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Photography Gus Reichwald

Whitearmor: ‘Everything I’ve ever wanted to say has been in the melodies’

In a rare interview, the Drain Gang producer opens up about his formative musical experiences, his new solo project, and why fan theories about the Swedish collective aren’t always accurate

Whitearmor – real name Ludwig Rosenberg – has shaped the sound of an entire online generation. The 29-year-old is the producer behind Swedish collective Drain Gang, a group of friends – consisting of artists Ecco2k, Thaiboy Digital and Bladee – who formed in 2013, gaining prominence in the cloud-rap scene alongside friend and collaborator Yung Lean. As the group’s master beatmaker, Rosenberg is responsible for their mercurial and terminally online sound, which has garnered a prolific reputation among countless baby-faced Soundcloud producers who aspire to follow in his footsteps.

Perhaps the most elusive member of the group, the Stockholm-based producer has managed to keep a mysterious online presence, despite the collective’s deeply obsessive fanbase, which has spawned countless fan accounts, meme pages and a highly active subreddit. “I’m probably the least famous out of all of us,” he says, with a grin. He’s notoriously silent on social media (“I never understood Instagram”) except to post the occasional Drain promo or reshare – and rarely takes photographs with fans. This is one of the first interviews he’s agreed to in the decade since the group’s formation.

“I’m probably the one that says no to most things. It’s not that I mind it, I just don’t really enjoy it – and fans know that. Our fans are very respectful in general,” he tells me over Zoom. He’s calling in from Barcelona, where Drain Gang have just performed as part of a Year0001 showcase at the city’s Razzmatazz. Camera on, a rarity among reclusive internet artists, he answers questions in a low Swedish drawl. Occasionally, he’ll break into a sly grin as if quietly amused, while at other times, exudes the quiet confidence of someone who (plainly) knows their shit.

Growing up at the height of the early internet, Rosenberg credits many of his early formative music experiences to MTV and the digital music revolution, spending hours trawling Napster, where he would spend hours downloading music with his dad, a computer enthusiast. “I started listening to a lot of Bob Marley and rap music and Slipknot,” he explains. “The blogspot era was my biggest thing, where you could just pirate music. Music blogs that would just put up music; you would find one blog that was good and then you’d find other blogs. Knowing the sources and knowing which blogs were similar. A lot of clicking; I like clicking stuff.” He pauses. “But now everything is being fed to you through the algorithm. Back then, you had to actively search for stuff. But the algorithm has made it even harder to find stuff on your own.”

He began playing drums as a teenager, spending time in an indie-rock band before heading down the electronic noise and experimental route. In 2010, he began uploading mixtapes online and listening to a lot of Waka Flock and Atlanta rap, which he describes as his “biggest music-related internet experiences”. He elaborates, “I feel like my perspective on music has always been honing in on specific parts of songs and then reimagining a lot of stuff. I focused on what I didn’t like a lot – a problem-based mindset.”

“I know what it feels like to make music with no response, with some response, and now with this much response. It all has its pros and cons,” he says, reflecting on Drain Gang’s cult following and their gradual rise to superstardom. “I barely feel anything about it. It’s not to sound arrogant but it’s a very uphill battle once you start. You still have to make new music even past that point; you still have to pretend that it’s just you and your music. I shut a lot of that stuff out to be able to focus and to have your own compass of what’s good and what you’re trying to express or not.”

“I know what it feels like to make music with no response, with some response, and now with this much response“ – Whitearmor

When creating Ecco2k and Bladee’s 2022 album Crest, the group rented a cottage next to the cliff-bound beach from Ingmar Bergman’s fantasy epic The Seventh Seal. “The Crest album has a lot of inspiration in Abba and this Swedish movie with Björn (Ulvaeus) – he makes a lot of the Astrid Lindgren movie soundtracks,” he explains. The ambient textures can be heard on Music for Weddings: The Abyss, Rosenberg’s solo project, which he describes as a “breakup album”. ‘The Abyss’ is a mistranslation of Là-bas, a novel by French writer Joris-Karl Huysmans – “It was originally called ‘Music for Weddings’, but I thought it’d be nice to have the colon breaking it up in the middle,” he says.

In the Abyss: Music for Weddings marks the first time Rosenberg has dropped a full-length solo release under his artist name, though he maintains it’s not all that different to other projects. “I feel like I’m still a producer,” he asserts. “If you release music that’s just instrumental, you don't have to be really an artist in the same way.” The 10-track record has quiet intensity, where stretched-out yet euphoric melodies are paired with sparkling synth pads to give off the sensation that you’re drifting through air. Sonically, it’s very similar to Crest melodically, though a bit more stripped-down. “Everything I want to say has always been in the melodies,” he says. “Making music is my outlet, so I feel blessed that you can just make a melody and that’s it.”

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what defines Drain’s extremely genre-fluid sound; the group has had many evolutions, with tracks traversing everything from digital trap, eurodance and glitchcore. Fuelled by a constant need to reinvent themselves, their most recent albums have taken a more innocent-sounding turn, where bubblegum pop melodies combine with existential-lite lyrics to give off a sense of youthful nihilism. Tracks like “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and a 2021 collab with Charli XCX on track “Drama” have propelled them into the mainstream, while Bladee and Ecco2k’s campaign with Marc Jacob’s cutesy offshoot y2k brand Heaven further adds to the cute lore surrounding the group.

Drainers (the name given to Drain Gang fans), too, champion this 00s aesthetic; a mix of mall goth and emo, with hints of Harajuku. But what does Rosenberg think? “I’m not an aesthetic person at all; I don’t really care about clothes or visual stuff – I’m strictly melody,” he responds, adding: “The melodies can be cute though!” The fans, he explains, have their own narrative that’s separate from what the group actually puts into the world. “The narrative is this: we’re just these guys making music and we exist in a world where there are all these people who have their own stuff going on. What people choose to do with our music, or whatever narrative they want to put out, is fine by me.“

In the Abyss: Music for Weddings is out now