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Summer 2010… ‘One’ was the song that started the madness for Swedish House Mafia – aka Steve Angello, Sebastian Ingrosso and Axwell. Zane Lowe, Pete Tong, Erick Morillo – it seems there wasn’t anyone in the electronic scene who wasn’t knocked out by the power of ‘One’, a song that has gone on to sell a million copies worldwide. Signed to Virgin Records and powered by a suitably smooth soul vocal from Pharrell Williams, the roar of approval for ‘One’ was so loud when they played it out at their Masquerade Motel night at Pacha it was as if they’d just stepped out onto the stage at Wembley. What’s more, it was a tune so immense that they had no choice but to play it again at the end of the night.
“We did the track in LA together,” explains Sebastian Ingrosso. “We actually thought we wouldn’t do a track together but after ‘Leave The World Behind’ with Laidback Luke did so well, we decided to make a track and it came out great.” Amazingly, the whole shape of ‘One’ came together in just two days. Not bad for a record that Beatport has proclaimed the fastest-selling number one download single of all time. “Two days!” laughs Seb. “We had the idea and arrangement done and after that we were bouncing it back and forth for one day. The concept was simple: we had an idea of looping a kick-drum into a bassline but I said it needed a crescendo of in your face melodies.” But let’s rewind a little. We all know that ‘One’ is the record that’s flipped the script but there are so many other questions we need to be answered.
For example, how did these Swedes meet? Who gave them their name? And are they really direct descendants of the mafia? “Me and Seb met when we were six or seven: we got into all kinds of trouble together!” laughs Steve. “Seb’s Dad had a label called Plumphouse and we got into music and did all kinds of weird things including lounge compilations and made music for shows. I even did music for a Eurovision Song Contest in Sweden… We bumped into Axwell ten years ago now, when he was doing stuff on [the house label] Sulphuric,” says Steve. “We got in touch – we were younger than him – and we just clicked. We all learned from each other because we were young kids. Also, when it came to the music, Me and Seb were more rough. I don’t tweak a hi-hat for six hours!” And then there was fellow Swede Eric Prydz, who together with Steve created the CR2 smash ‘Woz Not Woz in 2004. “We all hung out like friends and started building a relationship. But no-one would give us shows – we had to beg nightclubs to put us on! We begged them to let us play for one hour and everyone loved it. But since no one would touch us, that’s why we worked so hard at the start. After that, me and Ax did Supermode (the Communards-sampling ‘Tell Me Why’ on Data) and me and Seb did a couple of records as Buy Now. We never got the support – until now.”
The dynamic of the three and their collective history is the key to the Mafia’s continued success. “It’s been one hell of a ride,” nods Steve. “When the name ‘Swedish House Mafia’ first popped up, it wasn’t something we focused on straight away. People called us that on forums back in the day. But we’ve been through everything together. I can always lean on one of their shoulders and they can lean on mine. I can always trust their opinions. When I have a track, they tell me straight away what they think. With Swedish House Mafia, you’re with friends….”
Everybody knows that Axwell, Steve and Sebastian are separate entities: they all have their own record labels (Axtone, SIZE and Refune respectively) and they all have separate lives and individual concerns. Axwell has already been giving this subject some thought. “Swedish House Mafia is a monster of its own. We’ve tried to control it and seen it as a bonus but the truth is, it just won’t go away. I call it ‘IT’! When we work together, shit happens. It’s a machine that has a certain electricity that’s much stronger than anyone else. Let’s see where it takes us.”
And what of the Masquerade Motel... conceived in Ibiza, it was a club concept that’s picked up plaudits from day one. The second time the Motel returned to Ibiza Axwell described it as “… faster and more polished and we’re drinking more gasoline. I guess that the difference with Ibiza is it’s our second year so we have some routine and experience. The first year is about building your crowd so hopefully we can harvest some fruits from the crop we planted last year. I think we’re more relaxed. As for the club, it’s an intimate party vibe – we want you to feel like you’re a part of a private after-party.” In fact the Masquerade Motel has been so successful - Las Vegas and Miami in early 2011 the Motel welcomed the likes of Pete Tong and Pharrell Williams - that they returned to Pacha in the Summer of 2011 with even more incredible guests; Alex Metric, Tinie Tempah, Example, Benny Benassi, the rising star Alesso, Calvin Harris… the list goes on.
During Miami Music Week in early 2011, Swedish House Mafia shocked the industry when they decided to do things their way and built a custom venue, dubbed Masquerade Motel Miami, on South Beach. The fans answered the call and sold out early bird tickets in a mere 22 minutes. What took place was the stuff of legend as Swedish House Mafia and all-star support from Dirty South, Pete Tong, Calvin Harris, Armand van Helden and AN21 and Max Vangeli redefined what live dance music is all about.
Since Swedish House Mafia signed a 360 deal with Virgin/EMI they have all acknowledged, that it’s a Big Deal, bringing with it big opportunities. Ingrosso again: “it’s a long term commitment and they’re involved in gigs and live shows as well as the music. SHM is bigger than any of us – and we needed a serious partner to control it and that’s what they do.” But who and what have Virgin/EMI signed exactly? It’s three people, three producers and three pairs of eyes and ears perfectly aligned together. And the deal is a huge step forward for dance music and DJ culture suggesting that major labels are showing faith in electronic music again. Their 2010 platinum-selling single ‘Miami 2 Ibiza’, featuring Tinie Tempah, achieved number ones in the UK and US dance charts across 2010 and 2011. Axwell again: “I’m so pleased about this. It’s so nice to be a part of something that’s bigger than yourself. We all have our solo careers but this excites people on a different level.” Both ‘One’ and ‘Miami 2 Ibiza’ appeared on their gold-selling compilation album ‘Until One’, which is still in the top 50 compilation chart nearly two years after its release.
They followed this with top 10 UK single ‘Save The World’ last summer. Also a huge hit single around the globe, this coincided with their headline summer tour which included two capacity shows at Alexandra Palace. They ended 2011 playing to 20,000 people at their landmark ‘One Night Stand’ show at New York’s Madison Square Garden on December 16th, which sold out in a staggering 10 minutes.
2012 so far has seen the release of their highest charting single to date – ‘Antidote’ - a collaboration with Pendulum’s Knife Party - which reached number 4 in the UK. March saw the boys complete Masquerade Motel Miami for the second year running, this year doing two nights which were bigger and better, with double the capacity of the previous year, and two stages. They followed this with the release of ‘Greyhound’ - an all-Swedish collaboration with Absolut Vodka, a bespoke track written by the boys for Absolut’s US advertising campaign, which is set to roll out across Europe this summer. A future live anthem, Sebastian Ingrosso picks up the theme: “When we played ‘Greyhound’ for the first time, it was in front of 20,000 fans at Madison Square Garden, and the reaction was amazing! It gave us goose bumps.”
Coming up this summer is their biggest UK show to date – a 9 hour ‘One Night Stand’ set in front of 65,000 people at the Milton Keynes National Bowl on 14th July. The largest DJ headline show in the world, this is a first, joining an enviable list of music legends that have headlined the event, including Oasis, Green Day, Metallica, Eminem and Foo Fighters. As well as platinum-selling superstar Example and DJ producer of the moment Calvin Harris they have added legendary DJ Pete Tong, 17 year old pop/house producer whiz kid Madeon and fellow Swede Alesso as special guests to this already extraordinary show. This will see them and make history when they became the first dance act to have headlined both Madison Square Garden and Milton Keynes Bowl.
With over three million single sales worldwide, life is looking good for the Mafia right now “What we do: it’s a show,” reasons Seb. “ People want confetti and they want to get something out of it. You can’t just DJ and look at your shoes! Now dance music is really big and we have an opportunity to take this further.” But we’ll leave it to Axwell to have the final word... “I think that it’s a lovely job to DJ and produce and share the passion for music that we have. It’s pretty simple and very natural. We’re not a manufactured thing – we’re musical brothers.”