Drain Gang 2022 world tour has well-contained chaos

        Drain Gang—a collective formed in 2013 by rappers Bladee, Ecco2k and Thaiboy Digital, along with producers Whitearmor and Yung Sherman—announced their 2022 World Tour in October of last year, immediately selling out. The group is currently riding an ever-increasing wave of popularity that started around the beginning of the pandemic, when Bladee (the most prolific of them all) released the album “333,” a move from an almost parodic, glittery trap sound in the prior release “Icedancer” toward a more melodic and esoteric style. Fellow Swede Yung Lean recently gained popularity on TikTok, and by association, Drain Gang likewise grew their following. Instead of their subcultural context being that of underground rap, which is what it used to be, they are now considered hyperpop-adjacent. Also known as DG or D&G after Dolce and Gabbana, their collaborative discography includes “GTBSG” (2013), “AvP” (2016), “D&G” (2017), “Trash Island” (2019) and most recently, “Crest” (2022), released just two days before I caught their performance on March 19 at the Knockdown Center in Queens.

         To start the night, accompanying act Varg2TM played a house and gabber friendly set, a very nice tone for the rest of the show. The group’s energy has always matched the pseudo-spiritual happiness of early 2000s warehouse rave culture more than the excessive materialism of trap, but nowhere has it been more evident than in their partnering with Varg2TM’s EDM set. However, as soon as the trio came on it was patently clear that the concert’s intent would not match the audience’s expectations. They began with “Western Union,” followed by the opening song from “Crest,” “The Flag Is Raised,” and from that point on, even if the setlist may seem divided between Bladee and Ecco2k,  the spotlight seemed to land too much on Ecco2k. Even though Thaiboy Digital was the least popular member on stage, he was embarrassingly underrepresented on the setlist, receiving titular attention on just 6 of the 32 tracks played.

         Compounding this issue with Ecco2k was the terrible audio treatment. His voice was completely inaudible, wholly dissolving into a muddy puddle of undistinguishable bass. Ecco2k is by far the best performer of the three thanks to his dynamic and experimental stage presence, and you could tell he was singing his heart out by the veins popping in his neck, so it’s a shame that his contribution fell so flat. It was also painfully clear that everyone in attendance was truly there for Bladee, just based on the difference in energy when one of his songs began playing. His mega-hit “Be Nice 2 Me” practically made the room explode, as did “BBY” and “Thee 9 Is Up”; the difference in reaction may also be attributed to the fact that Bladee’s music is more suited for a party, which is what many concerts of this ilk are. While outwardly danceable, Ecco2k’s music and overall style may be more suited for a space that welcomes artiser performances.

          Aside from that, my only other complaint is that the venue was really hot and humid,  more so than what is normally admissible for a general admission, mosh-pit type of show. The camera I brought, my little Olympus point-and-shoot, died toward the end from the sweat that hung in the air. And I’m sorry to say that memes about “drainers” not showering…feel accurate now. In terms of dress, however, the crowd was the most aesthetically diverse the DG fanbase has ever been.  Their shows used to be almost nerdy, but nowadays, there are fans dressed in head-to-toe Rick Owens or Margiela, rocking rare merchandise, and lots of newly minted Y2K emo swag like fingerless arm warmers, alongside a plethora of other subcultures. I even saw someone next to me being led around by a chain attached to a spiked collar,  wearing a mask that only had eye holes cut out. Beyond his respiratory capabilities, I was worried that while the crowd was collapsing in on itself, I would get poked by one of his spikes—and I was, and it bled, but I didn’t mind it. More than anything else, the concert was fun, with Drain Gang feeding off of an audience that consistently danced and sang along, even to classics like “Shadow Silence” and “Lovenote.”

          Drain Gang is characterized by loyalty—to one another, as they’ve been together for nearly a decade now, and by their fervent fans. Before his 2019 album “E,” being an Ecco2k fan mostly meant scrounging the Internet for leaked clips for songs that would never release. Bladee fans have always eaten well, but his passion for switching sonic palettes might have shaken less dedicated listeners. Thaiboy is the most underrated, although perhaps he has objectively become less relevant as the years go by. But together, and especially with a post-pandemic influx of public adoration, DG gives a thoroughly electric live show that I’ve been waiting for what feels like forever to attend.

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