Photo: EMI Music
“Hard work – that’s the secret of our success,” says Swedish House Mafioso Sebastian Ingrosso. “We’d always see ourselves as the little brother of New York, London and other big cities. So we wanted to make it big outside Sweden.” As their 2010 documentary Take One shows, this hard work – and their now legendary live shows – has helped their uplifting dance music conquer the world.
Swedish DJs Axwell, Steve Angello and Ingrosso had years of success individually before they decided to form superstar DJ group Swedish House Mafia and start touring as a unit in 2008 (initially Eric Prydz was also a member).
Though they still do work on their own, the combination of the three of them has proven to be much bigger than the sum of its parts. In fact, as dance music has moved into the mainstream in the past few years, taking over the charts, the three of them have virtually become rock stars – they’ve even sold out New York City’s legendary Madison Square Garden in record time (the first time for such an event) for their 2011 Christmas gig, and the UK’s Milton Keynes Bowl for their upcoming 14 July 2012 spectacular, a massive outdoor venue holding 65,000 people that normally hosts concerts by mega rock acts such as Foo Fighters, Metallica and David Bowie.
Though the three of them – along with Laidback Luke – collaborated on the 2009 club smash Leave the World Behind ft Deborah Cox, it wasn’t until they signed a record deal with EMI in 2010 that they released their first official single, One, as Swedish House Mafia. The track was initially meant to be an instrumental, but after they worked with Pharrell Williams, from the Neptunes, on another project they decided to use some of the leftover vocals for a follow-up release of the track.
“In the States it doesn’t matter what the bpm is – if it’s a track featuring an urban artist, it’s urban,” says Angello. “Pharrell wanted to do a dance track with us. The track has no verse, only a chorus. We’ve used his vocal the way you use vocals in house music – we cut it up.”
The result sounded like nothing else, and the demand for the track was so huge that the UK’s biggest music station, BBC’s Radio 1, opted to play a leaked unfinished version of it that they’d found on the internet, before getting their own copy from the label. This forced the boys to rush release the record, but considering how difficult it is to get daytime airplay on Radio 1 it was a sacrifice they were happy to make.
The single reached #7 in the UK chart and was swiftly followed by Miami 2 Ibiza, featuring Brit Award winning superstar Tinie Tempah, which reached #4. The ensuing gold-selling compilation album Until One, became an iTunes number one and they were voted Best Swedish Act at the MTV European Ballz awards.
But it was their 2011 crossover floor-filler anthem Save the World, featuring rock singer John Martin (co-written with Martin and fellow Swede Michel Zitron) that truly brought them to the masses. The track has earned a 2012 Grammy nomination for Best Dance Recording as well as 2012 Swedish Grammy nominations for Song of the Year and Dance/Electro track of the Year, with SHM themselves up for Artist of the Year.
SHM has embraced multimedia like no other dance act, not only in their live shows but in the way they build the excitement and anticipation of events such as the Madison Square Garden One Night Only gig, with it’s unique sci-fi news-report-style viral campaign http://www.swedishhousemafia.com/one-night-stand-msg/ . That gig was streamed live to the entire world on the night, leading to it trending on Twitter for the duration of the show.
They’re currently working on their first all-original album together, while their single Antidote (Swedish House Mafia vs Knife Party) is hitting the streets on 15 January 2012.
Angello believes in keeping an open mind in the studio. “A lot of things happen on the fly,” he says. “You may move a vocal to the wrong place in the track and, suddenly, you realise that it works even better that way.”
Does an SHM record sound different to the guys’ own individual tracks? “Definitely,” he asserts. “For my own stuff I like a more stripped down, minimalist production with very few sounds that are very effective.”
“I think the tracks we do together are the most creative,” Axwell interjects. “Three brains are better than one. It’s good to bounce off of somebody.”
So what makes Swedes so successful at making music? “It’s the weather,” concludes Angello. “We lock ourselves indoors for seven months out of the year and sit in front of our computers. What happens? We either start making music, edit films, make websites, write blogs or play poker.”