The Phoenix Rises: How Swedish House Mafia became the first and last rock stars of EDM
The recent return of iconic trio Swedish House Mafia marked not just a seminal moment in dance music history, but also the reunion of the first ever act to have elevated themselves above the pantheons of a ‘DJ’ or ‘Producer‘ tag. Since their inception a decade or so ago, the names Axwell, Steve Angello, and Sebastian Ingrosso have steadily grown in stature, with the triplet of performers gaining ‘Rockstar’ like status.
Whilst many electronic music performers come and go both readily and frequently – others stake their claim for a place in folklore by cementing their spot at the upper echelons of the industry for prolonged periods. The double-decade spans of acts like Carl Cox, Paul van Dyk, Paul Oakenfold, Armin van Buuren or Tiesto a prime example of this.
But others – go even beyond that level, merging the realms between the dance industry, and bona fide music legends. For EDM lovers, these names are now the modern equivalent to Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, and Freddie Mercury. So what made the Swedish House Mafia project just SO big? Why are this trio thought of SO highly? And how did the snowball effect of this EDM juggernaut impact the rest of the scene so vividly?
We Rave You’s Jake Gable Λ Mitch Sawyer investigate…
The view from Miami, by Jake Gable:
To say that the 20th anniversary celebrations of Ultra were somewhat overshadowed by the impending Swedish House Mafia reunion would be something of an understatement, which in itself, offers a hint of the trio’s size in the industry. Arguably the biggest and most iconic festival in the calendar, Ultra attracted a stellar cast for their 2018 edition, with the likes of Hardwell, Tiesto, and Armin van Buuren all in attendance on the main stage. But with all respect to their Dutch counterparts, the aura of the Scandinavians is something wholly unrivalled across the dance music spectrum.
The popular phrase ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder’ has certainly never been more true than in the form of Ax, Seb, and Steve – who had somehow actually managed to grow even bigger – in their 5 years apart, and 6 since their last release (‘Don’t You Worry Child’ in 2012). Sure, the latter continued to grow his solo presence with iconic shows at Printworks, and the impending release of his highly anticipated ‘Human’ album, whilst the former blitzed all before them as a duo with headline shows at Tomorrowland, and their own Ushuaia Ibiza residency, but like salt & pepper, or in this case – salt, pepper & salt – the hidden ingredient for both acts’ success seemed to rest on the attendance of the other.
By the time Steve had ‘followed’ his former pals across social media again at Christmas time, rumours began to circulate. By the time a series of SHM posters magically appeared in the Wynwood Art District on the Miami streets on the Saturday afternoon of Ultra, rumours transformed themselves into fever pitch excitement. The final day of Ultra was spent with nervous ravers asking one another if it was true, and in honesty, the day’s events were overshadowed by the anticipation of the 10pm ‘Special Guest’ slot.
Even a true EDM juggernaut like David Guetta, who was tasked with the unenviable role of the one hour ‘warm up’ slot at 8.15pm, paled in comparison as the mainstage crowd jigged a light sway through his set, conserving their energy in favouring a wild frenzy at 10. By the time the Frenchman performed his ‘Thank You Ultra’ speech into the mic, and told fans that ‘The guys coming next are so special and I’m so excited‘, nervous glances between the crowd grew into full on buzz as the atmosphere crackled electrically throughout the somewhat extravagant 45 minute stage changeover. With more and more atmospheric fog being pumped into the audience, the main rail of the stage, which separates the left and right sides for crowd control purposes had become a catwalk for a who’s who of dance music talent.
SHM special effects maestro ‘Pyro Pete’ strolled down, soon followed by Axwell and Ingrosso’s official photographer, Oskar Brewitz. By the time Axtone‘s Simon Hills and Edd Thomas were spotted, an ensemble of the label’s finest talent, including Shapov, also strolled up to their spots on the viewing deck, led by SHM manager Amy Thomson and head of marketing Sean Hill; with the crew all wearing special limited edition SHM merchandise. The pin was poking firmly at the balloon stuffed with EDM’s biggest secret, and soon popped, as a crane from the sky of the main stage delivered a concealed box down to the now supremely elevated stage. As the opening chords of the aptly chosen ‘Miami 2 Ibiza’ rippled through the crowd, the box lifted back up to unveil three familiar figures who had been delivered by private police escort to the audience, standing high above their crowd. Figuratively, their position gave them the look of Gods scanning over their earthly children, and soon, millions of cries and prayers were answered as Axwell bellowed his familiar introduction to the crowd – albeit it with a slight 2018 twist.
“My name is Axwell, this is Sebastian Ingrosso, and this is Steve Angello, and Miami… You know… We are the Swedish House Mafia.”
By the time Steve Angello’s ‘Remember’ accompanied a series of emotional flashback images on the LED screens to the glory days between the trio, and a wealth of ‘video diary’ style personal shots of the three in the studio and relaxing together on beaches and in the back of cars, Miami was experiencing the first sight of wet weather all week, as copious amounts of tears began to drench the sun-soaked night sky. By the time the set was over, and an emotional Ax had told the crowd that:
“This time… Swedish House Mafia is for life.”
Their status as the first, and last, rock stars of EDM, was firmly cemented.
The view from the rest of the world, by Mitch Sawyer:
The build-up and tension to the night of March 25th was astounding. Every year since they split we eagerly awaited any news of a reunion. With the magic of Swedish House Mafia being carried on through Steve Angello and Axwell & Ingrosso, we still had the chance to relish in their old vibes through reboots and mashups of their old hits, year after year. Finally in December of 2017 it seemed that a SHM reunion at Ultra’s 20th year anniversary was on the way, and as a result the whole dance world lit up. A true testament to the prowess of the trio, it seems their records are like fine wine, ageing nicely over time. There was a certain mystique to their set, in that nobody could have guessed what they were gonna play? After 5 years of absence could it truly be that they have been collaborating behind the scenes? (Who could have ever fathomed that “Leave The World Behind” (Daddy’s Groove Magic Island Rework) would be played by the trio in this historic set?) Every song played and seen live from the livestream seemed so vivid and emotional. For example, when the chords for both ‘Miami 2 Ibiza’ and ‘Remember’ began, it would be safe to say they tore at our heartstrings.
The “wow factor” for the visuals was off the charts as well. Even only given one camera angle there was still much to take in. From stunning lasers to otherworldly strobe lights, the stage was truly outfitted to match the power that SHM commands live. One of the topics on my mind after their set was the idea of progressive house returning to the forefront of house music. As some of the 3 biggest pioneers of the genre, Axwell, Angello, and Ingrosso are looked up to as the godfathers of progressive house, and their respective labels SIZE, Axtone, and Refune continue to lead the genre forward. So what can we expect in the future? Many fans and artists alike wish to see a return to melodic, progressive house for the most part. The sounds of 2010-2012 were what brought in many of the artists active today, so could it be that the tides will turn and producers will make a return to that old style?
We can certainly hope so.
As Swedish House Mafia themselves were quick to add when asked about their return:
“It was time.”
Not just for themselves, but for the dance industry as a whole.