Varg Live at Skaņu Mežs 2017

varg music live review premiere

Photo from SHAPE archive

Premiere of a lush and intimate live set by Swedish producer Varg, recorded at the White Night event of the Latvian Skaņu Mežs festival in September 2017.


As one of the key figures of Scandinavian electronic music scene, Jonas Rönnberg aka Varg is probably well known to Secret Thirteen readers. The prolific Swedish producer has been active across various genres through his solo work, as well as enticing collaborative projects such as Body Sculptures or The Empire Line – a result of strong ties with the like minded Posh Isolation crew. He also co-runs the techno-focused Northern Electronics label with Abdulla Rashim. Since his early days of creating ambient releases with misanthropic black metal undertones, Varg has left his mark on (ambient) techno, club music and every imaginable variation of these, injecting the music with a distinct mixture of depth and satire that dominates his public presence and his sound. It was especially prominent on his Nordic Flora releases, which were even broader sound experiments with contemporary trap, r’n’b and an unexpected collaboration with Young Lean. While Varg's Instagram profile continues to sport designerwear and 50 Cent quotes, his recent work is becoming more gentle and ambient-oriented, with an emphasis on texture and melody.

This performance is a stunning example of Varg's constantly evolving versatility within a chosen genre. It was recorded by Erica Synths Garage in the AVE SOL concert hall in Riga during the White night event of Skaņu Mežs 2017. At this event, Varg performed alongside Anna Zaradny, Julien Desprez and Thomas Ankersmit, as well as Natasha Barrett, whose performance was a continuation of Skaņu Mežs project “Nordic Women in Experimental Music.”

The White Night performance finds Varg in a contemplative and demure state, building his sound spaces on variations of the material we will later know as The Nordic Flora Series Pt. 5: Crush. The performance interacts with the album's more intimate atmospheres and expands on the moments reserved for private listening, rather than the spatial awareness of big room ambient. It's an ongoing revision of the topics that have notably been on Varg's radar since circa his Star Alliance release: how to capture an infatuation and write someone into existence as an object through the conflicting lens of one's desire. Although crushes are culturally perceived as banal and immature, the experience is a bit more complex. It's a private negotiation between humbleness and entitlement, which is selfish in its desire to be selfless - both unbearably deep and silly in its excess. It's also completely common. The nature and evolution of this preoccupation in Varg's work can be traced through track titles like “The Eyes of An Excellent Lover“ or “She Made What I Am,” which convey poetic vividness not dissimilar to Nick Cave's tumulus love songs. At the same time, Varg's examination of crushes tends to be more plastic: well dressed, laced in fetish attire and inseparable from Instagram handles and Iphone X. A story about the possibility of a genuine feeling and its parody.

Varg opens the set with warm meditative synths, which gradually morph into excerpts from “Stonewall Poem“ off Nordic Flora: Crush. As AnnaMelina's vocals come to the fore, they tell a story of lovers building a wall and witnessing its deterioration. Varg infuses the whole performance with such conceptual clues and develops them into phases of tension or weary, melancholic ease, almost as a kind of commentary on different narratives centered around crushing. While the “Stonewall Poem“ sample captures a sense of loss, told through an unreliable memory painted in a myriad of gestures and feelings – resignation and sorrow mix with anxiety through hypnotic washes of noise and drones – samples from „5 Stars & Vanity Lights“, „Archive 1 'Spit Sugar Free Red Bull Into My Mouth“ or „Archive 2 "Dm Excerpts Between @skaeliptom & @chloewise“ provide another perspective. Accompanied by glitches, pop sensibilities or doleful classical elements, these streams of consciousness juxtapose expressions of sheer adoration (“You are gorgeous“) with the desire to be adored (“Tell me my skin is soft“), interrupted communication and nonsensical musings from meditation apps and free associations. A plenitude of luxurious consumer goods which inhabit this universe may serve as metaphors for both the magnitude and shallowness of feelings, the need for something pure amongst identities which find their purpose only as aesthetic categories. The beauty of this performance lies in the ability to express it all, without losing any of its sonic richness or integrity to the exploitation of obvious genre tropes. Varg replaces playfulness with maturity resulting in a lush integration of diverse elements from his extensive body of work.

Varg was a SHAPE platform artist of 2017. The video is made by Erica Synths.

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