Avicii: True Stories reveals the high price of fame [Review & Interview]
“People’s perception of who Avicii is, isn’t who Tim is. I don’t really like being the center of attention.”
We watched the story unfold in front of our eyes without ever having truly seen it. Until now. The kid whose breakthrough talent catapulted him to the music elite and superstar status was in for a ride he never could have anticipated and it’s become quite clear that it was a journey that young Tim Bergling was never a willing participant of. Between the years of 2008 and 2016 this shy Swedish producer would end up playing 813 shows and his dance music moniker ‘Avicii‘ would become a worldwide phenomenon. The recognizable brand would bring riches to not only him but also to the many employees who were making big money off of brand ‘Avicii.’ Bergling’s story very much mirrors that of another superstar – Michael Jackson, whose fame cost him the most valuable possession of all – his life. Luckily it seems that this particular tale will have a different end for the young Swede.
The Avicii story began when the young producer won a production competition held by Pete Tong in 2008. In 2011, he transformed into a titan seemingly overnight with progressive house classic “LE7ELS.” The year that followed saw him become the first DJ to pull off a worldwide arena tour and he continued to shatter expectations of dance music when he unveiled the dance-country swing of ‘Wake Me Up’ at Ultra Music Festival Miami in 2013. The year 2015 should have been a peak for the producer, but behind the scenes, stress, anxiety, alcohol abuse and illness were quite literally eating him away. At that point he had played more than 800 shows and after an eight month break from touring, in March of 2016, Avicii played Ultra Miami one more time. What should have been a momentous event was followed by a retirement announcement just ten days later. After several failed attempts to pull out of upcoming performances, on the night of August 28, 2016 in Ibiza, Avicii played his last show.
There’s an abundance of pivotal scenes that show the downfall of the young superstar in ‘Avicii: True Stories,’ a compelling new documentary about the Swede that arrived in selected cinemas on 26 October. After five straight years of astronomical success, the young headliner finally took control of his own life. Having witnessed his health deteriorate to the point where he was unable to eat or even drink water while being pumped with addictive drugs in order to be able to perform, Bergling finally stood up to the poor management that lead him to the daunting state he was in. Avicii the brand was making too much money for some, while Bergling struggled with his personal demons that seemed to go conveniently unnoticed by the decision makers in the star’s life. Monumental performances were experienced by the public, but what was never shown on stage was comprehensively covered by the new documentary revealing the story behind the scenes.
‘Avicii: True Stories,’ is directed by Bergling’s longtime friend and visual collaborator Levan Tsikurishvili. The documentary filmmaker had been following the star since 2013 on a near-daily basis. The film delves deep into the decision-making that goes into making such a drastic call before the age of 30, and also the star-making process from a vantage point rarely seen. It’s a compelling and cautionary tale that touches on an industry’s greed to cash in on the dance music craze and the pressure an artist feels when his managers and agents all-too-willingly risk health and friendship in order to keep the train rolling at maximum speed. The film traces the unvarnished truth behind the success of the Grammy-nominated producer, songwriter and artist which ultimately lead to his shock retirement. The documentary is followed by a 30 minute concert film of Avicii’s final show in August 2016.
The film features appearances by colleagues such as Chris Martin, Nile Rodgers, David Guetta, Laidback Luke, Tiësto and Wyclef Jean and is a cautionary tale that explores the taxing nature and intensity of fame from the rarely seen artist’s point of view. The documentary maker Tsikurishvili explains:
“I wanted to do a brutally honest film about Tim as a person and not only about Avicii. Everybody knows Avicii but very few people know Tim. I think this documentary really shows Tim’s struggle and strength of character. Being a worldwide superstar artist is not as easy as it looks on Instagram.”
We Rave You had an exclusive chance to chat to the talented documentary maker during this year’s edition of Amsterdam Dance Event and he gave us a valuable insight into the revolutionary documentary that would serve as a documented narrative of the rise and fall of one of today’s most recognizable dance music figures.
Tour documentaries have a long history in music, beginning with Madonna’s ground-breaking ‘Truth or Dare’ to the recent ‘Gaga: Five Foot Two.’ Was there any pressure to match the notoriety of previous works, or to be more creative in a genre that’s become common?
“This is actually not a tour documentary, but a part of the film contains the touring pieces as well, as it has been a big part of Avicii until 2016. So no, not at all. I have chosen my own way to tell the story in a way I thought it was great to tell, without any pressure from other touring documentaries. I often find inspiration through TV series since I’m a sucker for different kinds of story telling forms and it’s a great to see how the series directors are telling their complicated and parallel stories. You as a director have to find a way to tell the story that really talks to the audience regardless of the circumstances and timing.”
When Avicii announced his surprise retirement from live shows, was the movie already being filmed, and if so, how did the sense of finality change the course of production?
“I was still filming the documentary when Tim decided to stop touring. It was very difficult to understand and take in as it was happening in front of my camera. I felt like I was witnessing history. A few weeks later I really understood that the decision he took was one of the greatest decisions he could make for himself. It became very inspiring for me personally as well, to see someone who dared to stand up and make such a big decision for his well-being. It made me feel stronger and also reminded me of how important it is to always believe in yourself.”
The price of fame is a well-known trope within Hollywood cinema. In that sense, ‘Avicii: True Stories’ only serves to confirm how celebrity is as strenuous as it is exciting. In what way does the film serve as a cautionary tale but also a source of inspiration, that things can indeed change for the better?
“I will leave that to the viewers imagination until the movie is released. But what I can say is that I definitely think young people can learn a lot from this movie but also the entire music industry.. “
Bergling’s work ethic is so readily apparent in the film, from his hours in the studio, to how he gave even his last performance his all. Were you impressed by how he continued going with such dedication?
“He is the hardest working human being I have met in my life. My colleagues always say that I’m always working hard and I also felt that way. Then I met Tim and I realized I was not working nearly as much as I needed to work for what I love and what I believe is right. It is inspiring to see him working so hard in so many ways. I didn’t even knew it was possible to work that much before.”
Thirty minutes of footage from his final show is amended to the film. This begs the question fans are anxious to have answered: was that indeed the end or do you think when Avicii maintains more balance and control in his professional and personal life that he may return?
“To be honest with you, and I’m very honest now – I don’t have any idea, really!”
A persistent question that will continue to be asked by the music industry and fans alike – ‘Will Avicii return to touring?’ Having just released an abundance of amazing music it would be the logical step for an artist to tour, but after viewing the documentary, touring seems to be the last thing on Bergling’s mind in the near future. He seems content on sharing his travels and spiritual discovery with his fans on social media and justifiably taking care of his well-being. True fans should remember the human being behind the massively popular brand and as we patiently wait for more music a famous excerpt from an Avicii rework comes to mind:
“Freedom is mine and you know how I feel. It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. It’s a new life for me…. and I’m feeling good”
To find out the nearest place where Avicii:True Stories is showing near you check out the official site.