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Drain Gang: The Swedish Art Collective Revolutionizing the Underground

May 20, 2023, New York City. The day is grey, with rain drowning out even the loudest sounds of the city. Yet, there is a crowd lining up and waiting to get into The Hole, a contemporary art gallery in the middle of the big city. Looking closer, you may notice that most of the people waiting are dressed like characters from the popular video game Cyberpunk: 2077, and upon entering the exhibit you are enthralled in a scene which is somewhat akin to a packed basement party. This is an art exhibit put on by two burgeoning artists, Benjamin Reichwald and Jonas Ronnberg, also known as musicians Bladee and Varg2TM. In attendance are members of Bladee's Drain Gang, local artists and rappers, as well as a number of Drainers–another name for fans of the group. This eclectic collection of artists and art lovers is the epitome of Drain, a movement that has slowly taken over the intent, and the music underground, over the last decade.


Drain Gang Art Exhibit at The Hole
Photo Courtesy of The Hole

Drain Gang is recognized by most for their unique sound and... interesting (to say the least) fan base. Despite this, and a constant stream of criticism from every corner of the internet, they have proven themselves to be an extremely versatile collective of artists. Fashion designers, musicians, painters, and more, there is almost nothing that the group can't do artistically; they are an incredible omnipresence in everything art, which few collectives have ever been able to mirror. Even the name Drain Gang perfectly mimics the way in which the group has approached art, as well as how they have struggled while doing so. The latter part is especially important to the group, and many of their fans, as becoming both emotionally and physically drained is an inescapable part of life. However, this may all be moot as some fans theorize that the group are actually vampires and thus their name just implies that they drain people of their blood (the jury is still out on that one). Yet, what it really means does not truly matter at the end of the day. Drain is state of mind, or something profound such as that. It has allowed people who would normally go unheard and unknown to express themselves in a way that few can ignore.

 

Drain Gang Members: Bladee

Drain Gang Member Bladee
Photo by Alexandra Gordeinko

Benjamin Reichwald was born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1994. At the age of ten he would meet Zak Arogundade, who would eventually come to be known as Ecco2k. They later formed a punk band together, known as Krossad, with music that is a truly distinctive experience (and not necessarily a good one). However, this first foray into music got Reichwald hooked on the craft and he continued making music after leaving school. He dropped a few songs under the name Ken Burns before meeting Yung Lean, a fellow up-and-coming rapper in Sweden. Since this chance meeting, he has closely worked with both Lean and his group, Sad Boys, who have also carved out their own distinctive lane in the music industry.

Reichwald's first few albums and mixtapes, such as his debut album, Eversince (2016), were poorly received by music critics but became cult classics in the underground music scene. Follow-up albums such as the much-refined Icedancer (2018) and recently released, Cold Visions (2024), have seen noticeable improvements and show Reichwald's constant evolution. His music is inspired by a wide range of artists, from electro-pop star Basshunter to trap legends Chief Keef and Lil B. These influences are present throughout his whole discography, which are best described as "terminally online" electronic sounds mixed with blaring trap rap influences. Reichwald has also tried his hand at modelling, walking the runway for Alyx at Paris Fashion week with fellow Drain Gang member Ecco2k, as well as personally working for various brands. In addition to all this, he has sold a number of paintings, putting on exhibits like the one described in my introduction. Bladee is one of the most talented artists in the world right now, and not only when it comes to music, making his character all the more fascinating.


Song Recommendation: "END OF THE ROAD BOYZ"


 

Drain Gang Members: Ecco2k

Drain Gang Member Ecco2k

Also born in 1994, but originally from London, England, Zak Arogundade had a bit of a different upbringing before becoming Ecco2k. At the young age of two, he and his family moved to Stockholm, where he spent the remainder of his childhood and met the other members of the Gang. His dad was a graphic designer, amongst other professions, and thus Arogundade began experimenting with graphic design from age five. He grew a deep love for other forms of visual arts, including fashion design, which remained his primary passion even after he began to dive into music. By 16, he had started his first fashion label, Alaska, for which he was able to produce garments via a factory in China that did not know his real age.


Though he rose to prominence as a collaborator on some of Bladee's biggest songs, Arogundade also flexes his solo abilities on a number of beloved projects, like E (2019), which received a lot of love and positive reviews, including a 7.4 rating from Nadine Smith at Pitchfork. He has described his style as attempting to sound like a "pixilated sprite" and sees his Ecco2k persona as just that, a persona. However, he has still mixed in aspects of his real personality into the music. He, like other members of Drain Gang, has increasingly injected pro-LGBTQIA+ themes into his music, which has allowed many of the group's fans to connect with them on a far deeper level than in the past. Despite all this, he has never been a huge fan of his almost legendary status and sometimes obsessive fanbase. Having a number of his accounts and devices hacked, amongst other harassment, he has preferred to separate himself from his musical identity, though this has not stopped him from continuing his upwards trajectory as a widely lauded fashion designer and musician.


Song Recommendation: "Peroxide"


 

Drain Gang Members: Thaiboy Digital

Drain Gang Member Thaiboy Digital
Photo by Hendrick Schneider

Unlike the two aforementioned creatives, Khazitin Bonleunge (now Thanapat Bonleunge), was born in Khon Kaen, Thailand. He was also born in 1994, and more specifically the 11th of October, 12 days apart from Ecco2k (Born the 23rd). Growing up, he lived with his grandparents until his mother was able to land a job as a chef at the Austrian Embassy in Stockholm, where they both moved to when he was eight years old. He would become involved with the growing rap scene in Sweden, and helped start Gravity Boys, which eventually morphed into Drain Gang, while simultaneously building his impressive solo repertoire.


Featuring on a number of big songs outside of the group, like "Diamonds" by Yung Lean, he soon underwent a major upheaval in his life as his mother's work visa expired and he was forced to leave Sweden. Members of the Sad Boys and Drain Gang (as well as many others) protested this action, however, the decision was final, and he relocated to Bangkok. Bonleunge took this in stride and did not allow the controversial decision to derail his career. He has continued to release music in Thailand, notably playing a big part in the massive Trash Island (2019), which was an impressive tour de force for the entire Gang. He has also continued to collaborate with his other childhood friends from Sweden, while also working with a number of Thai artists. All this goes to show Bonleunge's unbreakable will and work ethic, continuing to grow despite facing setbacks.


Song Recommendation: "MR CEO"


 

Drain Gang Members: Whitearmor

Drain Gang Member Whitearmor
Photo by Tommy Malekoff

Finishing off the roster is Ludwig Rosenburg, who is from Stockholm, Sweden, and was born in 1993. Falling in love with all genres of music from an early age, Rosenburg picked up drumming as a teenager. This soon blossomed into a passion for music production and he began to release music under the name of DJ Creep in 2010 (and then under DJ Cannabiz in 2011). After linking up to create Gravity Boys in 2013, he deleted his old SoundCloud account and adopted the new moniker Whitearmor.


He has produced a majority of the group's albums and biggest hits, including many of the songs mentioned throughout this article. Rosenburg also formed the duo VilloVilduVeta with Swedish indie pop band (JJ) member Joakim Benon. The melodic harmonies he produces for both the duo and a number of his solo EPs show Rosenburg's incredibly wide range. His latest album, In the Abyss: Music for Weddings (2022), highlights how musically ambidextrous he is, as it presents a lineup of modern wedding jingles. In addition to all this, he has also been a major influence for a load of notable producers in the industry, such as Bighead, who produced some of the biggest songs of the late 2010s. Without Whitearmor, there would be no Drain Gang–or at least it wouldn't be what everyone knows it as now.


Song Recommendation: "Karma"


 

Drain Gang Meme with text, "god, I wish I had a cute drainer gf with bangs that would listen to bladee and talk about benzodiazepine abuse with me"

It would be wrong to talk about the group without mentioning the internet and meme culture which permeates throughout everything the group and their fanbase do. Drainers, and Drain Gang by association, are a polarizing topic on any side of the internet. People tend to either love Drain and everything about it or want to rip their ears off whenever someone even mentions the word. In popular culture, the group's music is usually embodied by the cybergoth, emo kid who most people judge as quirky, but some value as unique. However, this "weird kid" aesthetic is exactly what has garnered the group so many loyal fans from all over the world. It is accessible to anyone and everyone, relating in the same way to people from completely different walks of life.


Drain Gang has garnered massive amounts of fame and respect as an overall art collective, and every member, as well as their individual talents, seem to be growing exponentially. The group released "TL;DR" on April 12th, 2024, which is quickly becoming one of their most well received songs, boosting each group member's renown in their respective crafts. It is going to be very exciting to watch what the group does over the next decade and how their music might evolve, as it has never been a sedentary style. What's even more exciting is that they may very well grow to be more than just household names in the music industry, reaching heights which few artists have ever been able to find before them.

 

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