One Year On… How Avicii became more than ‘just a DJ’

The recent one year anniversary of Tim Bergling (aka Avicii)’s death has given the dance music community a chance to unite in looking back upon the Swede’s pantheon of greatest hits. But for many, the death of Tim was viewed as more tragic than most. Not only on account of his relative youth (the producer was only 28 years old when his suicide in Oman was confirmed), but also as a result of the legacy he left behind.

AVICII was a name that went far beyond music. In the fresh-faced teen from Stockholm, companies had found a brand they could associate with the ultimate trend; The EDM uprising deemed so ‘cool’ and so ‘relevant’ at the turn of this past decade. When Google released a list of their most popular search results for the past year, ‘Avicii’ was only beaten to the summit by the 2018 World Cup tournament. So how did a shy introvert from a quiet Swedish suburb topple global superbrands such as Apple, McDonalds, Coca-Cola, or the current hype-train led by the Kardashians, Jenners, and a certain Monsieur Trump?

We Rave You investigates…
This is how Avicii became more than just a DJ.

Back in 2009, music lovers consumed their tracks in different ways. With smart phones still something of a luxury, many gained their fix of the latest records via freeview radio stations and the now-soon-to-be defunct iTunes store. In an era stuck between the purgatory of the post-Top of the Pops generation, and the boom of the Spotify and Soundcloud revolution, the whole industry was soon to perform the most radical 180 degree flip, all thanks to a baby-faced Swede working under the name of ‘Tim Berg’. First picked up by Laidback Luke, Tim had been flooding Reddit forums with his bedroom productions, when the Dutchman decided to take a chance on the teenage talent, plunging him into the deep end, with a spot at his ‘Super You & Me’ party in Miami, alongside the likes of Diplo, A-Trak, Chocolate Puma, and another breakthrough producer, a Dutch DJ by the name of Hardwell.

Having already teased tracks like ‘Alcoholic’ and his truly timeless mix of Bob Sinclar‘s ‘New New New’, Tim’s commercial breakthrough soon followed when Ministry of Sound snapped up his August 2010 anthem ‘Seek Bromance’, a production which captivated the entire dance music world with crushing rattles that came from the opening breakdown of the track, soon followed by synthy melody and keyboard chords built into unique sonic arrangements. Laced with a killer female vocal steeped in emotion:

“Imma give to you, the love you seek and more.”

Now the face of Ralph Lauren‘s advertising campaign, Avicii was also asked to produce a special ‘Denim and Supply’ mix for the clothing line of his latest hit ‘Silhouettes’.

A shy and timid teen from the Stockholm suburbs, Tim’s Scandinavian roots contributed to his fame-avoiding nature, but as ‘Tim Berg‘ soon became ‘Avicii‘, the brand snowballed in a way that the Swede’s manager, Ash Pournouri, (scarily) predicted, and by the time ‘Levels’ was released, the pair knew they were soon facing world domination. A collaboration with Madonna followed on the main stage of Ultra Music Festival soon after, with Tim asked to personally produce the dance legend’s latest hit ‘Girl Gone Wild’.

With the producer now rapidly becoming the hottest property in world dance music, the excitement for Tim’s arrival at Miami Music Week 2013 was approaching fever pitch levels, when his management team cleverly decided to drop a brand new branch to the ever-growing brand. Opening The Avicii hotel’ along the famous Ocean Drive in South Beach, guests staying at the property were treated to Avicii-branded bath robes, soap packages, slippers – and even Avicii condoms! – as Tim skyrocketed to true global domination.

Those who succeed in this game are widely praised – and often criticised – for adventure, and artistic diversity. When Avicii turned up to Ultra in 2013, he was undoubtedly at the peak of his powers. Bringing a fresh melodic sound like no other heard before, here was the poster boy for the tipping point of an EDM bubble which showed no signs of bursting. Never had electronic music been at such forefront of mainstream media coverage, and in the ‘I Could Be The One’ producer, a face had been found for a man capable of dominating the genre for many years to come.

What followed was nothing short of iconic, with Bergling deciding to debut a genre-change to the biggest dance festival in world music, leaving the Miami crowd open-mouthed, as he played track after track of a country & western-infused unreleased new album, in place of his singalong anthems. The fuss the fiasco caused is legendary. Dance website Dancing Astronaut labelled the set “too advanced for dance music”, whilst Avicii himself issued an official statement in the aftermath that read:

“Wow, looks like I stirred up some controversy with my set Friday night at UMF. Seeing a lot of people who don’t understand. I really wanted to switch things up and do something fun and different, as I always strive for, and this album is about experimentation and about showing the endless possibilities of house and electronic music. My album is certainly not “country”, and people have gotten hung up on an instrument we used for the live cover of a song. People will soon see what it’s all about.”

Within months, the world had come round to Tim’s line of thinking, with ‘country’ hit ‘Wake Me Up’ gaining multi-platinum certification, racking up almost 1 billion Spotify streams in the process. A pioneer was born.

Avicii called time on his touring career in 2016. Emerging with right arm held aloft in a now customary pose at Ushuaia Ibiza on 28th August 2016, the Swede performed live for one final time, cue a cacophony of chorus sing-a-longs in the two hours of Balearic whoomps, thumping claps and soul platitudes that followed. Eight layers of lasers formed a dense neon mesh-works sizzling across the open air. Each track met with roars of approval as modern twists and synths were placed during key loops and drops. As the lights drop and the crowd were plunged into darkness the Swede had promised they would fade into, the sounds that had illuminated the evening slowly grinded to a gradual halt. One final crescendo, as the lights are raised, the strobes started to flicker, and the CO2 cannons and ticker tape were flung into the air. A sea of fans bounced to the rhythm of his now iconic track ‘Levels‘ and as Bergling gradually eloped backstage from his podium after a farewell to his followers, he was safe in the knowledge he’d secured a legacy as one of the few artists in world music that fans were still screaming for long after the final track ended.

Tim leaves behind an eternal legacy. Not just for the sensational melodic one-of-a-kind tones that his early career heralded, but also for becoming EDM’s first true superstar, bringing the genre into the spotlight, and forever making dance music socially acceptable across mainstream media and national radio. Paving the way for today’s biggest acts such as Martin Garrix, Marshmello, The Chainsmokers, Kygo, and many more, Avicii was responsible for the EDM explosion at the tail-end of the noughties’ first decade.

There’s a heart-warming moment in Avicii’s ‘True Stories’ documentary when Tim, and then-manager Ash Pournouri start giggling wildly as the Swede calls his mentor into the room to listen to a new track he’s made. Layering the famous Etta James vocal on top of his already sumptuous melody, ‘LE7ELS’ was born, and even Tim and Ash, giddy through their smiles of excitement, could never have imagined the impact the track would have on the music industry. Arguably the greatest EDM record of all time, the song cemented a reputation as one of the most timeless classics ever made, and within weeks, tracks from the likes of Swedish House Mafia, David Guetta, and Calvin Harris were dominating the summits of charts worldwide, with lyrics being bellowed across the dancefloors of commercial clubs and student unions on Saturday nights, weekly.

Avicii was more than ‘just a DJ’. He was a pioneer. An innovator. He was the gateway to the musical world we live in now. As his brand grew, Avicii opened the floodgates for the rest of dance music’s rich river to pour into our daily society, introducing a whole batch of new fans to the genre. Name-checked by Barack Obama in his presidential speech, the name AVICII will forever be synonymous with happiness, joy, and an eternal pantheon of memories and beautifully crafted moments.

From all the team at We Rave You:

“We won’t let you fade into darkness.”

Rest In Peace Tim Bergling

(BA Hons Journalism), 30, London. NCTJ-accredited journalist and dance music lover specialising in interviews, features, editorial work, and reviews.

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