- Varg epitomizes a certain kind of modern techno: gloomy beats and funereal ambience, dressed in shadowy aesthetics. But there's something about the Swede, real name Jonas Rönnberg, that betrays all the occult fog and mist. He's a funny guy with an Instagram that's irreverently out of step with that scene. He pops bottles of Moët champagne. He shops for designer brands. He brags about travel and holds up piles of money. There's a boisterous personality behind Varg's music that emerges in full on Nordic Flora Series Pt. 3: Gore-Tex City, which already sounds like one of the year's best techno albums.
Rönnberg produces music at an astonishing pace—Gore-Tex City is Varg's third full-length in 12 months. Over time, his work has grown in depth and complexity, particularly on his new Nordic Flora series. Rönnberg boasts of his ability to dash off releases in a hurry with rudimentary equipment. The album's track titles, most of which reference trains or foreign cities, imply music made on the go, a product of an increasingly busy lifestyle. That Gore-Tex City is Rönnberg's richest and most varied record is only confirmation of his growing talent.
The most exciting thing about Gore-Tex City is how it reflects all facets of Rönnberg's sound, in part thanks to his savvy choice of collaborators. He picks partners—like Nine Inch Nails member Alessandro Cortini or pianist Matti Bye—who help colour in or tease out aspects of his music. In addition to a handful of vocalists, Cortini and Drew McDowall help turn Varg's vaporous drone into something physical on the rumbling "Fonus," while Bye's piano blends in seamlessly to the rippling techno of "Red Line (114 Östermalmstorg - 127 Vårberg)," which also features the hiss and screech of trains, folding in the sounds of Rönnberg's life into the music itself. Despite its bustling cast of characters, Gore-Tex City is Rönnberg's most personal and revealing record yet.
Though it has its heavy moments, Gore-Tex City is a vulnerable album, almost tender in places. It opens with the funeral march of "Champagne Ceremonies," and later veers into Chloe Wise's poetry, which is equal parts funny and poignant. There are shades of Erased Tapes on the album, and there's even a genuine pop ballad, "Blue Line (112 Rådhuset)," where Varg creates a beautiful backdrop for the Swedish singer AnnaMelina. (It's not Varg's first brush with the pop world—PARTYNEXTDOOR sampled "Skaeliptom" for a track on his album last year, which Rönnberg was notably proud of.)
A sense of loneliness subsumes even the dance floor tracks. The chugging techno of "I Hope You Are Still There (新宿御苑)" is undercut by a melancholy chord progression. The closing tracks "Gore-Tex シテ" and "Stockholm City (Drottninggatan, Sergels Torg)" weigh down straightforward beats with moody basslines. Even the whizzing percussive blast of "Snake City / Maserati Music" is steeped in ambience. Rönnberg's arrangements are clean and inventive, far from the murky swamp that devoured records like Misantropen.
The crown jewel is the track that sounds the least like Rönnberg's past work. An unlikely collaboration with Swedish rapper Yung Lean, the yearning "Red Line II (127 Sätra C) 4" is silly on paper—"Smile on my face / I wanna kill the fucking landlord," drawls Yung Lean in the song's chorus—but it's also beautiful. Rönnberg's synths shoot upwards like fireworks in slow-motion, and Yung Lean's stretched-out vocal fry is something to behold. As the song transitions into the regal electronics and drifting melodies of its glorious second half, you forget how weird it is to have Yung Lean on a Northern Electronics record.
Gore-Tex City proves that even the most serious techno can come with a sense of humour. In January, Rönnberg wrote two lengthy posts on Resident Advisor's Instagram page—he was given, as with other artists before him, temporary access to the account—defending himself against critics who derided his materialism. "Everything for everybody, NOW. Positivity only," said one post, accompanied by a picture of him giving two middle fingers. Abrasive and hilarious, obnoxious and thoughtful—Varg, like his online persona, is full of contradictions. They make Gore-Tex City the masterpiece that it is.
01. Champagne Ceremonies
02. Yamanote Line (原宿)
03. Platforms Surrounded By Fences (EU)
04. Forever 21 / Valium feat. Chloe Wise
05. Red Line (114 Östermalmstorg - 127 Vårberg) feat. Matti Bye, Christian Augustin & Henrik Söderström
06. I Hope You Are Still There (新宿御苑)
07. Blue Line (112 Rådhuset) feat. AnnaMelina
08. Fonus feat. Drew McDowall & Alessandro Cortini
09. Snake City / Maserati Music
10. Red Line II (127 Sätra C) 4 feat. Yung Lean
11. Euros & Euros & Euros (EBG) feat. F. Valentin & Chloe Wise
12. Gore-Tex シティ
13. Stockholm City (Drottninggatan, Sergels Torg)