Bright Lights, Bladee City


Benjamin Reichwald, the Swedish musician known as Bladee and a founding member of the very-online music collective Drain Gang, is great at sending memes. According to his friend and countryman Jonas Rönnberg, who also performs as Varg2™, Bladee sends the best memes of anyone he’s ever known.

“Every time Benjamin sends me a meme I’m like, ‘Nah, for real.’ Because the thing is, he’s so quick,” says Varg. “We can have a conversation in the studio and then one hour later I’m in bed smoking and I will open my phone and Benjamin sends a meme, which is a complete low-blow on exactly what I was talking about. And I’m like, ‘Goddamn. How the fuck? Where do you store this?’ That’s something that translates well with us making art and making music. That’s the same quickness of Benjamin.”

Benjamin Reichwald, a.k.a. the Swedish musician Bladee, in Manhattan.

Bladee met Varg through Stockholm’s tight-knight music and graffiti scenes, which also produced the rapper Yung Lean and his musical crew Sadboys, as well as Bladee’s childhood classmate and fellow Drain Gang member Ecco2k. All of these artists have racked up millions of streams with their hyper-processed, phantasmic music about the dull misery (and occasional beauty) of growing up in Sweden—which carries international appeal, given the dull misery (and occasional beauty) of growing up in most places.

Though Drain Gang formed in 2013, their popularity skyrocketed during the pandemic, when out of the fiery brimstone of Reddit, Discord, and TikTok emerged a new generation of Drainers, largely stereotyped as bored teenage and 20-something boys. For Drain Gang, Sad Boys, and their ilk, what began as sharing challenging, pitched-up songs on Soundcloud became, in the shadow of Abba, Robyn, and Max Martin, a continuation of the great Swedish tradition of making English-language pop music enjoyed the world over.

Bladee himself appeared on two tracks with EDM superstar Skrillex earlier this year, and now seems to be on the edge of real-deal pop-star success—or at least as close as any freaky artist can get in the streaming era. But when Bladee and Varg’s labels asked them to record an album a year ago, they started painting together instead. Now they’ve snagged a joint show in zeitgeisty gallery The Hole’s Tribeca basement.

On a recent afternoon, we’re speaking in an elegant communal room on the second story of Nine Orchard, a new boutique hotel in the pseudo-neighborhood known as Dimes Square, the multi-block area abutting Chinatown that’s become a popular target of online handwringing. Bladee, a soft-spoken 29-year-old, is wearing an Armani track jacket and a black trucker cap, his shoulder-length hair plaited loosely into two braids. Varg, 32, is a burly guy with face tats and a great laugh, who was just telling me about how he was prematurely awoken this morning by hotel staff delivering champagne and flowers to his room—a gift from his girlfriend who lives in LA. The bubbly was plan B after she failed to have them deliver Hennessy and Chick-fil-A. (This, we all agree, is deeply romantic.)

“I would say it’s quite literal,” says Bladee of the art show’s title, Fucked for Life. “We want to just attack and fuck up the canvas. We just go in and then we see what it becomes. We go over each other; I see something, what Jonas drew, and I bring that forward. And he sees something in mine, and we just keep changing it until it feels finished.”

They’ve already run into several people today they know from past Drain-adjacent events. It’s a lively ecosystem of fans moving their internet obsessions into the real world. Liza, 19, sums it up nicely: “It really feels like you join the community when you start listening.”

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