Ecco2K’s second coming of age
The auto-tune singer and post-digital Renaissance man talks collaboration, personal discovery, and staying true to his vision on his debut solo album.
Zak Arogundade wears all black: a jumpsuit tied loosely around his waist, his chest bare, and chunky, oversized leather sneakers. His hair matches the moon behind him, an arctic-white mop dyed so brightly that reflections from the camera flash obscure his face. Ensconced in ash-coloured rubble, he dances, spinning his hips, neck, shoulders, waving his arms like a house diva.
Arogundade, the 24-year-old, Stockholm-born musician, designer, and visual artist also known as Ecco2K, is appearing in a music video for Fruit Bleed Juice. The song, produced with experimental musician Yves Tumor (credited as Shanti, his production alias), is the second single from his debut album released on YEAR0001, E. The clip follows Ecco as he frolics through a vast, destitute industrial park in the dead of night. In some shots, you can barely make out the scene around him, as he blinks in and out of view under the glare of a strobe light. Though it’s difficult to distinguish his features, apart from a glowing cheshire grin, Arogundade looks profoundly ecstatic, overcome with the childhood joy of exploring a vast, abandoned place.
But as he explained over the phone, a formidable graft belies the video’s carefree feel. “It was the day before I was supposed to meet Shanti in Berlin,” he recalls. “I discovered this place and felt like I had to do something. I had just a few hours to get everything I needed together. I had to run and buy, maybe four or five strobes, and call in a bunch of favours.” In fact, Arogundade hadn’t even recorded Fruit Bleed Juice before shooting the video. He and Shanti recorded the track in Berlin the next day, while the footage looped on a screen in front of them as they “soundtracked” Ecco’s performance.
Arogundade has had a remarkably industrious career up until this point; his work spans photo, video, fashion design, and music, articulating a unique aesthetic that at once evokes Stockholm’s bitter winter, urban decay, Hot Topic emo, pillowy, digital soundscapes and the loneliness of prolonged YouTube spelunking. As Ecco2K, Arogundade has been releasing music since 2013, appearing on projects with his friends in the Swedish hip-hop and electronic music scenes, and, in 2017, playing his first solo live sets at Berlin Atonal, one of the world’s foremost electronic music festivals, and the infamous superclub Berghain’s Janus night (as well as a solo appearance at SXSW this past March). At those shows, Arogundade appeared alongside some of the most exciting and singular names in contemporary music, from M.E.S.H. and Dean Blunt (as Babyfather) to Varg2TM and Oli XL.
Having made his first forays into visual art at age 5, with graphics software gifted by his dad, an architect based in London, Arogundade is also a talented designer and editor. He’s directed and edited dozens of music videos, including one for Noid, the lead single from Tumor’s universally acclaimed 2018 record Safe in the Hands of Love. Arogundade started his first fashion label, a streetwear brand called Alaska, at 16, negotiating online with overseas factory managers who had no idea of his precociousness. His current venture, a brand called g’LOSS, has garnered traction in the world of high-tech hypebeasts. In 2018, Arogundade walked the runway for Alyx Studio at Paris Fashion Week, and served as a panelist for the first “Challenge the Fabric” competition at London Fashion Week.
In the midst of this radically interdisciplinary approach, E is Arogundade’s first definitive musical statement, an album that recounts life-spanning experiences and molds the cloud-rap and electronic sounds he and his friends pioneered into a palate that’s distinctly his. Arogundade made Fruit Bleed Juice in the winter of 2018, early on in the process of writing and recording his album. He describes this time as a period of rapid growth and self-discovery. He’d just left his full-time gig as a designer and photo retoucher at Eytys, a Swedish shoe brand. Arogundade explained that, although he was excited to fully commit himself to personal projects, the job had given him invaluable skills, and a kick in the ass towards developing self-discipline. “It’s just different when you are put in a position every day where you’re just like, ‘how the fuck am I going to solve this?’ I had so many different responsibilities, and … I was just challenged every day,” he says. “It doesn’t matter how you feel, you just have to do it: you have to be a professional. I couldn’t have grown that quickly by myself if I had just done [creative work] on my own terms.”
It was in this pressurised setting that Arogundade learned to prioritise self-care in his creative practice. “If you’re like [me], you kind of have to develop a poisonous relationship to whatever it is that you love doing. I had to get hit over the head by how I was working to understand why it’s important to have a healthy relationship [with your practice] and take care of yourself before anything else.”
Free from the office grind, Arogundade began a period of writing, recording, and personal exploration. E, his most complete, definitive work to date, and his proper solo debut, follows years of collaboration with close friends and peers. Six years ago, Arogundade started the Drain Gang collective, initially christened Gravity Boys, with rapper Thaiboy Digital, producer whitearmor, and Bladee, neé Benjamin Reichwald – a rapper, producer, and designer who’s also one of Arogundade’s oldest friends. “We’ve known each other for 14 years,” Arogundade says. “We always did everything together. We were both into the same stuff.” The pair have been making music together since they were schoolmates, forming a punk project called Krossad in 2004, when they were both 11 years old, thrashing around each other’s bedrooms with instruments they could barely play.
Though they share this early musical experience, Arogundade maintains that music has never been (and still isn’t) his primary focus. Even with the album out in the world, and touring on the horizon, Arogundade still wants to balance his musical output with other forms of creative work. “Music is my youngest medium. I have gotten to a point where I’m mature enough with music that I can actually do something that’s definitive, and that doesn’t feel like an experiment. I wouldn’t have called myself a professional musician until now. But I wouldn’t say that music holds priority over the other stuff, because I still feel like a visual artist over everything else.”
Through his work designing album covers, directing and editing music videos, and creating merch, Arogundade helped his friends in Drain Gang articulate a novel hip-hop aesthetic. Under g’LOSS, Arogundade designed Drain Gang merch, stamped with the winking “Official Drain© Licensed Product” badge. Meeting through mutual friends, Drain Gang eventually folded together with a like-minded crew called Sad Boys, comprised of producers Yung Gud and Yung Sherman, and Yung Lean – perhaps this decade’s most unlikely rap star. Following the viral success of his 2013 track Ginseng Strip 2002 and its beguiling, quasi-ironic video, it was Lean, neé Jonatan Leandoer Håstad, who would attract the lion’s share of clickbaity blog features and mainstream coverage. Lean, just 16 years old at the time, began touring the world with the rest of the boys in tow. They would join him onstage to perform collab tracks and hype up the crowd. 2013, Arogundade became his creative director, and their work quickly inspired a legion of bucket hat-clad obsessives who show out in full force in the YouTube comment sections of Drain Gang videos.
Speaking to Arogundade, it’s clear that he’s not one to bask in the spotlight. Despite his bold, unguarded and eccentric performances as Ecco2K, Arogundade speaks carefully and articulately about his work, and maintains that developing it has always been his sole focus. Even as Ecco2K’s participation in Drain Gang’s musical catalog grew, he has tried to maintain a healthy distance from his cohort’s obsessive fanbase of “drainers”.
“Everything, even before the music, was mostly about expressing whatever you had inside, and doing it the way you wanted to do it … Now that there’s an audience, it doesn’t make that big of a difference,” he asserts. But it hasn’t always been easy: “At the same time, I had my phone and my social media hacked by my fans, I’ve had music stolen and leaked by my fans, and I’ve had family members contacted, so it’s difficult to separate the consumer, or the people who are involved emotionally in what you do, from your life and what you’re doing,” he adds. “In some ways, they insert themselves into the thing whether I like it or not. Like, if somebody really wants to hack you, you’re gonna get hacked.”
The music on E reads, at times, like a direct feed from Ecco’s mind. Through impressionistic lyrics and clear, confessional delivery, Arogundade’s vocals offer an open window into unbridled trains of thought. It’s clear that he’s taken pains to unsparingly portray the growthful states of mind he passed through in order to write the album. On the brief skit that preludes Fruit Bleed Juice, Arogundade rips a phrase directly from a late-night Notes app diary session: “I feel like I’m flying and sinking at the same time /Like I’m being pulled from below and from above /In every direction, at once.”
Striving to protect his naive creative impulses, Arogundade often purposefully secluded himself from friends and collaborators as he recorded himself and arranged the record. “If there were people in the room, I would just ask them to leave,” he explains. “I felt that it was more fun to do it that way, there was more creative control and more freedom … When no one’s watching, you can do whatever the fuck you want. I behave pretty differently in general, so I wanted to be in that place while recording, as well.”
Still, Arogundade keeps a degree of distance between the project and his personal identity, to maintain the sense that he is (and does) more than what comes across in his music. “The way I feel about it is that Ecco is something I do; it’s not who I am,” he says. “It’s more of a vehicle, or a vessel. It’s not a name or identity that I assign to myself. The relationship is more close, I guess, because I use my voice and my body and my feelings and my experiences to embody this project … But I wouldn’t call myself Ecco.”
Arogundade made E slowly and carefully, and only with deeply trusted collaborators. The record is executive-produced by Gud, neé Carl-Mikael Berlander, a Sad Boys member who’s responsible for some of the cohort’s biggest tracks, as well as the majority of Lean’s Unknown Death 2002 and Warlord projects. Berlander is one of the few producers with whom Arogundade has worked – “fewer people than you can count on one hand,” aside from whitearmor, the most prolific Drain Gang producer, who also contributed beats to E.
Berlander regards Arogundade with genuine awe. “It’s cool to see someone with such dedication and resolve pull so many strings at once. Dude will engineer, mix, even add production to a record if it needs it. Film and edit these videos, posters, make jewellery, clothes, walk a fucking catwalk. Whatever it is, he’s on top of it.” On E, Gud pares back the apocalyptic bass pressure of his earlier work, favouring skittering rhythms and bubblier textures.
Though he has long contributed to projects affiliated with his creative cohort, Arogundade marks the period he spent creating E as “the first time where I started to get assisted. My whole life I had been the assistant myself, and I had to learn how to direct people.” Learning “how to direct people” became a major object of personal growth for Arogundade, one that dovetailed with his growing confidence in his own vision. “I just felt like I was mature enough to relax, basically,” he explains. “My idea of what perfection was started to change,” he adds, “it started to change into something that’s less about control and more about the pure idea or the honest idea”.
Arogundade is quick to express that in Yves Tumor, he found a trustworthy and fruitful collaborator. The tracks on E that Ecco and Sean made together, Fruit Bleed Juice and the lead single AAA Powerline, “are some of the earliest ones,” Arogundade says. “It was just a pretty chaotic time, almost a religious [experience].”
Arogundade feels there’s an unspoken understanding between him and Yves Tumor. “Where I grew up, there was nobody really around me that I could see myself in,” he says. “It was more of an environment where you’re constantly reminded of not belonging, be it in a directly aggressive way, or in a passive way. It was just something you were always painfully aware of. I think when I was young, I really needed somebody in my life that I could look at and be like, ‘I see myself in this person, and this person makes me feel okay with who I am’. [Tumor] is one of the first people that I met who was like me.”
On Peroxide, the album’s second track, which follows AAA Powerline, Ecco bares Arogundade’s early encounters with otherness. He begins by interpolating the beginning of AAA Powerline’s last line: “crushing rocks with Oyster card /so nauseous can’t sleep it off” becomes “at the bus stop crushing rocks /they all stare at me, I don’t care at all,” blurring the two songs’ vignettes together. Ecco recounts his profound, anxious confusion, but ultimately stands in his power: “No peroxide, I stay dark.” Peroxide was the first track Gud and Ecco made together; Gud explained in an email that “[Arogundade] was kind of obsessing over it for a long time, so I ended up handing it to him when he was in Bangkok. He fucking killed it on voicemail so after that it was pretty much: ‘Let’s just do an album.’” The track sets the stage for E’s bracing self-portrayal, the rest of the songs touching upon romantic longing, substance abuse, insomnia and existential dread in a redemptive arc delivered through oblique lyrics that follow their own dream logic.
Though Arogundade never frames his work for the expectations of his audience, he hopes to continue to inspire young fans who look like him and feel as he felt. “I’m not here to teach anybody anything, or tell anybody what to do. I do exactly what I want, and that is what I would have needed to see, as a kid. By being a living example of somebody who is themselves, and does what they want, their own way, will hopefully influence somebody in a positive way. Maybe as a result,” he adds, “that person could come to the point that I reached when I was 21, 22, when they’re 16”.