Tim Bergling -
The Summer With Avicii

Sweden has been hit by dance fever. With spectacular live shows, hard beats, and an insane party-culture, house music has moved from obscure basement clubs to packed football stadiums. Icon tells the story of club culture’s eventual breakthrough and follows the genre’s biggest star, Avicii, from Söderstadion to Ibiza.

Avicii lifts his hand to wave to his 13,000 fans and, when he smiles, 17 year-old Lovisa Dehlin thinks that he’s a down-to-earth guy, not a diva like other music stars. Half a year ago, she and her friends succeeded in buying tickets to one of the quickly sold-out gigs at Stockholm’s Globe Arena. The weeks have crawled by since then. Lovisa and her gang have prepared by printing the Avicii logo on their own light-blue vests. Now they finally get to see him DJ.

Avicii lifts his hand to wave to his 13,000 fans and, when he smiles, 17 year-old Lovisa Dehlin thinks that he’s a down-to-earth guy, not a diva like other music stars. Half a year ago, she and her friends succeeded in buying tickets to one of the quickly sold-out gigs at Stockholm’s Globe Arena. The weeks have crawled by since then. Lovisa and her gang have prepared by printing the Avicii logo on their own light-blue vests. Now they finally get to see him DJ.

When the intro begins, the Etta James sample from massive hit “Levels,” they howl. And when they feel the bass they start to jump. Lovisa gets dizzy with happiness whenever she listens to Avicii but now the beat’s so massive that the ground trembles under her. Suddenly a metallic crack cuts through the synth-strings. And she’s falling. The ground beneath her has disappeared. She plunges from the neon-shimmering euphoria down into a compact dark. She’s falling so long that she’s able to think: “I’m going to die now.” Then her head strikes something hard. A sharp object tears her back. She’s buried in screams, panic and sweaty bodies. She’s lying in a mound of people. With a pounding head she manages to crawl away. She staggers out into the corridor and catches sight of a friend bleeding from a gash in her forehead. Paramedics rush towards them. They’re made to lie on bunks in a garage behind the stage. Avicii’s joyous house-music is still pumping in the background. Lovisa is crying. Not because it hurts, but because she’s missing the concert. She’s just a few metres from the world’s best DJ but she can’t dance.

Four months later, Lovisa and her friends are feeling better. The 26 fans who were injured when a stand collapsed at the Globe have been specially invited to Avicii’s concert at Söderstadion. Now they’re queueing up outside his dressing room. A security guard shows in two at a time for a hug, an autograph and a photo with their idol. Most are quiet and shy when let in, and giggling, exhilarated when they leave, bursting out: “I though’t I’d die,” “He’s so sweet,” “So amazing.”

Lovisa breathes fast when she sees him. He’s wearing a blue cap, white hooded sweatshirt, black leather-jacket and the kind smile that she loves. Avicii is on stage in a few minutes, so the meet is only 30 seconds long. They find time, however, to show him their newly printed orange Avicii vests, squeeze together for a picture (he puts his arm round Lovisa) and hand over a homemade glued-together collage of Avicii pictures, which they’ve signed: “Thanks for making every day better.” Before they’re shown out by security, Lovisa also manages to get an autograph on her phone case. They hurry out into Söderstadion to get near the stage. “Do you get it? the worst evening in my life led to the best,” says Lovisa.

Tim Bergling, which is what Avicii’s really called, gets out his laptop and checks the USB flash-drives that he uses instead of records when he DJs. Earlier in the evening he discovered several corrupt files, so they were uploaded again. Tim came home from Tel Aviv this morning. In the last few months, the 22 year-old from Stockholm has found time to DJ in Istanbul, Las Vegas, Rome, Trondheim, Copenhagen, Prague, Malmö, Ulm, New Jersey, Kansas City, Saint Louis, Minneapolis and Winnipeg. He played 300 gigs in 2011, and it looks likely to be even more this year.

Four years ago, he cobbled together his first tune in his boyhood bedroom in Östermalm. This spring he played his music for 60,000 people at the Ultra Music Festival in Miami where Madonna presented him with the words: “I’m a huge fan. He’s amazing. Get ready for Avicii!”


Acid house: Screaming sub-genre from the late 1980s. Associated with the smiley symbol, ecstasy and moral panic.

Arena house: Or “big room house.” Magnificent dance music suited to arenas. Poppy choruses and epic synths.

Balearic beat: Soft and billowing house associated with Ibiza.

Deep house: Soulful and uplifting house with lots of singing. If the lyrics are about Jesus, the genre’s called gospel house.

EDM: Electronic dance music. Abbreviation which has, in recent years, been used in the US to summarize the multitude of genres.

Progressive house: Fast and rave-friendly house on the border with techno.

Stekarhouse (Brat house): Flashy dance music to punch the air to in Båstad.
Techno: House’s harder and more synthy cousin. Invented in Detroit.

Tribal house: Raw pumping house with lots of percussion and congas.

Witch house: Has nothing to do with traditional house. Shuffling industrial-disco with distorted roaring about Satan.

The audience at Söderstadion are ready. It’s raining and the Globe Arena disappears in a grey haze on this grim pre-summer evening. But support DJ Albin Myers still has the young crowd moving their frozen limbs.

“Rain’s no problem. As long as we’ve got house, we keep warm,” says Malin Åkvist from Nyköping, who’s dancing in a rustling raincoat with her gang of girl friends.

They graduate from school next week (“We’re going to play shit-loads of house on our parade”) and describe Avicii as a musical genius (“kind of like Mozart”).

“We like other house too. Swedish House Mafia, Adrian Lux and Tiësto. He’s the greatest.”

“And David Guetta,” adds her friend Emilia. “He’s, like, 40 but can still produce fucking good music.”

“Everyone who goes out wants to hear house,” continues Malin. “You want this beat that makes you fuck out. Got it? The bass is so heavy that it’s not enough to punch the air. You’ve got to fuck out!”

The guys furthest away don’t seem to be planning to give up punching the air – the new house music’s most famous dance move. They get ready for Avicii’s entrance by bellowing “Whoh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-ooooh!” the riff from the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” as if they weren’t clubbers but football fans. When they catch sight of their hero, they raise their breaking-voices and roar.

Tim sticks his usb-drives into two Pioneer players and clicks into motion the bombastic dance music – filled with pompous piano chords, fiery synth-loops and yearning soul-refrains – that has made him into one of this decades most successful Swedish artists. Around three-quarters of the tunes Avicii plays are his own. The rest are remixes that he’s done for other artists, and also one or two furious electro attacks to shut the mouths of those who claim his sound is too polished.

Avicii appears in front of a gigantic video-screen. When the hit “Fade Into Darkness” begins, flames shoot up from the stage. Cannons spray out shimmering pink-smoke. Bombs detonate. A glowing waterfall breaks loose like a thousand serially-connected sparklers.

The fireworks gleam in the girls’ wide-eyes. They form hearts with their hands while the guys, in the kind of checked Ralph Lauren shirts that Avicii wears, make circles in the air with their raised fists.

“I have to learn to punch the air right,” says Salem Al Fakir, who’s standing in the wings getting ready to sing live in “Silhouettes,” the single he released with Avicii.

“Tim’s just done a new tune we recorded together the other day. I was a bit shocked. I didn’t realise it was ready. Everything’s so fast in this world.”

Besides Salem Al Fakir stands the mohawked DJ Albin Myers, nodding to the music with a beer in his hand. He says many older house fans think that the music’s become too commercial.

“Leave the cred on the shelf, I say. Embrace it instead! The only thing that matters is right here. Look!”

He shows the goose-bumps on his arm just as “Levels” begins, and the crowd fuck out in a hurricane of confetti.

Afterwards, Tim sits in his dressing room and wonders if he has the energy to go out. He doesn’t usually get tired because he stays for such short periods in each time-zone that he doesn’t have time to get jet lagged. He also has the impressive ability to sleep well everywhere (his manager, Ash, has begun to collect pictures of Tim snoozing in uncomfortable positions).

“But now I’m exhausted, you know?” he says. And wipes the sweat from his forehead. “I was really worried that this gig would be a catastrophe because of the rain, but it went well.”

“But now I’m exhausted, you know?”

The evenings only mishap was a burning mote that floated down from the sparklers and landed on Tim’s hand. He burned himself and almost got the mix wrong.

“It wouldn’t have mattered,” reassures one of his friends. “It’s live feeling. It’s mode!”

The English word “mode” was initially used in the Swedish club-circuit to describe an atmosphere or mood. Over time it’s become a synonym for “awesome” or “wicked.” Tim’s mates use it every other sentence when they step into the dressing room to say hi to him. They all look identical: leather jacket, jeans, limited edition sneakers, slicked back hair, stubble. It’s possible to identify the Östermalm friends because they greet Tim with a nasal “Gubben!” (geezer). Friends with backgrounds in the suburbs say “Abou, bro! that was mode!”

The 20 year old DJ Alesso turns up with Sebastian Ingrosso from Swedish House Mafia, the immensely successful trio that, four months earlier, sold out Madison Square Gardens. During the summer, Swedish House Mafia reveal that they’re going to split up or at least stop touring together, whereupon they quickly sell 105,000 tickets to their three farewell concerts at Friends Arena in November (numbers that few Swedish artists so far have got close to). Shortly afterwards, Sebastian Ingrosso says to Rolling Stone magazine that “I kind of analyse music a lot, and I think that what the Beatles have done is what we do today.”

In Avicii’s dressing room, his inflated body-language and on-top-of-the-world attitude suggests another music-star who compared himself to the Beatles: Liam Gallagher.

Tim gives a softer impression. When he smiles and accepts back-slaps, he radiates the same comfortable charm as Kalle on a tube of caviar, or a young Ted Gärdestad. He seems aware of his innocent image. Sometimes he takes a quick pull on a cigarette during a gig. Then he crouches behind the podium.

“I’ve nothing against other DJs smoking on stage,” says Tim. “But if I do it myself it just looks nonchalant. Like I’m acting tough.”

There are more and more people in the dressing room. Tim’s mates try to persuade him to come out and hang with them.

“Come on, you’re never at home,” nags one.

Sebastian Ingrosso pulls a bottle from the rider and hands it to me.

“Tequila,” he says. “Coffee-flavoured. It’s mode. Drink it!”

“No thanks. I’ve got to get up early tomorrow.”

“I’ve got to too. But I’ll sort it out. That’s why we’re where we are, and you’re where you are.”


1. The music: Avicii makes melodic house that sticks in your head without being irritating.

2. The strategy: Avicii focused on other countries before making appearances in Sweden. His sudden success in the US woke interest at home.

3. The independence: Avicii only has a distribution agreement with record company Sony BMG. This means, among other things, that he owns his own master tapes. He also avoids the draconian 360 agreements that give record companies a percentage beyond record sales.

4. The shows: Avicii has invested millions in extravagant light-shows and pyrotechnics.

5. The look: Avicii strengthens the bond with his fans by resembling them, with his blond mop and check-shirts.

There are several reasons why Swedish dance producers are where they are in 2012. The seed to the 2010s’ DJ explosion was sown in 1986, when the first house-music records arrived in Stockholm’s import shops. 12” singles were released on the Trax label in Chicago. Artists like Frankie Knuckles, Marshall Jefferson and Farley Jackmaster Funk cleaned away disco’s lush harmonies and created a minimalistic, electronic hybrid called house (after club The Warehouse in Chicago, where Knuckles was a DJ).

In the US, the house audience was 100 percent black gay men. In Sweden, the music was embraced by a few curious DJs. Sten “Stonebridge” Hallström who was part of DJ collective Swemix, remembers his first encounter with the music he’d then play for the rest of his life.

“It was in August, 1986. We were sitting in the Swemix office when René (Hedemyr, DJ veteran) came in with a load of new records and said: ‘This is the latest thing from Chicago. It’s called house.’ He put a record on and we heard a drum, a cheesy bass line and a vocal sample that was like ‘move your body move your body move your body …’ I thought it was completely crap. ‘No,’ said René, ‘It’s the future.’”

More impressed was singer Kajo Shekoni who in the mid 80s was a go-go dancer at nightclub Alexandra. One afternoon, the DJ put on a record he couldn’t play at night because it cleared the dancefloor.

“I’m a disco girl from the beginning,” says Kajo. “House was much pornier, darker and faster. As a dancer I liked the long instrumentals. You lose the annoying verses and choruses. It could be moaning and groaning for a whole tune. It felt unbelievably new, deep, and sexy.”

When the first dedicated house club opened in Stockholm in 1987, Kajo went there with her go-go pals. Beathouse happened at Midas lunch-restaurant opposite Gamla Stan metro and was run by DJ Mikael Palmgren who was good at finding the latest music. Unfortunately, he also alienated the audience with his snobby choice of music.

“Records older than three months were stone dead for me. They were museum pieces,” says Mikael. “Ideally, no fucker would have heard what I played. There were house hits like Farley Jackmaster Funk’s ‘Love Can’t Turn Around,’ but I pushed them around the time they broke through in Sweden. So that’s why it was hard to build a dancefloor.”

Kajo remembers Beathouse feeling bare and cold; white walls and blue light, a long way from the glitzy interior of a disco.

“It was just those of us who were a bit nerdy who thought Beathouse was cool. We went for the music. We danced for ourselves. But after a while we got tired of it because no cute guys came.”

The crowd grew ever thinner at the club, and after a few months the restaurant got a new owner who despised house-music.

The new music was no more popular at other discotheques. Stonebridge got a ticking off after scaring the crowd on disco boat Patricia with the hysterical sub-genre, acid house.

“‘Either you follow our music profile or you leave,’ they said. So I left. Sweden was different then. People wanted to dance to ‘Ooa hela natten’ and Magnus Uggla when they went out. Unbelievable things. At some places people came up and … I don’t want to say the n-word but they’d ask ‘What kind of bloody n-music is this?’ After a while the gay scene caught on. It still took until 1992 before you could play a whole night of house in Sweden.”

Beathouse was never more than an interest for music fans. Competitor Baby reached a much bigger audience with their loopy mix of house, hip hop and bubblegum pop. Organizers Mats Lundstedt and Moa Li Lemhagen, who also ran fashion brand Mats & Moa, had lived in London and were inspired by drag legend Leigh Bowery’s decadent nest Taboo. These nights in a banqueting hall on Stockholm’s St. Eriksterrassen can be seen as the starting point of modern Swedish club culture.

“Baby was something completely new, both for music and fashion,” remembers Kajo. “Everyone who they let in was extremely cool. I worked hard to look like Grace Jones. I had huge shoulder pads and cut my hair into an aeroplane. It was shaved on the sides and the back, with a Thunderbolt fighter on top.”

If ‘80s hipsters didn’t get in to Baby, they went home and flicked through British fashion magazine I-D to get inspiration for an edgier outfit.

“We tried to break ourselves with freakier and freakier themes,” remembers Moa Li Lemhagen. “We had a Lucia procession, beauty competitions where people looked completely crazy, soap-bubbles, roller-skate shows. The most extreme was when we recorded a porn film behind a curtain. But that wasn’t my idea. I think. We wanted it to feel like it did in London. And to have new music all the time.”

House and its harder cousin techno (which was born in Detroit when black producers discovered European synth-music) also meant that dancing itself changed. In a normal disco everyone stood facing each other. In the new clubs, many danced for themselves.

“It was one of the most revolutionary things about house,” says Kajo. “It had an introverting effect. You went into yourself and had a sort of evocative musical ego-trip.”

This development became even clearer when raves began to be organised in the dawn of the 1990s. In 1994, author Per Hagman wrote in Citynytt magazine about club Psychotrance that: “No-one walks around with a beer because it’s not possible, no-one dances with anyone else because it’s not possible, no-one talks with anyone else because it’s not possible … everyone makes this what it is, in a good-looking, collective autism.”

Club Baby reached the height of its influence when, in the autumn of 1988, it organised a party at Melody in Stockholm together with I-D. The magazine flew out a journalist who reported on Army of Lovers and “an explosion of Swedish dance music that’s going to erase the memory of Agnetha Fältskog’s flared-jeans for all time.” La Camilla got on the cover of I-D’s November issue. At the same time, Alexander Bard, record label Telegram and the Swemix collective launched the concept of “Nordik Beats,” which also became the title of four compilations of Swedish club music. “This is the new sound of Scandinavia!” wrote Telegram boss Klas Lunding on the first Nordik Beats cover.

Of the artists who contributed to the first Nordik Beats compilation, Stonebridge had the greatest influence on house’s development. In 1992 he remixed American singer Robin S. His version of “Show Me Love” became one of the decade’s most played club tracks. The infectious bassline has been sampled and copied by countless artists.

“R&B singer Jason Derülo stole the bass for his hit ‘Don’t Wanna Go Home’ as recently as last year,” says Stonebridge. “‘Enough is enough,’ I thought. So I contacted them and managed to get five percent of the proceeds.”


Army of Lovers
Love Me Like a Loaded Gun (1988)
Daft, sexy and irresistible. Modern Swedish dance music begins here.

Robin S
Show Me Love (1993)
US singer Robin S got an international hit thanks to Swedish DJ Stonebridge. Immortal bass-line.

Leila K
Electric (1995)
Heavy Denniz Pop produced electro-house that inspired, among others, Lady Gaga.

The Persuader
Östermalm (1999)
Night-taxi with Jesper Dahlbäck behind the wheel. Jazzy, dreamlike, and beautiful house.

Spånka NKPG feat. Malin Baryard
Do You Wanna Ride (2004)
Deep-house group from Norrköping sample riding-queen Malin Baryard for the era’s most spirited equestrian tribute.

Eric Prydz
Call on Me (2004)
It was overplayed for a while. Now it’s back to being a sympathetic Daft Punk pastiche.

Swedish House Mafia
One (2010)
Grand collaboration between the House Mafia and Pharrell Williams.

Levels (2011)
Even people who hate it can avoid playing air synth. Moreover, by sampling an old Etta James song, Avicii ensured that the queen of the blues got a hit on her deathbed.

Rebecca & Fiona
Hard (2011)
Sweden’s most charming champagne-socialists present an evocative masterpiece.

Adrian Lux feat. Joakim Berg
All I ever wanted (2012)
Kent’s Jocke can also punch the air.

During the 1990s, house mutated into a multitude of styles: progressive house, gospel house, deep house, tribal house, tech house, ambient house, filter house, euro disco. Swedish labels like Betrayal, Spånka and Hybrid gained many listeners abroad. Adam Beyer, Cari Lekebusch, Alf Tumble, Jesper Dahlback and other DJs toured the world. But club culture had difficulty
growing in Sweden – in part because the police stopped many illegal parties. Moral panic around the club Docklands made clubs reluctant to book techno DJs. Moreover, ravers who liked ecstasy more than alcohol weren’t a particularly profitable crowd.

Even so, thanks to a few enthusiastic organizers, a scene was still established around the turn of the century. The more soulful sound was emphasized by clubs like Fusion and Guidelines while the raver-progressive style played at Monday Bar, whose sold-out dance-crossings over the Baltic were spiritual predecessors to the recent arena spectacles. Another important dancefloor for Swedish house was gay-club Regnbågsrummet at Sturecompagniet. There, future star Eric Prydz learned to DJ at the beginning of the ‘00s. As a producer, he didn’t take his influences from traditional house but from hard synth like Nitzer Ebb and Front 242. Somewhat unwillingly, he became a pioneer of the ‘00s’ commercial dance music. For a few months, he was even in Swedish House Mafia.

“Sebastian Ingrosso came up to me at Regnbågsrummet when I was playing my first single. ‘Damn, that Eric Pride is nice’ he said. I said, ‘That’s me: I’m Eric.’ He said, ‘We thought you were English.’ They were in the process of building a studio on Rörstrandsgatan. Mine wasn’t so far away so we began to hang out. We spent so much time together that there was a certain inbreeding of ideas. People in other countries started calling us the Swedish House Mafia. At first it sounded a bit silly, but it stuck. In 2004 I moved to London. Then Sebastian and the others decided to use the name for real. But I was never a part of their success.”

Eric Prydz’s break-through was markedly earlier than his mafia friends’. Shortly after arriving in London he released “Call on Me,” a persistent, pumping dance tune that sampled Stevie Winwood’s 70s’ hit “Valerie.” Thanks to the energetic filtered beat and arse-exposing aerobics video, which even Tony Blair commented on (“The first time it came on, I nearly fell off my rowing machine”), “Call on Me” grew to be a mega-hit. The world lay at Eric Prydz feet. But he wasn’t interested.

“The record company sent me the video, which they’d had made themselves, and I didn’t understand anything. ‘I don’t want this video,’ I said. ‘You’ve got no say in it.’ They told me.”

Prydz was proud of his tune but didn’t feel he belonged in the hyper-commercial pop-pigeonhole where “Call on Me” placed him. He refused to follow it up with a similar hit – to the record company’s irritation.

“They wanted to put a horrible vocal on one of my other tunes and release it as a single. I said I couldn’t stand for that. After a load of discussions they rang and asked if they could come up to my studio. I said ‘Sure.’ They came with a big briefcase, opened it and said, ‘Here’s 500,000 pounds. If we get to release the track, you’ll get this money under the table.’ I said, ‘No,’ again. Don’t ask me why. It just felt so fucking wrong.”

With more evocative singles like “Pjanoo”, Eric Prydz has still managed to become one of Europe’s leading dance producers. He often gets to answer questions about his homeland in interviews.

“Everyone wonders why were so good. I usually answer that we keep an eye on what’s happening in London and New York. We get inspired, and we raise the bar even higher. And then, naturally, it’s pitch-black for five months of the year. Then you just want to sit down with your synth, close your eyes and dream you’re in Ibiza.”

Avicii höjer handen för att hälsa på sina 13 000 fans.
Avicii höjer handen för att hälsa på sina 13 000 fans.

The first thing I see is Pascha’s cherry logo. The island’s oldest discotheque has a souvenir shop in the entrance hall. Star DJ David Guetta’s club Fuck Me I’m Famous is soon opening a branch at the airport so that tourists can begin dancing before they even take a taxi to their hotel. And along the road to party zone Playa d’en Bossa, you exclusively see adverts for clubs: Guetta, Tiësto, Luciano, Axwell, Pete Tong and the other DJ-icons stare down from massive posters promising the summer’s wildest party. On the beach no-one looks like they’re younger than 18 or older than 40. The Mediterranean’s obligatory African vendors aren’t enticing buyers with the usual knick-knacks but home-burnt CDs with mixes from Pacha, Amnesia and Space. “Club music, yes?” they ask. If you say no, they say “Charlie, yes?” British slang for cocaine. It’s obvious that the English have partied here for a while.

The authorities are trying, without much success, to attract other types of tourists. To curb the worst partying, now clubs are forced to close at 6:00 am. People want to show that Ibiza had a culture before house music was invented. But the Phoenicians, who built a port here 654 years before Christ, named the island to Ibossim – “dedicated to Bes,” the god of music, dance, and sexual pleasure – so hedonism has deep roots.

“The whole island breathes house,” says Tim Bergling. “There’s a serious fucking club culture here. Ever since I started producing, Ibiza has been a Mecca. I came here for the first time in 2010 when I played before Tiësto at Privilege, the world’s largest club. It was totally amazing.”

Tim sits in his suite at Ushuaia where he DJs seven Sundays during the summer. The club-hotel is the latest big investment in Ibiza, with an enormous pool area where 5,000 people can dance under the open sky. The hotel’s reputation was tarnished last summer when a security guard killed a bartender in a jealous tragedy. But now it’s forgotten, and the posters say that summer 2012 will kick-start with “the best of the best,” “the sound of now”: Avicii.

After the gig at Söderstadion a month and a half ago, Tim has managed to play 29 gigs in the US, Canada and Europe. He has also appeared in adverts for Ralph Lauren who has chosen the Swedish house idol as official style icon. Advertising not only provides good exposure; Tim gets paid to wear the same clothes as usual. However, it’s not Tim who negotiates this kind of agreement, but manager Arash “Ash” Pournouri. While Tim polishes tonight’s intro (a string-version of the hit “Bromance” mixed together with The Who’s “Baba O’Riley”), Ash stresses around the lobby. He holds three phones (a Blackberry for the US, an iPhone for Sweden, and another for the rest of the world) and tells me that the ice cream truck with the Avicii advert is finally back outside Ushuaia. The other night it was towed away by zealous traffic police.

“I hate being here,” he says. “Everyone parties. And I work like hell.”
Ash has been so important to Tim’s breakthrough that many in the industry describe Avicii as a duo. They don’t write the music together. Even so, Ash has influenced his sound enough to be listed as co-writer. He was working on IT projects and running the club Dirty Disco at Café Opera when he discovered Tim’s songs on a blog, almost four years ago.

“I’d booked lots of famous DJs. They were good but none of them did everything right. Sometimes their DJ set was too different from the music they produced themselves. Sometimes they arrived looking too sloppy. With Tim I wanted to do everything right.”

Ash got Tim to release fewer and more developed songs. He also advised him to clean up the arrangements, so that the melodies became simpler and straighter. Another strategy that Ash suggested was to avoid smaller gigs in Sweden – although they needed the money – and focus abroad.

The first official Avicii gig was at a party arranged by the DJ Laidback Luke in Miami, 2009.

“Lots of people are content to tour Skövde and Falköping,” says Ash. “For me, it was never an option. We first broke through in France, then in England. When we broke the US it echoed in Sweden. Loud.”

Their success in the US is the biggest difference between this decade’s star DJs and previous generations. Frankie Knuckles and the other pioneers who invented house never got close to the stadiums that Avicii fills. It’s not the first time black American music has detoured through Europe before breaking through at home. Comparing Swedish House Mafia with the Beatles or the Stones maybe isn’t so crazy, after all.

“I don’t want Avicii to be the biggest thing in dance music,” says Ash. “I want Avicii to be the biggest.”

Run by Ash and three others, At Night Management has a world map on its site that shows Avicii’s conquests. He has played on every continent. The map Tim moves over at home is, however, smaller.

His parents’ home, combined flat and studio, and office are in a one kilometre radius on Östermalm. Tim has always regarded the area as a small town. Everyone knows everyone. He didn’t think that Skillinge was particularly different – when the family lived in Skåne for six months when he was a teenager. Tim’s father Klas runs an office-suppliers. His mother, Anki Lidén, is an actor. As a child, Tim got to go with her to the TV studio where she was recording the soap Vänner och fiender (Friends and Enemies).

“It was fun. They had replica guns I got to play with. The make-up artists made up big wounds on my face.”


1. Tiësto: 22,7 million.

2. Skrillex: 15,4 million.

3. Swedish House Mafia: 14,5 million.

4. David Guetta: 13,9 million.

5. Steve Aoki: 12,3 million.

6. Deadmau5: 11,9 million.

7. DJ Pauly D: 11,4 million.

8. Kaskade: 10,4 million.

9. Afrojack: 9,3 million.

10. Avicii: 7,2 million.

Source: Forbes

In secondary school, Tim played as much World of Warcraft as his friends but, after downloading a music programme, he realized that beats and bass lines were more interesting than dragons and demons. At night he sat in front of his computer, and his schoolwork suffered.

“If you skipped more than 20 percent, you lost your study grant. I skipped a lot more than that, but I never forgot to report myself sick. I was good at talking my way out of things. And my final grades weren’t catastrophic either: 15, on average, so mum and dad weren’t worried. They knew I was busy with music. They didn’t think I was sitting in my room building bombs or anything.”

Tim’s debut as a DJ was at Carlssons school when the final year had their spring ball. He knew they probably wouldn’t care if he mixed wrong, but he was still nervous. The dream was to be as good as Swedish House Mafia.

“They were my big role-models. Their music was melodic but still hard. Never cheesy. The first electronic group I listened to was Daft Punk. They sample very old music but they always bring something new so that it gets a fat beat. You can listen as many times as you want without getting tired of it.”

To be a house-music producer, Tim works in a fairly traditional way. He most often begins by picking out the lead melody on the piano.

“It should be sprinkled with happiness but still melancholy. Beautiful and sad at the same time. There are thousands of good club tunes but not so many with really good melodies. Those are the ones I try to write. In the beginning, Ash knew what was going on more than I did, so I trusted his ear. Now I tour all the time and know what works. I’m not so green any more.”

“It should be sprinkled with happiness
but still melancholy.

Tim took his stage name from Buddhism. “Avici” is the lowest level of hell where the worst sinners are tormented. He thought it sounded good. But added an “i” to be able to register a Myspace account.

“I haven’t got any reaction from Buddhists. Maybe if I’d called myself Mohammed, it would have been livelier.”

The negative criticism that’s been directed at Tim comes mostly from the house snobs who thinks that he makes music that’s too lightweight. Many who liked “Levels” at first, dismissed the tune when it became a global hit.

“When a tune stops being up-and-coming, it’s not considered cool anymore. The same people who dug it three months ago suddenly think it’s old and boring. Everyone wants to be so cred.”

In June, Tim played his biggest gig so far for 90,000 people at the Electric Daisy Carnival festival, at a speedway arena in Las Vegas. As the gigs have grown bigger, he has partied less and less at them. At first, he thought it was amazing there was free champagne backstage. Now he barely touches it.
“I can have a beer before a gig. But I don’t want to risk fucking up a mix because I’m loaded. It would be incredibly unprofessional. You’ve got to plan your drinking carefully.”

When Madonna presented Avicii at Ultra Festival, she asked the audience, “How many of you have seen Molly?” (American slang for ecstasy.), DJ Deadmau5 tweeted that it was questionable that a 53 year-old should celebrate drugs in front of young fans. Tim didn’t know what Madonna would say on stage but wasn’t upset by it.

“She wanted to be a bit ‘bad girl.’ I didn’t take it so seriously. People act as if drugs were unique to electronic music. Drugs have been a part of every genre that’s ever existed. It has nothing to do with the music; it’s about the fact that people want to get drunk and high.”

Ecstasy use seems to have slackened off in house and techno. This isn’t because of increased health awareness, but because club culture has changed. DJs no longer play in concrete bunkers or at illegal raves in the woods. House music’s stars appear at luxury nightclubs and hideous hockey arenas where you book VIP booths and drinks-tables. The partying has got more ostentatious. Popping pills in a muddy field while the sun comes up isn’t as popular as knocking back champagne and punching the air in Stureplan.

The dancing has also been affected by the music becoming rockier and straighter. The good-looking, collective autism that the old-times club kids got into has been replaced by a liquour-soaked party-craze.

“A new club culture has established itself,” says Stonebridge who, after more than 30 years as a DJ, is the godfather of Swedish house music.

“You buy bottles not drinks. You book your VIP table. You order champagne so all the bitches come. It’s a status thing. By the door is a wall with all the sponsors’ logos where all the chicks and celebrities are photographed. And the next day, the pictures are up on Stureplan.se. It’s the same in other countries. I played in Manila last weekend. The dance floor was 40 meters from the DJ booth to fit in the VIP tables. They prioritized the guests who were willing to pay 5,000 Swedish kronor to stand near the DJ. It’s become more important to be seen than to listen to the music.

“At the same time, narcissism has always fuelled night life. And the commercialization of house has just modified, not reduced, working it on the dance floor.

“When I went to England in the 1990s, there was an insane amount of ecstasy,” remembers Stonebridge. “I got a little tired of people being so full of love the whole time. If I dropped a song with lots of strings, everyone sighed “’Aaaaaaah.’ Now it’s more aggressive. More fist-pumping. More ‘Fuck yeah.’”

One of Ushuaia’s security guards glares menacingly at me in the corridor outside Tim’s room. “Now he’s going to kill me,” I think, but the tour manager stops him. Four beefy Spaniards will escort Tim for the 20 meter stretch between suite and stage. If he went himself, cap pulled down, probably no-one would notice. But Ash doesn’t take risks. It also looks undeniably impressive when the musclemen form an iron-band round Tim and plough through the crowd, closely followed by a film crew and two photographers.

In the flashes, the young DJ resembles a boxer heading for the ring. He walks up on stage and sets in motion his epic house hits. Flamethrowers and smoke-machines begin to snort. Laser beams cleave the sticky summer night. Go-go dancers in golden C-3PO-bikinis put it on in front of the sparkling video wall. Halfway through the gig, Tiësto turns up on the podium, hugs Tim and shoots Jägermeister. Beside me stands a television producer from London.

“I can hear it when Swedes are DJ-ing,” she says. “They’re deep in the tunes. Swedes feel the music. Brits just play it.”

After two hours, Tim rounds off the evening with Zombie Nation’s “Kernkraft 400” (a German classic that was the first song he remixed in his boyhood room). 5,000 sunburned house-tourists roar.

With a large sweat stain on the back of his Ralph Lauren shirt, Tim leaves the stage. He smiles his adorable Kalle’s caviar smile.

Security have a hard time pushing back the fans, who either want to be him or sleep with him. He is the king of Ibiza. But he goes up to his room instead of listening to people’s congratulations. An hour later, his private plane takes off towards Sweden.

“I still don’t get it that I travel round like this,” says Tim. “Everything feels so unreal. Everything is so sick.”


Born: 8th September 1989.

Lives: Östermalm in Stockholm.

Family: Mother Anki Lidén, father Klas Bergling, older brother and half-brother (the artist Anton Körberg).

Hits: “Seek Bromance,” “Fade Into Darkness,” “Levels,” “Silhouettes.”

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