Avicii passes away: Tracing the Swedish DJ and music producer's irreplaceable presence in global EDM

Anurag Tagat

Apr,21 2018 11:15:15 IST

In the summer of 2013, if there was one song that was made for the season, and made for its time, it was Avicii’s ‘Wake Me Up’.

The Swedish DJ and producer, then 23 years old, was one of the youngest electronic dance music stars riding the wave alongside several European DJs. Nearly five years on, much had (rightfully) changed for Avicii aka Tim Bergling, but few would have expected to see news of his unexpected passing on 20 April in Muscat, Oman.

Avicii’s mark in EDM started not too much before ‘Wake Me Up’, because he released one of his first hits in 2011, with ‘Levels’, which fit into a world that was increasingly loving bright, upbeat and bass-heavy beat-driven music that made for an experience at clubs and festivals. For an 18-year-old who started impressing electronic music producers such as Laidback Luke, Avicii quickly became one among the trusted Swedish house scene to be a reliable party-starter. Within years, he would find himself working and touring with some of his very idols – Tiesto, Steve Angello and Pete Tong.

DJ Avicii. Image from Instagram.

Grammy nominations, chart-topping feats, nonstop tours that took him around the globe and fans by millions – Avicii went from strength to strength in the next few years. He broke through to the prestigious (but equally contentious) DJ Mag Top 100 DJs list, climbing up to Number 3 in 2012. The same year, the DJ perhaps inched ahead of (now) peers such as Deadmau5 and Swedish House Mafia to book a tour that was entirely arena shows. The pyrotechnics, the colours, the endless tempo build-ups and bass drops – it all put him in the most wanted. He was remixing songs by Lenny Kravitz and Madonna, who even joined him on stage for a live performance.

His debut studio album, True came out in 2013, and with it came songs like ‘Wake Me Up’, featuring vocalist Aloe Blacc in a tune that became instantly hummable, its whistle-led hook taking over the airwaves. ‘Levels’ got Avicii his second Grammy nomination, but he was done with that sound. On True, he called on guitarists such as Mac Davis (a writer for Elvis Presley), funk legend Nile Rodgers and Incubus guitarist Mike Einziger. The result was almost folktronica, or at least electronic music that was influenced by country music, in what became a template for everyone who followed Avicii’s lead.

With a whirlwind number of shows around the world, Avicii stopped by in India as well. While he made his debut in 2011 in India, Avicii was scheduled to return with longstanding EDM organisers Sunburn. What was originally slated to be two shows in April 2013, however, was called off due to poor health. The producer made up for it, delighting fans with ‘Wake Me Up’ and all his hits with a set of shows in late 2013.

Even then, it was no secret that a drinking problem was causing problems in commitments. After a few releases, he went back into the studio for Stories, which released in 2015. His second album was unmistakably dance-pop, featuring heavy-hitters from the mainstream music world, including Chris Martin, Wyclef Jean, Robbie Williams, Brandon Flowers (from the Killers) and more. It delivered hits such as ‘Broken Arrows’ and ‘Waiting For Love’.

By 2016, however, the health problems led him to retire from live performances. He received support from the EDM community at large, and felt relieved to press pause. He told The Hollywood Reporter at the time, “The scene was not for me. It was not the shows and not the music. It was always the other stuff surrounding it that never came naturally to me. All the other parts of being an artist. I'm more of an introverted person in general. It was always very hard for me. I took on board too much negative energy, I think.” His last show was in Ibiza on August 28, 2016.

He returned with a new studio release last year, Avici (01) EP, which indicated the DJ intended to release three parts in total, as part of an album. It also felt to fans who had stood by him and waited on new material, that it was a positive move that Avicii was back in the game. His death leaves much of this in the dark, with more details hopefully emerging in the coming days.

Updated Date: Apr 21, 2018 11:15 AM