Interview with Drain Gang: New EP, Tour, Gen Z Fan Base

Last month, in the sprawling parking lot of a door factory in Queens, I found myself immersed in a crowd of young people waiting for the second night of the sold-out New York performances by Swedish music collective Drain Gang. The crowd chattered excitedly over each other, a few smoking chains and a few filming TikToks. They all shared a specific aesthetic sensibility: nods to Y2K-era camp and goth-inspired pop punk mixed with gender-neutral eyeliner, dazzled sunglasses and fingerless gloves. Skater beanies abounded.

The current generation’s boundless appetite for self-expression felt, in no uncertain terms, duly embodied.

The four members of Drain Gang — artists Ecco2k, Thaiboy Digital and Bladee, alongside producer Whitearmor — toured the United States together for the first time. Thaiboy’s Swedish residency visa ended in 2015 (he emigrated from Thailand with his mother as a child) and he has since moved to Bangkok, where he had a daughter and continued to make music with the group remotely. And while they’ve been able to visit him all these years, seeing his old friends and associates together as a unit was enough to send most of New York’s Gen-Z population into a frenzy.

Just before their series of shows, Ecco2k and Bladee released their joint EP, Comb. The record is a soaring and riveting triumph that feels like their most ambitious project to date. Sometimes straightforward songs unfold into ballads of expansive and mercurial immensity. Delivered via Scandinavian-accented Auto-Tune, their lyrics reverberate with raw emotion: contemplative studies of love, pain, celebrations and friendship that can head for the poetic secret, in line with the canon of timeless literary crooners like Leonard Cohen or outsider musicians such as Daniel Johnston.

The album’s anthemic opener, ‘The Flag Is Raised’, is arguably one of this year’s best. An exciting and spiritually liberating homecoming, it symbolizes the announcement of a new chapter for the group. “I’m coming—I’m coming home, Virginia-inia,” laments Bladee, 28. “I’m just a shell, baby, the hero is the soul.” Like almost anything made in our post-postmodern moment, Drain Gang’s music is an amalgam of YouTube-plundered references and sharp self-reflection.

Their sound lacks the eager, trend-seeking energy of more polished young musicians, but manages to find something organic in a world saturated with synthetics. To withdraw Comb in nature, Ecco2k, Whitearmor and Bladee drove to “the edge of Sweden” and rented a cottage minutes from the cliff beach of Ingmar Bergman’s fantasy epic The seventh seal.

The location is fitting, as the EP is distinctly Swedish, a national pride that Bladee says was totally rejected in their youth. “And then, on this album, we started to understand how growing up in Sweden, and being Swedish, is something to be proud of.” The project isn’t about nationalism per se, but more like an embrace and coming to terms with one’s core roots.

A few days after the show, the five of us are sitting at an outpost of Soho House in Brooklyn, among the spark plug millennial freelancers working on their laptops. †[We’re expressing] something that is really true for us, or something that we really feel. We have never made any concessions to that. We will always do what we want to make,” Bladee explains of their ethos. The group was dressed in an eclectic mix of streetwear and experimental pieces. Ecco2k, a former designer of the Swedish brand Eytys, wore a pair of gummo-style black bunny ears and elegant pink acrylic paint; Thaiboy Digital wore a checkered Burberry trucker hat over his shaggy bleached hair.

Drain Gang started around the time they were all in high school in Stockholm. Bladee, Ecco2k, Thaiboy and Whitearmor – born Benjamin Reichwald, Zak Arogundade Gaterud, Thanapat Bunleang and Ludwig Rosenberg respectively – started making music under the name Gravity Boys Shield Gang. By posting their songs and experimental low-fi music videos online, their after-school hobby led them to an accidental crossover with the other famous Stockholm collective Sad Boys. This marked an ongoing collaboration with notable members such as Yung Lean and producer Yung Sherman.

Their organic approach to collaboration through friendship is a pivot in their prodigious body of work. “Since we were young, [we’ve had] a collective world, or mythology. There were always so many inside jokes and insular references that we almost couldn’t interact with other people at all,” says Ecco2k. “And I think we still are. But now our common language and common ideas [are] something we can choose from when we make things.”

The group’s multi-dimensional sound is in a league of its own. You can hear elements of the early “cloud rap” from the Yung Lean era in the production – low-fi synths and drum machine loops serve as a kind of sonic foundation – but the group ventures everywhere and everywhere, creating a stream of consciousness mood to to contaminate the atmosphere of an otherwise pop-inspired sensibility. Take Ecco2k and Bladee’s single “Amygdala” for example, released in January. “I flirt with faith, I’m flirty / Crystal rings, my name / Valhalla calls, I fall,” kirt Bladee. “Beauty and the Beast/I walk and star sign up, glory and the fame/Elysian fields forever, endless flowers sing the hymn.”

The lines are abstract, but it is precisely this enigmatic quality that has proved so compelling to listeners. Drain Gang has emerged as one of those rare acts that can be both in and for a generation. As such, the group has experienced a steady increase in fame and dedication over the past decade. Collectively, they described a “snowball effect” that occurred during the pandemic. Apparently, young people quarantined at home discovered their music and became obsessed.

The group’s fans emphatically refer to themselves as “Drainers”, and their prolific dedication is apparent if you flip through the comment sections of Drain Gang’s YouTube videos, or take a look at DG’s colossal volume of dedicated meme pages. Drainers have responded to the group’s enigmatic body of work by forming a truly ecosystem of their own. Most of the listeners I spoke to discovered the group through memes at the beginning of the pandemic and only started listening to the music after that. A fan I messaged on Reddit told me that the group’s universe building is so immense that he felt like you could “write a book about it.”

Perhaps you could say that we have entered the most emotionally intelligent – or at least emotionally aware – era in recent history. The current generation of internet-saturated youth have all been encouraged to develop a deeper capacity for emotional nuance and expression through the digital worlds of Instagram, TikTok and Discord. And while this shift has rendered the scientific definitions of terms like “gaslighting,” “love bombing” and “toxic masculinity” almost meaningless, it’s nonetheless impressive to see the ways the young have managed to identify and communicate emotions. in a world that can feel so hard to just exist in.

As the swarm of Drainers grew restless outside the venue in Queens, the air grew heavy with the looming threat of a downpour before bursting open with thunder. The sold-out crowd would be baptized in the rain before gaining entry. Finally, with what felt like an entire generation cohort packed into the room, Drain Gang took the stage and opened with the euphoric and widely loved song “Western Union”, from their 2019 mixtape. waste island. Seeing sweat-soaked bodies floundering in unison felt like a blissful exorcism from the hellish past years. Members of the Drain Gang were pulpit preachers, and we were their devoted followers, clinging to every line of that night’s sermon.

Leave a Comment