Swedish House Mafia's legacy: greats or fakes?
Tue 26th Jun, 2012 Features 13538 viewsin
I recently took a trip to Las Vegas to witness Electric Daisy Carnival, a festival that epitomises the U.S. dance boom at its most amplified. Despite the claims of the festival’s founder Pasquale Rotella that “moving forward, we don’t want to book the big guys,” 2012’s line-up was a “big guy” fraternity: Tiesto, Armin van Buuren, David Guetta, Afrojack, Calvin Harris and, on the first night, Steve Angello. The day before the festival, Angello sat on a panel at the EDM Biz conference with Kaskade, Above & Beyond and Richie Hawtin, and one of his throwaway comments stuck with me. It’s revealing of how the Swedish House Mafia positions itself. During a discussion about why dance music didn’t ignite commercially in America in the ’90s, Angello quipped: “DJs didn’t even have logos then.” The logo, the branding, the hype, the ‘global partnerships’: they’re as much what made the Swedish House Mafia as the music.
While Sneak’s self-serious crusade may be tiring, it’s true that the Swedish House Mafia are as much an archetypal ‘house’ name as David Guetta is. Both acts specialise in a kind of trance-on-steroids custom-built for mainstages – what Fatboy Slim calls the combination of “European pads and a big American fuck-off chorus”. Perhaps the best sequence in Take One sees the Swedes going quietly stir-crazy in the studio, before coming up with the bombastic keys for One. Their itch to go bigger is palpable. “It’s just so massive,” Ingrosso laughs.
Not everyone shares their passion for the “massive” pay-offs, though. “I think their sound is very Faithless-y in a way, but a very crude and reduced kind of Faithless,” Sister Bliss remarked last year. “I think without the kind of lyrical integrity maybe, and the subtlety in the sound.” Subtle was never the game-plan.
Backlash is a bitch in dance music. Those building a case against the Swedish House Mafia got a good head-start from Take One, a 40-minute film with at least 15 solid minutes of its subjects acting like douches. UK newspaper The Guardian memorably wrote a review titled ‘This isn’t Spinal Tap, it’s Swedish House Mafia’, which revelled in all the diva behaviour on show. Ingrosso melts down at not getting his own car to drive to Ultra Music Festival, then later fumes at having to share a shuttle bus with common punters. Axwell keeps asking girls if they “wanna party?” in a faintly creepy way. Angello has gripes with most promoters featured (some justifiably). “If Take One is anything to go by, a typical Swedish House Mafia DJ set involves little more than three pot-bellied men punching the air to an electro-house version of Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics,” was how The Guardian summed it up.
Part of the trio’s mystique comes from those superstar DJ clichés. Most DJs are expected to be chameleons, crafting sets appropriate to the time-slot and party. The Swedish House Mafia is expected to be the Swedish House Mafia: champagne-spraying, Grey Goose-guzzling, hard-partying bad boys. As for the actual DJing, there’s as much a tried-and-true set-list as there is on a Coldplay tour. While Take One has the sheen of an artist-sanctioned product (it was made by EMI, after all), the reality of the superstar life often seems isolating and banal on-screen. None of the guys look that healthy, either, a fact Angello riffed on in his Guest Editor stint for inthemix. “I went to a big doctor’s check-up two weeks ago, and I was scared to death,” he wrote. “I live a very unhealthy lifestyle. You travel, you eat crap food, you go up and down in weight, you drink alcohol, you don’t sleep at night. Then, after doing that for like 12 years, you think, I just have to be dying.”
The final scene of Take One sees the trio closing out Miami’s Ultra Music Festival in 2010, the curtain falling on the mainstage as those “massive” One chords do their thing. The festival was a kind of tipping point for the Swedish House Mafia. From there, the well-oiled machine stepped up a notch. The next year in Miami, they established their Masquerade Motel event in direct competition with Ultra. Every Monday at Pacha in Ibiza was a road-block, while Wednesdays saw the DJs packing out Ushuaia Beach Club. In the summer of 2011, festival headline slots were chosen carefully: T In The Park, Tomorrowland, Electric Daisy Carnival, Sonne Mond Sterne. (On the evidence of Take One, the Swedes don’t take much joy from festivals. On the way to Mysteryland in Holland, Ingrosso seems unimpressed that everyone will be on pills, while all three find plenty to gripe about in festival production.)