- With his adventurous choice of collaborators, prolific release schedule and zany social media antics, Swedish artist Jonas Rönnberg (AKA Varg) brings humour and spontaneity to the darkest corners of techno. The Empire Line, Rönnberg's group project with Damien Dubrovnik's Christian Stadsgaard and Iron Sight vocalist Isak Hansen, channels that spirit into something chaotic and punishing. The trio's live shows are techno with a punk and noise edge, collapsing traditions from across the techno, punk and DIY spheres into a single elemental force. Rave, The Empire Line's debut album, is their first record with Hansen onboard, but like their EP for Avian last year, it focuses on the cerebral aspects of the group's productions more than the primal energy of its frontman. It's a brief hodgepodge of an LP that showcases Rönnberg and Stadsgaard's impressive versatility at the expense of what makes The Empire Line such a vital project in the live realm.
A few tracks on Rave are named for the group's closest friends, associates and influences. There's a rumbling Mika Vainio tribute that features some of the late artist's signature sounds—serrated basslines, whining high-pitched drones—in a droning techno framework. "Herrensauna," named after a raucous gay party in Berlin, is all muscle and sinew, defaced by harsh metallic screeches. Beneath the ear-piercing sounds and fulsome low-frequencies, you can hear Hansen barking out unintelligible words, lending The Empire Line's brand of techno an angrier and more direct energy.
You have to wonder why Hansen wasn't included on all six tracks. On "Music For Catwalks," he lurks in the background—a presence that could have grounded the sonically rich but formless experiment "Mirror Ball Fantasies (For Eie)." He also might have lent the Vainio tribute more of the violence and volatility of the music it's referencing.
Hansen makes his most prominent appearance on "Fast Forward (Intet Glemt, Intet Tilgivet)," a climactic closer built from galloping beats and weepy synths. The track is stately and emotional, but with Hansen's yowling it gains an uncomfortable edge. This is the only song on Rave that truly captures the group's unique set of ideas and possibilities—the potential that comes to roaring life when they perform live. The rest is a collection of well-executed leftfield techno, but you'd be forgiven for expecting more from a group as open-minded and destructive as The Empire Line.
1. iPad Modernity / Powder
2. Ø (For Vainio)
4. Music For Catwalks
5. Mirror Ball Fantasies (For Eie)
6. Fast Forward (Intet Glemt, Intet Tilgivet)