It’s June 2012. The Swedish House Mafia just played a hilarious set on Radio 1’s Hackney Weekend when a new message appeared on their website.
“Today we want to share with you that the tour we are about to embark on will be the last,” it reads. “We came we were thrilled we liked it.”
The world of dance is upset. Swedish House Mafia is hugely successful and at the top of its game. Over the span of four years, they rewrote the rules of dance music, selling out at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 11 minutes and booking colossal stadium shows across Europe.
A supergroup made up of Swedish DJs Sebastian Ingrosso, Steve Angello and Axel “Axwell” Hedfors, are masters of the ecstasy rush, with adrenaline-pumping hits like Save The World and Don’t You Worry Child conquering clubs and rankings alike.
Nobody could believe they were closing it. Including, apparently, the band itself.
“We instantly decided it was time to make that statement,” reflects Axwell, nine years later. “We didn’t even know during the show that we were going to do it.”
“You can’t pick a good time to deliver bad news,” says Ingrosso. “We had had extensive discussions about it, but [after that show] we decided, ‘OK. let’s conclude this. “
At the time, the band chose to portray the breakup as a blast.
“It’s very easy to settle for the machine that is the Swedish House Mafia,” Axwell told Radio 1’s Pete Tong. “But we’ve always been busy challenging ourselves and doing unexpected things … and we didn’t want to end up repeating ourselves.”
A documentary about their 52-date farewell tour, however, painted a picture of internal disillusionment and tension. At one point, Ingrosso told the camera: “We’re not best friends anymore, and that’s the truth.”
“It was the truth,” he insists today. “We were exhausted, we were tired. So obviously there was tension and irritation.
“I mean, if you move in with your best friend, you’ll have tension with him too. That’s how it works.
“Now that we’re a little bit older and wiser, we look back and realize we needed a break. We needed to hear each other. We needed to miss making music together again. “.
The first sign of relaxation came in 2017, when the band reunited over a dinner in Stockholm.
“A friend of ours said, ‘Come on guys, you have to be together,'” recalls Angello, “and we were like, ‘Okay, let’s have dinner, let’s talk.'”
Aware that a public appearance would cause a tabloid frenzy in Sweden, the trio met in a private hotel suite with then-manager Amy Thomson where, after a meal of “meat, salads and red wine” , they stayed up until four in the morning, catching up and remembering.
“All the memories we shared were those of the disaster!” laughs Ingrosso. “You know, when someone screwed up, or someone missed a flight, or someone overslept. Those were the memories we all had.”
When they left, the band had agreed to play a one-of-a-kind show at Miami’s Ultra Music Festival in 2018. Three months later, Thomson “was on stage at 6am in a leather jacket, laser testing didn’t. burned their backs. them, “he later recalled on his Instagram page.
The set had to be a secret. The three members even stayed in separate hotels to avoid being seen together. But rumors started circulating after Angello canceled an Asian tour and flew to Miami.
When Miami’s first bass hit 2 Ibiza exploded in the stadium, tens of thousands of fans had gathered in front of the stage. When a huge mirrored record turned to reveal the band, it was pandemonium.
“I’ve never seen an entire festival empty and come to just one stage,” says Ingrosso. “It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Though plagued with technical issues, the hour-long set was a huge emotional catharsis for the band.
“We were in tears. Everyone was in tears,” says Ingrosso.
“We ran into a lot of people backstage who were also crying,” adds Angello. “Artists we’ve known for 10, 15 years. It was such a thrill, you could cut the energy with a scissor. It was the most intense I’ve ever felt.”
The trio quickly realized that there was no going back.
“The first second that the Kabuki [curtain] fell and we were on stage, I felt like, ‘We’ll do it again,’ “says Angello.
The question was what to do next? In the years they had been away, the “great hall” dance sound they had pioneered had declined in popularity, and the band had resisted exchanging previous glories.
It took another four years, and several false starts, to work out their next step. It involved signing, and then returning, a $ 5 million contract with Columbia Records; and parting ways with their longtime manager, Thomson.
All the while, they were in the studio, dreaming of big plans for what would become their debut album.
“At the time, we all had individual careers and were adapting to the Swedish House Mafia whenever we had time. If we felt we needed a new song to perform, we would compose it in a free week in Dublin, or London, or New York. “says Angello.
“But this time around, we wanted to focus on one album and be like, ‘OK, that’s it’.”
The band has a notoriously slow pace of work, releasing only six singles and two compilation albums during their heyday. The sessions for their return were just as languid.
They’ve put together moodboards filled with “weird and artistic things” including photos, clothes and inspirational phrases (“If you want different results, try something different”), as they tinker with vintage synths and dig into each other’s record collection.
Several songs were demos, listened to during the tour and then deleted.
“It is important that all three [of us] I love the song, so maybe that’s why it takes a little longer. Who knows? ”Axwell reflects.
“And that’s magic too, right?” Ingrosso protest. “We’re not like a traditional pop band, which has writers and people around them putting a sound together.”
In fact, they resisted advice from record labels who wanted them to release “12 more versions of Don’t You Worry Child”.
“It is very difficult to work with us”, Ingrosso acknowledges. “They might be specialists, but we’re like three barking Doberman dogs. So it’s generally best for us to make some music and introduce it to them.”
Things were further delayed in March 2020, when Ingrosso caught the coronavirus, rendering him incapacitated for three months. But the band finally took it one step further in early 2021, with a song called It Gets Better – whose claustrophobic urgency finally captured the sound they were looking for.
“When we found out, I feel like we’ve found the path,” says Angello.
The song became the first taste of Swedish House Mafia’s debut album, Paradise Again, in July.
Subsequent singles saw the band explore new territory – from the laid-back summer anthem Lifetime to the slow-burning pop of Moth To A Flame.
The latter is a collaboration with pop superstar The Weeknd, with whom Swedish House Mafia now shares a manager. But getting him involved wasn’t as easy as you’d expect, Ingrosso says.
“When we were thinking about the people we wanted to work with, the first name we wrote was Abel, aka The Weeknd. We love his dark side, his voice, his mindset, everything.
“When we told our management, we thought it was going to be obvious: ‘Yeah, bring The Weeknd to the studio tomorrow, right?’ But they said “It doesn’t work like that. Guys, you have to sit down and meet. ”
“He wanted to see our vision, our ideas, hear the whole album. And so we flew to Los Angeles and spent two days out and about, drinking, having fun – and then we went into the studio.
“It was a genuine way and it’s always the best way, you know?”
Details of the debut album, including release date, are still vague; but sees the trio emerge from suspended animation, just as their greatest heroes have called it.
At the same time the band was finishing their record last winter, Daft Punk announced their retirement in a cryptic YouTube video.
“We got our phones right away, because we work with many of their own people and we wanted to understand that,” says Ingrosso. “But at the same time, we’ve been through it and we know … they’re just people, like us.”
“It was weird,” Axwell adds. “Strange to have been silent for so long, and then to go back and say, ‘We’re out.’ We still have questions. More questions than you, probably.”
Ingrosso continues: “But they gave us two incredible decades of music. They were the reason I got hooked on electronic music and they will continue to inspire me.
“That’s the beauty of music: it never dies. So whether they’re active or not, I can always go back and listen to Homework or Discovery. I can always listen to their music because it’s always there, forever.”
But even as Daft Punk ran out of batteries, another Swedish pop export was revived along with the House Mafia.
“We are big fans of Abba!” laughs Angelo. “We grew up with Abba. They played a huge role in our musical development.”
“To be honest, I think they were trying to beat us,” Axwell says impassively. “That was a race we did here in Sweden. Like, who can come back first?”
“The great thing is that they are making a comeback in a really innovative and truly cutting-edge way,” says Angello, referring to the band’s 3D virtual gigs in London next year.
“I know a lot of people who will see Abba live, and it’s like I’m going to see the Eiffel Tower. You just have to see this show for yourself.”
Since the tour tore the Swedish House Mafia apart 10 years ago, could they imagine taking the stage as an Abba-style avatar?
“I guess when you’re their age, it’s attractive, but the crowd reaction is in our DNA,” says Ingrosso.
“We started at 15 or 16 and that’s all we’ve done, our whole life. So it’s kind of like your backbone. I can’t wait to get on stage.”
“Yes, in the future, maybe I can be at home and do nothing,” adds Angello. “But right now, I’m really hungry for energy.”
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