Harris poses in a tunnel

Prophecies of an Electric Sun: Ronan Harris of VNV Nation

Music Interviews

SLUG Mag recently sat down to chat with founder and frontman Ronan Harris of the Irish electronic music group VNV Nation, ahead of their upcoming show on  Sunday, April 21 at The Complex. We discussed tour postponements, connections between the fans and the music, his production studio and their newest album, Electric Sun.  

The music of VNV Nation naturally ignites a powerful connection between the artist and the listener. Whether it be on the streaming platform Twitch, where listeners of DJs like [Insert-Scary-Name-Here] and DJ Loomy 242 fill the chats with VNV Nation emotes, or at live shows, where listeners wipe tear-stained cheeks. When it comes to a struggling teenager who is coming into themselves or a listener going through a difficult time, the power of VNV Nation cannot be denied. Their music provokes emotion—not just sad feelings, but something full of energy that prompts strength and endurance to get through whatever task may be at hand. It is beautiful, cathartic and riveting. Harris is aware of this bond and frequently talks to his fans directly, which makes the bond even stronger. He says, “I feel it is my duty to respect those who write these things to me—to talk with them about it and let them talk.” These are powerful moments for Harris, as it allows him to share some of his own life experiences to possibly help or encourage his fans. “That is a blessing,” he says. “There are no other words.” 

Harris poses next to blue lights
Harris looks forward to new beginnings with VNV Nation. Photo: Franz Schepers

Harris is grateful that he is finally able to make good on the shows that he had to postpone due to logistical issues. Bands wanting to hit the road immediately after the pandemic created a shortage of crucial items for touring, such as buses and lighting rigs. The larger, corporate bands reserved all of this equipment, leaving nothing available for the smaller acts. The waitlist was over nine months out. Harris tried over 120 transport companies and eventually gave up. The Salt Lake City and Denver shows had to be postponed for a different reason: He had an allergic reaction that almost left him hospitalized. He says, “To say that I was close to a stroke or death would not be a joke.” Under doctor’s orders, he was forced to take medicine and go to bed or to the hospital. He was not even able to even post on social media about his condition; rest was mandatory and the tour had to wait. The cause of the reaction was a failure of his technical rider (a list of information provided by a musician to the venue prior to a show). This is an instance where the reasons for items— such as 12 pairs of black socks or a certain type of liquid fog—should not be left out or altered. Artists know what they require to perform, and even if the request seems ridiculous to the promoter, the rider must be filled without alteration to ensure the best performance outcome for all involved.

“To say that I was close to a stroke or death would not be a joke.”

Harris also has been building a professional studio over the years, and strives to fill it with top-of-the-line equipment, aiming to work with multiple genres of artists. He prefers not to label his work there as a being a producer, but rather as someone who asks the artists what they want to achieve and creates it for them. He says, “I listen to a vast array of styles of music, and I’ve helped people do all kinds of crazy things and produce bands or artists—if you want to call it [producing].” Many of these artists sound very different from VNV Nation. He often creates music under a different name so the music is not under the VNV Nation umbrella and stands on its own merit. In 2000, he released an album that had more of an industrial, power noise sound and no one ever knew it was him. He has written numerous albums that vary from ambient music and soundscapes to proto-punk songs. When it comes to his creation process, he says, “I don’t restrict myself in the studio when it comes to production. I write so many different styles of music.” He adds, “People should always try to break their borders or just to embrace all their different sides.” Harris loves working with younger producers and helping them with their questions, as well as showing them his techniques. He feels that because someone did it for him, he should be passing the baton to the younger generation.

“People should always try to break their borders or just to embrace all their different sides.”

Harris poses next to window in a suit
Coming from a technological background, Harris has a strong understanding of technologies’ impacts on music. Photo: Franz Schepers

Every VNV Nation album has a concept and every title of the album ties the songs together.  In terms of Electric Sun, the idea behind the title imagines a futuristic time in which humans can replace nature with devices. One day, someone decides to replace the sun with an electric one, begging the question of what that may look like if we need it, and asking if the sun is good enough as it is now. The pandemic left most of us with plenty of time on our hands to think about the progression of the world, and Harris was no different. A profound thought that he had was that we are moving towards a colder, more technologically-controlled and ordered world where everything has to fit technological needs rather than humanity’s. Harris comes from a computing background, which gives him a better understanding of what is possible and what may be coming. He says, “I just didn’t really think that we would reach this very sinister level with the creation of social media companies.” He also understands that we are on the verge of an AI takeover and feels that no matter if they’re a futurist or the greatest thinker on the planet, no one really knows what it’s going to do to us. He says, “I kind of imagine that at some point, we were moving towards a world where—slowly but surely—the encroachment of technology would take over and put us in a very dark place.” He adds, “That’s very much what  the song “Electric Sun” is about.” 

Experience VNV Nation with opening act Traitrs live on Sunday, April 21 at The Complex in Salt Lake City. Prepare yourself for an evening of exquisite music like nothing you have experienced before. 

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