Will Lynch goes deep with the trap-loving, cop-hating, graffiti-writing artist shaking up electronic music.
Jonas Rönnberg was sitting on the couch of a tattoo parlor in Berlin, eating a sloppy kebab. He was getting two tattoos that day: a wolf on his arm (his main artist name, Varg, is Swedish for "wolf") and a small asterisk, the logo for his label, Northern Electronics, on his temple. The second one would be his first face tattoo, which he saw as a big step, even for someone whose personal mosaic includes an image of the devil doing coke off an iPhone. The bad idea, though, was the kebab.
"It's horrible," he said, his face blank as he peered over the wet plastic and tin foil. "But also really nice."
It was August, humid and red-skied, and Rönnberg was in Berlin for a few gigs: a DJ set at Atonal, a live show at Griessmuehle, and a few days of recording at MONOM, a 4DSOUND studio at Funkhaus Berlin.
George Nebieridze, Rönnberg's friend and the photographer for this piece, tossed Rönnberg a nip of Berliner Luft, the German peppermint schnapps. "This was in my bed last night," he said. "It's yours." Chris Magnusson, Rönnberg's friend and tattoo artist, drew the Northern Electronics logo on his face with a marker. Rönnberg snapped a photo and sent it to Melina Åkerman Kvie, AKA AnnaMelina, his partner in his new project, FLORA.
Chris handed Rönnberg an illustration of what he had in mind for the wolf. He took it and went wide-eyed. "Oioioioioioi—YOI! Look at this, deconstructed wolf! Dude. Chris! That is truly... a masterpiece!"
Chris accepted the praise with a shrug. "We start with the face," he said. "Then we do the wolf with the machine."
Chris and Rönnberg met ten years ago at a rave "in an abandoned cabin in the woods" in Northern Sweden. In fact, Rönnberg remembered, it was the afterparty for the record release of the first Varg cassette, Skaeliptom—"the one with the burned church ashes in it," he said.
Rönnberg got a text from Melina about the face tattoo, which he read out loud. "'Up a little bit, otherwise it will look too sad. Size is good, worst case you can make it a little longer after you've done it. But yes, super nice. It's just got to go up a little bit. Not much, just a couple millimeters."
20 minutes later another one came in: "'Maybe it should be two millimeters wider. Or should it? This is scary. But exciting!'"
Chris laid black latex over what looked exactly like a doctor's operating table. Rönnberg laid down, assuming something close to the fetal position. Saxophone drifted over from the small stereo across the room.
"What track is this again?" Rönnberg asked.
"John Coltrane," Chris said. "'In A Sentimental Mood.'"
"Oh right," Rönnberg said. "You think we could listen to some Swedish trap?"
Chris obliged, and Rönnberg received his face tattoo to the sound of stuttering hi-hats and auto-tuned Swedish raps. Chris held Rönnberg's face with one latex-gloved hand. With the other, he used a handheld needle to fill in the asterisk, one poke at a time.