop’ music

Artist: Icebreaker International (Alexander Perls & Simon Break)

Availability: vinyl LP (discogs £19.65 here), CD (amazon US$53.13 new & $11.99 used here, £34.97 new & £3.23 used here), download (amazon US$8.99 here & £7.49 here; iTunes US$7.99 here or £7.99 here), streaming (on Spotify here), and video (on YouTube here)

Page Reference: Midlen, R. (2013) Trein Maersk: A Report To The NATOarts Board of Directors. ( last accessed <insert date here>)

Lego re-creation

On board with Icebreaker International recording Trein Maersk

On board with Icebreaker International recording Trein Maersk (click photo for source).

Route map

Maesk Map

(Source: Icebreaker International 2000, p.8-9).

Track list

1. Port of Yokohama (06.36); 2. Philippine Sea (04.47); 3. The Pacific Rim (01.54); 4. Port of Singapore (07.28); 5. Arabian Sea Passage (04.11); 6. Port of Dubai (04.42); 7. The Long Boom (04.47); 8. The Strait of Gibraltar (04.14); 9. Port of Rotterdam (15.22); 10. The Third Way (05.51); 11. North Atlantic (03.20); 12. Port of Halifax (13.57) (Source: Icebreaker International 2000, p.2).


NATO has issued an invitation for us to listen to an electronic charm offensive (Source: Cooper 2000, np link).

[Icebreaker International’s] new album is the result of a several months-long ocean voyage ... [that] began in January of this year. NATOarts commissioned them to present a report that would promote free trade. The final report is a catchy bit of electronica, with various political soundbites mixed in (Source: Knipfell 2000, np link).

At the start of 2000, Alexander Perls and Simon Break booked passage on the container ship Trein Maersk, sailing from Yokohama in Japan to Port Halifax in Canada, via the strait of Gibraltar and the North Atlantic. During the seven week voyage, they composed, in their own words, an ‘audio report that would promote free international trade’ (Source: Anon 2001, np link).

Trein Maersk puts Simon Break and Alexander Perls on the container ship of the same name to report the findings gathered on their month-and-a-half-long journey from Japan's Yokohama port to Canada's Halifax port. Lengthy electronic pop instrumentals named after each of the five ports they dropped anchor at (’Port of Dubai,’ ‘Port of Rotterdam’) form the basis of the report, with some of the shorter sequences named after other points of interest and passage (’The Pacific Rim,’ ‘Strait of Gibraltar’). The only spoken bits come from ‘correspondence’ with Russian, Brazilian, and Chinese ‘audio consultants,’ as well as political sound bites (Source: Kellman nd, np link).

I discovered Icebreaker International over the web, I'd never heard of them before. Having listened to the sample track 'Port of Yokohama' on their website, I just had to get the album, and was not disappointed. Alex Perls and Simon Break boarded a container ship in Japan, and this beautiful electronic soundtrack to a seven week sea voyage halfway around the world is the result. Think Air crossed with Underworld with hints of Aphex Twin - trust me it works! The album hangs together beautifully as a complete piece of music. I love the CD Booklet as well - a series of articles on each of the ports visited during the voyage (Source: A Customer 2000a, np link).

Dance boffins Icebreaker International purport to be the musical wing of Nato, with a directive to promote global harmony through music. It is a manifesto which lends shape and form to their otherwise ambient meanderings. Inhabiting the same space as Plone or Steve Reich, Icebreaker play off delicate melodies against clever-clogs electronica (Source: Cowan 2000, np).

[Trein Maersk] does for boat trips what Kraftwerk’s Autobhan did for city-to-city motorway excursions (Source: Cooper 2000, np link).

The oceanic equivalent of Kraftwerk's Autobahn, Trein Maersk is an audio travelogue intended to promote free international trade (no kidding); as a result, Icebreaker's second record gets even more deeply conceptual than their excellent debut, err, report (Source: Kellman nd, np link).

This CD sounds a bit like Kraftwerk and Brian Eno, but with some poppier elements. It's long and the sounds of the boat journey are carried throughout. ‘The Third Way’ is especially nice - the guitar playing has a strange mechanistic quality to it (Source: stumpf 2000, np link).

[It is a] clear-sighted blend of breathtaking electropop and conceptual rigour (Source: Hollings 2001, np link).

Languid and expansive, politically deft and conceptually tight, [it] combine[s] 1980s synth-pop periodicity with field recordings, documentary fragments and words of recorded wisdom from various unidentified economists. To single out one track from a sequence that retains the kind of complexity and coherence rarely seen since Kraftwerk’s Radioactivity is not easy. Port Of Yokohama benefits from the heavenly Trance swirlings of the Free State YFZ Mix, while Don Rat’s IMF Mix and the minimalist Technofunk of ‘Yokohama - A Symphonic Picture’ build upon the gentle grandeur of the original. A masterpiece four times over (Source: Anon 2001, np link).

Train Maersk, thunders out of the tunnel of overplayed electro-progressive-deepgroove-minimalist cyber pop with a penchant for spectacle demolishing situationist conceptual textualism. Once again NATOARTS has unleashed another radical geo-bipartisan dissertation that demands the acclaim and admiration of its ever-widening network of international devotees (Source: A Customer, 2000b link)

Different than the minimalist bent of [previous album] Distant Early Warning, Trein Maersk offers up more beats (take 'em or leave 'em) along playful melodies: think Craftmatic-lazy-boy infomercial music meets Steve Reich meets Perrey-Kingsley's ‘Baroque Hoedown’ (Source: Karel 2003, np link).

This is an intense disc. ... The tunes are really good - from the poppy ‘Port of Yokohama’ to the epic ‘Port of Rotterdam’. Their previous disc was a bit cold for me, but this one is warm and friendly in an eerie way (Source: James 2000, np link).

‘North Atlantic’, a meditative piece for unaccompanied guitar, offers a brief change of mood ... Its langour and stillness also work particularly well against the translucent forward thrust of ‘Port Of Halifax’. [In] ‘Port Of Dubai’ ... [h]eavy Moroder-inspired sequencers transform the corporate video zest of the original into something far more predatory and uncompromising. Icons of commercial growth and global prosperity are replaced on screen by helicopter gunships, riot police and burning cars. Iraqi TV coverage of Saddam Hussein waving and smiling is juxtaposed with footage looted from Walt Disney’s Aladdin (Source: Hollings 2001, np link).

Concept albums we have seen plenty of, but concept bands? ... The new album, Trein Maersk, is not set in a barren, snow-covered locale but rather in the busiest ports of call of the world. As such, there is much flashing lights and hustle and bustle to Icebreaker's sound on this release - a much more human element - bringing it out of the Artic wasteland and putting more weight on the Eno side of their sound. While those flashing lights can create a warm, bouncy sound that is just as enveloping as the band's debut, they can also bring the mercury level of the music too far up, making it so warm it seems like dance music on tracks like ‘Port of Singapore’ or like children's video game music like on ‘Port of Dubai.’ While a lot of the album is warm and sprightly, the band does tone down their sound substantially during the second half of the album when the band is traveling through the colder-climated ports, bringing the music back closer to the sound of Distant Early Warning. Ultimately, this style of music is more successful for Icebreaker than the techno-pop inspired by the warmer ports. The music can be highly repetitive, as in the epic tracks named after the ports of Rotterdam and Halifax, creating a constant ebb and flow of delicate guitar patterns that very slowly and gradually change over time. While on this musical voyage, Icebreaker's music does alter with each port of call, but there is little addition of any sort of local flavor. As is implied by the voice samples in the songs and the liner notes, the ‘global economy’ has become an Anglo / American makeover for the rest of the world, and, as such, Icebreaker's music is more affected by the temperature and pace of the ports and seas than any local culture or customs they encounter. More accurately, the culture they encounter is so Americanized and sterilized, it has no effect (Source: Anon 2000a, np link).

Think the love child of alan Greenspan and the Alan Parsons Project, playing synthesizer on a sea cruise. An ode to global economy in principle and sonic design ... Thematically, their high-concept agitpop bounces in the wake of a container ship sailing from Yokohama to Halifax. Musically, its a trip through the boom on gossamer wings, mixing in brief squawks from seagulls and soaring technocratic sound bites. There’s no doubt in this pro-WTO disco that a rising tide floats all boats. Free your trade - the rest will follow (Source: Goggins 2000, np link).

‘Political art in the early 21st century seems to almost universally come from a leftist perspective, and NatoArts is seeking to address that imbalance by providing an alternative voice’ [says Icebreaker International’s Alexander Perls]. One of those voices on Trein Maersk is, by the way of a sample, that of American right-winger Pat Buchanan, heard singing the praises of the Third Way, the frankly vague political non-ideology subsequently embraced by Tony Blair’s New Labour. While one suspects a subliminally manipulative intent on Trein Maersk, Perls maintains that ‘the mission of NatoArts is a reasonable and necessary one’ (Source: Cooper 2000, np link).

This is an electro-pop masterpiece ... and the liner notes are reams of mostly indecipherable WTO-style economic theory (Source: A Customer 2000c, np link).

The album ... has very extensive sleevenotes which will explain the why and where we went on the trip and what we found at each port in our investigations (Source: Hailney & Smith, 2000 link).

... the booklet featur[es] seemingly straightforward reports to NATO on port issues and the advantages of hiring foreign non-union help (Source: Karel 2003, np link).

The booklet is more extensive than one you can find accompanying a rock opera, containing exhaustive information on the ports, trade policies, maps, and photos of subjects ranging from Mexican dock workers in Halifax to the port of Rotterdam's board of directors. Who says modern music has no educational value? (Source: Kellman nd, np link).

Trein Maersk ... is intended for use not only by academics and policymakers, but as a guide for artists, merchants, and members of the public who wish to make connections between contemporary developments in conceptual art and international trade. Mr. Break and Mr. Perls hope that this document will serve as a tool to open national markets to free and unfettered global exchange (Source: Anon 2000b, np link).

... with Trein Maersk’s sleeve depicting the pair be-suited, self-conciously hunched over electronic equipment, too po-faced for comfort, Nato security passes to the fore, you could be forgiven for thinking it was all an elaborate prank, with Perls and Break, both former LSE students, riding on an old-time wave of sixties Situationist subversion, with a fountain of latter day irony sprayed on top. And this is before you get to the academic essays explaining the economic pros and cons of each port of call, let alone the NatoArts: A Retrospective exhibition in New York. Not since the British Electric Foundation, who begat Heaven 17, have electro-pop boffins in suits adopted such a corporate, not to say conservative, identity (Source: Cooper 2000, np link).

Inspiration / Process / Technique / Methodology

New York-based Perls and London-based Break are members of NATOarts, NATO's cultural militia, founded in spring 1999 and now mounting its first retrospective exhibition in the Big Apple (Source: Shepherd 2000, p.16).

... whereas most artists and musicians aim to undermine the status quo, NATOarts proclaims that those it commissions are there to do just the opposite. ‘This is art supporting the organisations that keep us safe and secure’ (Source: Buck 2000, np link).

NATOarts (supposedly) sent the duo on a seven week voyage around the world aboard the cargo ship Trein Maersk (where the album gets its name) (Source: Anon 2000a, np link).

... we were sponsored by the NATOarts organisation to ride a vessel called the Trein Maersk on a trip around the world which began in Port Yokohama in Japan and ended in Halifax in Nova Scotia. That album’s called Trein Maersk (Source: Perls in Hailney & Smith 2000, np link).

Icebreaker International's debut album, Distant Early Warning, was the first NATOarts commission. This marriage made at the negotiating table came about when, as Perls puts it, ‘I came across a reference to NATOarts in the minutes of North Atlantic Council, which I was referencing as part of a research project on the slag-iron trade in the Gulf of Finland.’ ‘The idea of Trein Maersk came out of several meetings we had with the NATOarts board of directors in late 1999,’ says Perls. ‘With the prominence of free-trade issues at that time - the Seattle World Trade Organisation meetings, and so on - it was generally agreed that NATOarts needed to make an aesthetic statement in favour of free-market trading practices. We speak in favour of globalisation. An art action such as the one we undertook aboard the Trein Maersk seemed a sensible step to take.’ NATOarts spokesman Peter Rom reckons these illustrious aims can be achieved through a trickle-down effect. ‘Although NATOarts' exhibitions and artists may not have an immediate, perceivable impact on world culture as a whole,’ he says, ‘it makes sense to me that the gradual, eventual effect will be significant.’ Icebreaker International, meanwhile, are content to be seen as conceptual artists, saying, ‘we seek to educate and inform the public through our music’ (Source: Shepherd 2000, p.16).

‘Trein Maersk’, is, according to this site, the result of the two members' trip on the container ship Trein Maersk to various international sea ports. From the website (NATOarts): ‘Their mission, as specified by the NATOarts Board of Directors, was to produce an audio report that would promote free international trade.’ ... ‘NATOarts is an international arts organization which seeks to promote global security and stability through the exhibition of works of conceptual art. It is governed by a nineteen-member board of directors, with representation from each of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization member states’ (Source: Lindman 2008, np link).

On 6 January 2000 Alexander Perls and Simon Break boarded the container ship Trein Maersk at the port of Yokohama, Japan. Their mission, as specified by the NATOarts Board of Directors, was to produce an audio report that would promote free international trade. Over the course of their two month journey, Mr. Perls and Mr. Break recorded Trein Maersk: A Report to the NATOarts Board of Directors in a cabin aboard the Trein Maersk, using portable digital audio equipment. At the conclusion of their journey in March of 2000 at the port of Halifax, Canada, Mr. Break and Mr. Perls submitted a report to the NATOarts board of directors in audio format. Trein Maersk: A Report to the NATOarts Board of Directors, which was released on 24 July 2000, is an unabridged duplicate of that report (Source: Anon 2000b, np link).

[Q:] Practically, were you recording tracks as you went? Did you have a studio on the boat or … Both: Yes. S[imon]: It was just with the laptop I had. A[lexander]: In a room about this big actually. With portholes like there. S: It was literally a laptop, a guitar and a couple of small bits. That’s all you need to make an album nowadays. You know the number of huge selling records which have been made on this equipment now. I think studios really are an indulgence because it’s… the idea of music as a profession that one performs in a special production plant is in some ways I think becoming fairly redundant. Music’s a tool (Source: Hailney & Smith 2000, np link).

Perls begs to differ ... with any comparison with the Situationists, who toured cities picking up on urban moods to create psycho-geographic maps. ‘The Situationist movement is one from the left’ he points out. ‘To my knowledge these artists were seeking to disrupt the progress of Europe towards and American-style market economy.’ He adds: ‘Though our methods may be similar, our aims are exactly opposite theirs’ (Source: Cooper 2000, np link).

[Alexander:] The whole point was we’re making a portrait of the world in which people from all over the world… S[imon]: Essentially share the same culture. A: Share the same culture, which happens to be the American-dominated one. That’s the kind of realistic portrait whereas hundreds of these World, like Douchy-Doouchy from Djibouti. S: And if you go to Djibouti … A: They all drink Coke! S: They drink Coke and listen to Destiny’s Child and they’re very happy. And we don’t want to say that’s good or bad but that’s the way it is. I mean we’re certainly not going to say it’s bad (like a lot of people, they say this is terrible) because that’s like saying that the people who like these things are stupid. We don’t think they are. The stance of this audio-document is very much in favour of globalisation and presenting an argument in favour ... But the choice to not be trying to take cultural elements from these different places we visited was very very deliberate because we found… It’s not like we went out to tiny places in the countryside where we may have found whatever the kind of local folk-zither players were like. This was a journey around big big industrialised cities. And what we found was that what we saw in each one was mostly the same. There were variations, but they weren’t to do with local culture, they were more to do with shifts in political and economic geography rather than culture. Certainly the culture, the business culture would change from place to place but the actual artistic culture, for want of a better word, is very much now a sort of global dialogue (Source: Hailney & Smith 2000, np link).

When I say that there’s not elements of the local artistic culture obviously it’s not that there aren’t elements of the places we visited, there certainly are but they’re our reactions to them. For instance the track Port Rotterdam, which we haven’t got time to play tonight, because it’s long and complex and with all these movements, that was very much influenced by … I don’t know if you know that Rotterdam is quite far inland, you go up this enormous river to get to it. And so the music relates to the journey along the river, from the sea barrier (which we were very impressed by, amazing piece of civil engineering). So it starts there and then moves along the city through industrialised areas and more rural areas till you get to this heartless incredible hyper-modern, clean, clinical city. So it’s very much a reaction to what we saw. It’s just we didn’t take what would have been the very bland route of, wherever you land going to the local ‘World Music Shop’ and saying, ‘What is local to this region?’. That we really could have done from New York. If we wanted to say where it was, oh we’re in Singapore so it must be Kyoto or shamzims or whatever we could have stayed in New York and done that really easily (Source: Hailney & Smith 2000, np link).

[A]fter seven weeks aboard Trein Maersk, how was coming home to the West after so long away? ‘I think for both of us it was a spectacular moment,’ Perls says. ‘Port Of Halifax is symbolic of not just the end of a world tour of economic regions, it represents the inevitable triumph of American-style capitalism. Literally and figuratively, our journey through the world’s economic systems has ended on the doorsteop of the wealthiest and most free country in the world’ (Source: Cooper 2000, np link).

Icebreaker International will at least entertain. Trein Maersk is a warm, melodic journey which is as involving as the ideas behind it. ‘People have pointed out that the music we produced is strangely disconnected from the places we visited,’ says [Simon] Perls. ‘For example, we do not incorporate any of the native instrumentation of Japan, Singapore or Dubai. Trein Maersk is what world music should be - music that accurately reflects the current state of international culture. We live in a world in which indigenous music and culture is being replaced by a rationalised, efficient international culture and Trein Maersk is a bold statement in favour of that change’ (Source: Shepherd 2000, p.16).

S[imon]: With us in a way it’s the content that’s serious rather than the style; the style is deliberately meant to be a little bit more… A[lexander]: It’s meant to appeal to the masses as much as possible, whereas what we’re getting at, we’re trying to bring them a message that isn’t being brought to them through a popular medium. S: It’s that old sort of BBC slogan / technique .. to educate and to entertain. Hopefully they’ll think that economics and free trade are cool. A: Which they are. We’re gonna prove it tonight. C: How are you going to prove it? S: Via extremely focused techno pop. It’s been very heavily focus-grouped. We actually worked with the… A: The DynaMix corporation of Spokane, Washington. They took our music and put it through a battery of tests, on mostly American audiences because that would be the average consumer. We had tests in stations in Illinois, Missouri, Maine, New Hampshire, California and Nevada. And they had these like focus groups with 30 or 50 people in each one, it was like insane. And from that they culled music from our journey that they thought would bring the right message to the public from NATOarts (Source: Hailney & Smith 2000, np link).

‘It’s really part of our mission,’ Perls maintains. ‘Simon and I make music not just to be enjoyed, but to educate and inform the public. We like to call our style of music ‘docupop’’ (Source: Cooper 2000, np link).

Icebreaker International is electronic music with a message. Under the umbrella of the organisation NATOarts, Simon and I make music in support of international security and stability. ... Trein Maersk ... [an] an audio report in support of globalisation. We’re trying to bring a conservative, pro-business viewpoint to the listening public (Source: Perls in Thompson 2000, np link).

Discussion / Responses

So what is it with Nato? One minute they’re sending out so-called peace-keeping forces across the globe, coming over all paranoid about reds under the bed, and dropping bombs on Eastern-Eurpoean cities by mistake. All in the name of international diplomacy. The next they’re founding something called NatoArts, inviting artists of all persuasions to submit work that ‘promotes economic globalisation and free international trade’ (Source: Cooper 2000, np link).

This report is a lot less ambient than its predecessor, with the minimalist streak jettisoned in favor of mostly up-tempo tracks with further presence of guitars and pulsing rhythms. Although Perls and Break might work better with ambient isolationism than kinetic beats (the dance influence seems to stop at Kraftwerk and '80s synth pop), the disc satisfyingly doesn't sink under the weight of its concept. Well over an hour in duration, it's a bit much to digest - but hey, this is international free trade you're talking about here, certainly an important topic compared to the subject matter of today's average concept LP (Source: Kellman nd, np link).

How reactionary can you get? Closer inspection, however, reveals Alexander Perls and Simon Break to be pranksters (Source: Anon 2000c, np link).

I started doing a little research. A few things just didn’t add up. It struck me as a little strange, for instance, that NATOarts was based in Soho, instead of at NATO headquarters in Brussels. As did the fact that NATO has 16, not 19, member states. Or the fact that a detailed, day-by-day calendar of all the events surrounding NATO’s 50th anniversary doesn’t mention NATOarts. Not on April 4, not ever. Or that the NAC motion cited in the charter doesn’t exist. Or the fact that the NATO representatives I contacted deny having ever heard of NATOarts (Source: Knipfell 2000, np link).

Is this a joke? Are they leftists trying to depict the sound of a global economy? Take a look at the web site and there's no doubt about it. ‘Trein Maersk’ is a more diverse record than the first, more upbeat as well. Some songs even express a frenzy delirious state. It's hard to explain why I actually like this band. The music, especially on ‘Trein Maersk’ is somewhat repulsive, but for me that repulsiveness is suitable for making something of the theme - free trade and the global economy. I was returning to Turku after Christmas, killing time on the horrendous Viking Line. Trying to get some sleep, in the state of half-drunkenness, I was listening to ‘Trein Maersk’ in headphones. That was a great experience. (I'm being phenomenological again) (Source: Lindman 2008, np link).

Sure fellas, we're getting sleepy. The joke is no good if you don't hold up your end of the bargain. First two tracks stand out, one somewhere in the middle as well is nice, but the whole album is a little weak, thin sounding at times, too much concept, not enough music. Electronics and guitar repetitions and variations. Usually a cup of tea drunk heartily, when steeped properly. But, the leaves must be prepared properly as well, and then the packaging should be appealing, and when I say tea I don't mean dried bits of fruit or odd plants and such, I mean tea, except when I mean roobois. NATOArts, really? (Source: Dermeyer 2007, np link).

My immediate reaction ... is that the current ideology of international free trade is compared to the rhetoric of the cold war, with the effect of parody. The point here is perhaps that the ‘free trade’ frenzy is no less ideological than anti-soviet propaganda during the height of the cold war (Source: Lindman 2008, np link).

If it takes an elaborate ruse to get them noticed, they seem to smirk, then so be it. For all their intellectual vigour, decoy organisations, and, we hope, sarcastic support of global corporate policy, the ambiguous duo hark back to an era when the shock of the new made electronic experiments in music immediately viable. State-of-the-art technology notwithstanding, techno workouts like 'The Third Way' and the beguiling guitar loops on 'North Atlantic' reflect a regressive sensibility. The conceptual journey by sea, from 'Port Of Yokohama' to the overlong, if hypnotic 'Port Of Halifax', is also hampered by a refusal to use local colour to set the scene. Too close to multi-cultural world music for comfort, perhaps. And that's the idea in a nutshell - a grandiose, symphonic, electro mockery of a capitalist global village where the music speaks with one voice, and only language differences suggest any travel at all. Smart, if ultimately bloodless (Source: Anon 2000c, np link).

Outcomes / Impacts

There is a long twentieth-century history of artists setting up imaginary corporations, companies and foundations, but they are usually rumbled as fraudulent, for, compared to the ‘real’ word of business, artists remain curiously innocent and mild. However, the organisation termed NATOArts has managed to create just the right amount of doubt and confusion concerning its origins and intentions, to convince many critics and curators that it was a branch of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation for the promotion of the arts. Their offical definition declares them to be, ‘an international arts organisation which seeks to promote global security and stability through the exhibition of works of conceptual art.’ Though it claims to be ‘governed by the ninteen-member board of directors, with representation from each of the NATO member States’, most of the blame and praise for this ambitions gameplan can be attributed to the New York artist Alexander Perls and his colleagues who go under a variety of pseudonyms. The genius of this spoof is that this might possibly happen at NATO, in the same way that UNESCO and WHO have cultural wings, so it seems altogether plausible that they might want to create a cultural/intellectual version of their defence network (Source: Dannatt 2000, np link).

The thing is, even if what the NATOarts people are undertaking is a bit of meta-conceptual artistic hucksterism, like the Museum of Jurassic Technology or the Center for Land Use Management, they’re doing a damn fine job of it. Their production values are slick, and they never break character. They’ve been good enough at setting up the NATOarts business, in fact, that they fooled the British edition of Esquire, who bought the story hook, line and sinker. Seeing that sort of thing just makes me happy, and I salute NATOarts for it (Source: Knipfell 2000, np link).

Although the idea for NATOarts may seem to have been created in an undergraduate bedroom, the actual retrospective will form a static exhibition in a NYC gallery space this month. Depending on how you look at it, the NATOarts project has produced a relevant and remarkable piece of work through Perls and Break’s nautical frivolity; or it has authorised some twisted care in the community grant giving two artists the chance to float around, get p*ssed and work their way through the traditional sailors’ delights of the world’s ports. A closer inspection of their ID badges - exclusively obtained by ourselves at great personal risk - suggests the latter (Source: Jones 2000, np link).

Icebreaker are deeply involved in geo-politics, and claim to be signed to a branch of NATO, rather than a proper record company. This has led to unusual situations. Alexander and Simon attended the Third Ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation in Seattle as representatives of NATOarts. Alexander: ‘We led a panel discussion on the role of electronic music in free markets policy On our way to Seattle airport following the meeting, our motorcade was attacked by a group of student protesters. Luckily police intervened before anyone was hurt’ (Source: Thompson 2000, np link).

Somehow ... the whole thing works. The imagery, music and language used throughout - in the art exhibits, brochure, website and CD - combine to produce a work of multi media which is a perplexing, sinister - but by no means unbelievable - portrait of Big Brother masquerading as The People’s Friend. It’s art, Jim, but not as we know it. But what does the real NATO think of it all? ‘We have a bit of fun keeping an eye on them’ says NATO spokesman, Lee Mcclenny, ‘but it is just an artistic hoax. While NATO is a serious organisation manned by serious people, we are human enough to see the funny side.’ And suddenly it all becomes clear: The funny side? Surely the point is, when it comes to global security, there is no funny side (Source: Nelson 2000, p.22 link & link).

Sources and further reading

A Customer (2000a) Utterly Brilliant. 22 November ( last accessed 25 June 2013)

A Customer (2000b) Brilliant and Bizzare. 11 October ( last accessed 25 June 2013)

A Customer (2000c) mindboggling oratorio from a visionary think tank. 28 October ( last accessed 25 June 2013)

Anon (2000a) Icebreaker International - Trein Maersk. 22 November ( last accessed 25 June 2013

Anon (2000b) Trein Maersk: A Report To The NATOarts Board of Directors.  ( last accessed 25 June 2013)

Anon (2000c) Trein Maersk: A Report To The NATOarts Board Of Directors. New Musical Express 28 September ( last accessed 25 June 2013)

Anon (2001) Icebreaker International. The Wire 205 (March) (posted on last accessed 25 June 2013)

Anon (2010) Icebreaker International – Trein Maersk: A Report To The Natoarts Board Of Directors. 28 May ( last accessed 25 June 2013)

Anon (2013) Icebreaker International - Trein Maersk. ( last accessed 25 June 2013)

Buck, L. (2000) Military Installation. Esquire 10(9) (posted on last accessed 25 June 2013)

Cooper, N. (2000) The alliance of music and art. The Herald 11 November (posted on & last accessed 25 June 2013)

Cowan, A. (2000) Icebreaker International. The Times 14 October

Dannatt, A. (2000) In defence of conceptual art. The Art Newspaper XI(107) (posted on last accessed 25 June 2013)

Dermeyer, J. (2007) Look into my eyes. 14 March ( last accessed 25 June 2013)

Goggins, W.O. (2000) Icebreaker International. Wired 8(12) (posted on last accessed 25 June 2013)

Hailney, C. & Smith, M. (2000) Icebreaker International.  ( last accessed 25 June 2013)

Hollings, K. (2001) Icebreaker International. The Wire 206(April) (posted on last accessed 25 June 2001)

James, R. (2000) Intense. 18 October ( last accessed 25 June 2013)

Jones, D. (2000) We are sailing. i-D (posted on last accessed 25 June 2013)

Karel (2003) Review, Trein Maersk: A Report to the NATOarts Board of Directors. 6 February ( last accessed 25 June 2013)

Kellman, A. (nd) Review. ( last accessed 25 June 2013)

Knipfell, J. (2000) Cat and Mouse with NATOarts. New York Press 12 September ( last accessed 25June 2013)

Lindman, M. (2008) An homage to NATO? 5 February ( last accessed 25 June 2013)

Nelson, C. (2000) Make art not war. The Big Issue in the North 7-13 August, p.22 (posted on, last accessed 25 June 2013)

Perls, A. & Break, S. (2000) Trein Maersk: A Report to the NATOarts Board of Directors (CD booklet). London: It Records

Shepherd, F. (2000) Breaking the ice for NATO Icebreaker International. New Scotsman 25 September, p.16

Spence, R. (2000) Spies Like Us. ARTnews September (posted on last accessed 25 June 2013)

stumpf, n. (2000) epic. 18 October ( last accessed 25 June 2013)

Thompson, N. (2000) On Band: Icebreaker International. New Musical Express 23 September (posted on last accessed 25 June 2013)


Page compiled by Rachael Midlen as part of a internship, edited by Ian Cook (last updated July 2013). Container photo reproduced under creative commons license from KMJ at the German language Wikipedia. Legoing by Ian Cook.

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