FEATURE
Interview with The Empire Line

Interview with The Empire Line

1. The Empire Line

The Empire Line is an industrial-rooted techno project with a glossy edge, founded by highly experimental Shape artist Varg a.k.a. Jonas Rönnberg and Danish counterpoint Christian Stadsgaard (half Damien Dubrovnik) who co-runs the offbeat underground label Posh Isolation.

At the beginning of 2017 they debuted on Shifted´ AVIAN Records with the EP ‘Syndicat de la Couture’, which introduced the band’s haute couture inspired concept.

We discussed the idea of the project with Varg and Christian Stadsgaard, looking further into the provocative mixture of heavy sounds and style awareness.


Could we coin the term fashion techno to describe The Empire Line?

Varg: I would say we’re like a modern day Scooter. You know the band Scooter? Like Thunderdome and Scooter together. That’s at least my opinion of it. Like Prodigy as well – you can definitely hear some Prodigy in that.

I did have the occasion to see some of that, considering your Berghain premiere at the Avian records showcase. It was this Swedish Black Metal influenced glamour techno, with a very harsh industrial edge. How did you come up with the idea of having a person do the screaming part as added up vocal layer? First time I remember hearing a (proto) Empire Line track was during Atonal 2015 during an Abdulla Rashim set, and it was strictly instrumental.

Varg: That track is on the Avian EP as well.

You also played that at the Berghain, if I remember right, and it was a completely different take on it – it featured the live Black Metal vocals and a strong performance side to it.

Varg: I think Isaac doing the vocals for The Empire Line just happened, because that’s what we want to do. We want to do something that’s even more pushy than any other techno things. You can push a lot around making it much more physical, with someone being able to perform. He’s in the band now.

Is this a live show line up only, or should we expect to hear, say, screaming on the studio recording as well?

Christian: Not screaming necessarily, it can be all kinds of vocal stuff. There aren’t vocals on everything that we do, but there are so many techno acts out there, that there is no point for us in being just another techno act, especially since we come from different backgrounds. So we wanted to do something that actually took into account what we came out of, like power electronics and punk rock and that kind of stuff. So that’s basically the idea of the band now.

Are you fashion victims or fashion skeptics?

Varg: We’re trendsetters in fashion.


“People say I’m a techno producer, and that I belong to a techno scene, but I most often shut them down and say that I don’t like techno, I don’t listen to techno, and I don’t belong to a techno scene. But I make techno, and I try to sound-wise push the edges a little bit and see what you can get away with in the techno scene.”

2. Techno and fashion

On a scale from one to ten, how important is to suffer for perfection, both in techno and in style? As fashion has a tradition of striving for the unachievable.

Varg: In music, neahh, not so much. You’re used to do whatever you want to do, you know? – pick up the phone, make some tracks, it’s easy. I mean, style is also when it comes to music. Making music is easy; placing it correctly is the hard part. That’s also a part of the style. To know how to present it, and when to put it out, and where to put it out and when to do what. That’s more in the style compartment, than it’s in the music compartment, to be honest.

I was thinking about the techno community, as a really fashion conscious entity in this style-music dynamic. These worlds seem to fuse at points. Techno is like the practical take on catwalk fashion, but it seems to deliberately ditch the glamour factor. Is your music meant to challenge the fashion limits of techno outside of their comfort zone?

Varg: Not to say that I have been challenging the techno world, I wouldn’t use that word, but it is (n. e. techno), in many parts very stiff, and very inside the box. People say I’m a techno producer, and that I belong to a techno scene, but I most often shut them down and say that I don’t like techno, I don’t listen to techno, and I don’t belong to a techno scene. But I make techno, and I try to sound-wise push the edges a little bit and see what you can get away with in the techno scene. Many times people are talking shit about my music like, ´yeah, he made a great dark ambient techno EP for Northern Electronics but have you seen that he wears a pink jacket?´ Like you can’t wear a pink jacket. I posted a picture on my artist account, of me wearing a pink jacket – it was recently. It’s sad to see that there’s such a closed up world, and you get emails asking if I’m gay, like “so you’re a faggot?”. So you can’t wear a pink jacket now, like you can tell from my pink jacket if I’m gay? It is very narrow minded, and it is pretty much like “Oh, you’re so crazy, man. You have a pink jacket. “

Pink jackets are totally in now. I also wanted to ask if you had a certain, perfect tempo in mind when thinking up the project, that would go best with a catwalk presentation.

Varg: Yes. We had the perfect tempo for the catwalk when we produced.

How did you come up with the formula? Because this is very catwalk friendly.

Varg: We came up to the conclusion – we sat in Mayhem and we were discussing how you can walk to this track or not – and I would say the perfect formula is 110 to 118 bpm. It’s what I felt like the most catwalk friendly. I’ve also been doing tap tempo with my space bar on my Macbook, on different runway shows.

What kind of designers do you feel it resonates most with?

Christian: An obvious reference point is always Yves Saint Laurent. Basically what he did in the 60s was pretty much pushing every limit that he could push – that is what made him legendary. He was the first one to use an Afro-American model, and making a suit for women and taking the street style from London and putting it into the high fashion French couture world. And even making pret-a-porter, everyday clothing. That whole thing in fashion came from him, so it’s obviously a reference point for The Empire Line.

3. Balenciaga roots

I remember texting someone during the Berghain performance of The Empire Line saying I’ll take my utilitarian design black square Maison Martin Margiela dress and shoot it in the heart. It’s the closest I got to conveying that sensation.

Christian: Margiela is also inspired by what the Japanese did, you can say deconstructive fashion in a way, and you can say that’s somewhat an influence. Obviously, one thing is fashion and another thing is music, so what we do has some aesthetic similarities to the whole idea of deconstructive fashion.

What about the project name? It has this industrial sound to it – if somebody would not get the reference they would think of a really belligerent situation. Did you start out from this double meaning concept?

Christian: We started out playing as Varg & Vanity, our solo projects, and we did a tape on Posh Isolation, as Varg and Vanity Productions. But as we got more aware of what is it that we actually want to do with the project, The Empire Line just came up. Of course it can work on many different levels. And it sounds nice even if you’re not that fashion conscious, but also if you look into it, it has a history.

It certainly does, the origin of the name - and design - comes from Napoleon’s time, is that right?

Christian: It’s around Napoleon, but our influence came from Balenciaga’s line of evening dresses from the late 50s.

Why Balenciaga?

Christian: Because it’s a reference to luxury and class.

Here’s a Vogue typical curiosity: which is the most expensive designer piece you own and how does it look?

Christian: I have several Yves Saint Laurent jackets. Winter, summer, rain, sunshine...

Is there a sunshine? How does it look?

Christian: No, I don’t have a jacket for sunshine, I have a shirt for sunshine from YSL.

Classy.

Varg: I think I’m mostly attached to a stolen Jeremy Scott for Adidas suit that I bought from some thieves a couple of years back. Not because I like Jeremy Scott at all, just that I used to wear the same dress as Lady Gaga did.

Did they steal it from Lady Gaga?

Varg: No comment.


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