The power of DJ Avicii

JACQUELINE MALEY
Last updated 14:32 10/02/2014
Avicii
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BEAT BRINGER: DJ Avicii performing in New York.

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Tim Bergling, aka Avicii, stands high and revered in his DJ's pulpit, his sharp Scandinavian features crowned by headphones.

Perched between two enormous screens that project his image to the 16,000-strong Sydney crowd, he twiddles knobs and does unfathomable things on his computer, producing bass-heavy electronic house music that delights his fans to the point of ecstasy.

It helps that a lot of them are on ecstasy, but there is no denying Bergling's music has power.

"I would say that I am a songwriter first and foremost," the 24-year-old Swede explains after the show last month, before changing his mind. "I am more like a composer, in the sense that I don't sing myself. I don't play guitar or piano ... but I write the melodies. I know exactly how I want the guitar to sound. I know what notes. I know what kind of timbre I want, I know how I want the pronunciation."

The Stockholm-born DJ, remixer and producer is one of the biggest stars of electronic dance music (or EDM, as it's known to scene-sters) in the world. Until recently he regularly played around 250 gigs a year, earning six figures for each performance.

Bergling began his career as a teenager with just a computer and an internet connection, but since his 2011 track Levels, he has broken out of EDM into the mainstream thanks to music with its roots in soul, blues and funk.

He is mobbed on the streets of New York and Stockholm (although he says Los Angeles, where he lives with his model girlfriend, is "pretty okay", mobbing-wise).

He has played with Madonna and modelled for Ralph Lauren. He has achieved platinum sales across the world, been nominated for two Grammy awards, and Paris Hilton haunts his shows like a sexy ghost in hair extensions.

Given the saturation of his most recent hit, Wake Me Up!, it is statistically improbable that everyone on the planet hasn't heard it at least once. He has even achieved enough success to be accused of selling out, in a reverse-Bob-Dylan-at-Woodstock kind of way.

When he played at Miami's Ultra Music Festival last year, he displeased many house fans by bringing a live ensemble on stage to play bluegrass, interspersed with his beats. The Twitter reaction was brutal.

"When you're up and coming and you're, like, the underdog, no one is hating on you," Bergling says. "It's all praise. You could go up and play the shittiest songs. But when I did Levels, because it became such a big dance music hit, there was this whole new wave of hate."

On stage, Bergling communicates with his fans using the international language of the DJ, a sort of palms-down Star Trek salute accompanied by a flick of his fingers, as though he is trying to shake something sticky from his hand.

Bergling's Sydney concert is a sea of incredibly happy 20-somethings in high-top sneakers, duck-bill caps and crop tops. At least 50 per cent have a phone held aloft at any given moment, documenting the events on stage.

"I just love his songs! I just love his songs!" cries a young girl with a daisy chain in her hair, when I inquire into the source of Avicii's appeal.

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"Dirty bass," explains a nearby Irishman in his 20s, before abandoning our interview to dance.

Later, in a demountable building backstage, Bergling tries to explain the concept of the house music term "dirty drop" in layman's language. "It's more, yeah, it's very hard to explain," he begins. "I would just say the dirtier the drop is ... like, it gives you a harder, it's almost like an aggressive feeling. It's usually less melodic but very driving, energetic ..."

Bergling gives up and sounds out a heavy bass sound in the back of his throat. Now that he's sitting in front of me, instead of projected on an Olympic pool-sized screen, it is clear that the 24-year-old is quite small. He may be hugely famous, but with a baseball cap on backwards, a long-sleeved T-shirt, slouchy jeans and hi-top sneakers, he looks like a skater or an underfed raver who doesn't get enough sun.

When he came to Australia last February, he disembarked his flight from Barcelona to Brisbane with acute stomach pains that turned out to be pancreatitis. He had, by his own admission, brought it on himself by drinking too much after his shows. He no longer drinks and he has never taken an ecstasy pill.

"I've been tempted, but then I'm a very control-freaky kind of person," he says, sipping on a soft drink. "I would never, like, um ... I don't like losing control of myself. I'm almost a bit OCD sometimes; like, with my music I'm extremely OCD ... and I think a lot about everything. I know I'm just not really made to do drugs."

Bergling views "Avicii" (the name is derived from the word for the lowest level of Buddhist hell) not as an alter ego but as a brand, "a corporation almost". He describes his personality as "the very opposite of an artist" because he is shy and reserved and doesn't like being in the spotlight.

He sees live bands but doesn't go to dance gigs himself, and when I try to draw tales of Justin Bieber-esque excess out of him, he draws a blank: "Every time something like that comes close... that [reserved] Swedish part of me is, 'Oh, that's just so lame.' That has kept me from all that."

Now that Bergling is touring less (now only around 90 or 100 shows a year) and has bought his "dream house" in Los Angeles, which he and his girlfriend are renovating, his life is calmer. And he has learnt to shrug off the internet haters. "It's almost funny reading Twitter," he says.

"First, it's like six Mexican girls saying that they love me and want to marry me. And then there's someone saying, 'I think you're the ugliest guy in the universe and I hope you die.' It's just ... so many opinions."

When he finishes the two-hour set with a rendition of Wake Me Up!, the Sydney crowd explodes with delight, mirroring the explosions of light and dry ice from the stage, and the fireworks timed to augment the track's dirty drop.

"What a song!" cries a dancing man near me. "What a f...ing song!"

- Sydney Morning Herald

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