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To the three producers who make up Swedish House Mafia — Axwell, Steve Angello, and Sebastian Ingrosso — operating on a massive scale is no big deal. From the beginning of the trio's rise to international prominence, they've always seemed to operate at a sweeping level, beginning with the music itself. Their first official single, 2010's "One," was almost the direct opposite of an anonymous underground tune. With its skyscraper-size synths and anthemic sing-along chorus, it was a track that always seemed destined for a stadium.
So it came as no surprise late this past December when Swedish House Mafia achieved a feat previously unthinkable for a current electronic act: It not only played but also sold out Madison Square Garden. OK, actually, it was surprising, with so much space to fill and so many people's interest to keep with little in the way of traditional instrument-playing or rock-style onstage performance.
"The biggest challenge was that it had never been done before at this great venue. It's always easier when you can reference a previous performance at any venue, but this was not possible here, so we broke new ground," Ingrosso says. "Of course it was a gigantic space, and everything we did had to be even bigger. Huge stage, huge production, huge sound, and the best music possible."
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Long before filling that famous New York City arena, the group had already built a reputation for live shows that dwarf their musical peers in anticipation and, then, in balls-out craziness.
"We only play together as a trio a handful of times a year, so when fans do see us, there's so much energy that's bound to be released," Ingrosso says. "We all get really excited too and always bring with us the best in sound lighting, visuals, and special versions of our tracks that people have never heard before. Swedish House Mafia is a true event."
Before the stadium run, though (another appearance of which is planned in July at England's Milton Keynes Bowl), the group staged the Masquerade Motel, Swedish House Mafia's own minifestival. Last year marked the first to take place during Miami Music Week, with an outdoor tent set up on the sand along Ocean Drive, where thousands of revelers crowded South Beach just to get a whiff of the party.
By all accounts, the event could have gone more smoothly. Admission lines were disorganized, and Miami Beach police officers were, to say the least, unprepared for and overenthusiastic in dealing with the throngs. This time around, some changes have wisely been made.
"We learned a lot from last year's Masquerade Motel, as it was a massive undertaking to launch our own event on the beach," Ingrosso says. So the biggest change for the 2012 edition is this: The party is no longer in Miami Beach. It's been moved inland, to the newly opened Grand Central Park in downtown Miami. That means more parking and more points of access for attendees coming by car — as well as the option of arriving via public transportation.
The other huge change, of course, is this year's Masquerade Motel will last two days — Friday, March 23, and Saturday, March 24 — with Swedish House Mafia headlining both nights. With Ultra happening just a few blocks away, the event's expanded presence creates some serious competition for dance music fans looking for a relatively boutique, more tightly curated festival experience during the week's sprawl.
It also proves a definitive coronation for the headliners themselves, whose megasuccess is beginning to recall that of the super-DJs of dance music's last big mainstream crossover in the late '90s and early '00s. Ingrosso, though, disagrees that Swedish House Mafia in 2012 is any kind of repeat of the jet-setting stadium-spinners of the recent past.
"There is a major difference between the past and what's currently blowing up. Back then there was a lot of anonymity to the music because there was no Facebook and Twitter or blogs to spread the music and buzz," he says. "Another key factor is that we see the dance music community getting younger and younger these days. There are teenage DJs blowing up, and some key tastemaker writers are still in college. It all makes for a level of enthusiasm that far surpasses the late-'90s and early-'00s scene."
For proof, of course, there is this year's Masquerade Motel lineup, which tends toward the youthful. Besides the Swedish House mafiosos themselves, who range from the late 20s to early 30s, acts include other fresh faces such as Alesso, Calvin Harris, AN21, and NO_ID.
And as far as that new level of enthusiasm, tickets for the event sold out by mid-February. All further details, though, are so far under wraps. "If you want to know the secrets of Masquerade Motel," Ingrosso says, "you'll just have to check in!"