Concerts

From Miami to the World: How Swedish House Mafia Built Its EDM Legacy in the Magic City

Swedish House Mafia
Swedish House Mafia Photo by Alexander Wessely
Search for "Swedish House Mafia Ultra 2009" on YouTube, and the first result is a roughly three-minute video. On it, Axwell (Axel Christofer Hedfors) drops "Leave the World Behind," a collaboration with Laidback Luke and Deborah Cox and an early tour de force from the Scandinavian trio. (BBC Radio 1 host and producer Pete Tong referred to the song as a "Miami monster.")

"People can you hear me?/There is a message that I'm sending out/I've got the answers to all your problems/And tonight I'll be singing it loud." Cox's vocals crash onto the audience like a tidal wave. Even the usually stoic security guard is clapping his hands under Ultra's Amnesia Ibiza Arena tent.

CD cases are sprawled out — hey, it's 2009 — as Sebastian Ingrosso passes out waters to a few starry-eyed ravers. Something was brewing, and everybody present must've felt it. Still, no one knew what it was going to become.

What is apparent is that Axwell, Steve Angello, and Sebastian Ingrosso consistently deliver an experience that is impossible to replicate. As New Times associate editor Jose D. Duran wrote during the trio's Masquerade Motel show in 2010, "Swedish House Mafia's production capabilities were endless. And trust us, they made the most of it — including huge projections, pyrotechnics, cannons, and cryogenics."

But motels and tents are no longer part of the SHM experience. Instead, it's arenas or bust; mainstage or GTFO. With a Coachella show alongside the Weeknd now over, the band returns to the stage with its Paradise Again Tour, kicking off at FTX Arena on July 29 with support by Grimes.

The tour is on the heels of the group's latest release, Paradise Again, Swedish House Mafia's debut studio album, and the latest batch of new music since reuniting in 2018.

If Elvis had Vegas and Sinatra had New York, SHM undoubtedly has Miami. The group's Ultra performances in 2009 and 2010, combined with one of EDM's earliest anthems, "Miami 2 Ibiza," featuring Tinie Tempah, a buzzy synth-filled, key-slamming gem, ushered in a new era in dance music.
"It was just like, 'What the fuck do we do? How do we come back? Do we just give them another [version of] what we've done before?" Ingrosso told Billboard's Katie Bain and Alexei Barrionuevo last year about the initial idea of reuniting. "I was like, 'Fuck that; it's depressing to go back. It's disgusting to go back.'"

Swedish House Mafia formed in 2008. Before that, each member was a standalone talent during the late '90s and early aughts. Like any other band, SHM cut its teeth in Europe's nightclubs before touching down in the U.S. and eventually becoming the first dance-music group to play Madison Square Garden.

"Going to an arena was a challenge; no one wanted dance music anywhere," Steve Angello told Apple Music's Zane Lowe in April. "[But] we believed so much in ourselves that we never gave up."

Yet, the initial split, followed by their solo projects, thwarted numerous attempts to get back together despite many prayers by fans.

"The problem was that Swedish House Mafia grew really fast, and we had our individual careers as well," Axwell told Billboard. "Swedish House Mafia took over, and so we were like, 'What are we doing? Are we focusing on this? But I have this other thing also.' We were not good at balancing that, and we were also not ready to fully ditch our individual careers and commit to Swedish House Mafia, which it felt like it needed."

The trio is now back in full swing — at least for now. A tour to celebrate the fact seems obvious, but an album produced during the pandemic and released last April took far more finesse.

The 17-track album finds a home in revamped surges, sleek tech-house fidgeting, luscious electronic Tropicana, and a springtime piano interlude by Swedish composer Jacob Mühlrad.

Swedish House Mafia recruits the help of the Weeknd for emotional bloodletting, A$AP Rocky and Ty Dolla $ign for festival flair, and Sting for the album's cooldown.

Unsurprisingly, Paradise Again has close to half a billion streams on Spotify.

SHM's latest single is an extended version of "Heaven Takes You Home," featuring Connie Constance. The track's pounding piano and a drum beat are placed behind Constance's sullen voice before emerging to the forefront for euphoric delivery.

"When heaven takes you home/And you are untouchable/Tell em how you back flip through tragic/Show em how to struggle/Make magic."

"At the end of the day, we can't die without making an album," Ingrosso told Lowe. "When we started making the album, we said, 'Let's start making music. Let's make chords and write music.' We started throwing it into this inspirational mood board, like with music, pictures, videos, old stuff, futuristic stuff... We were trying to recreate this paradise — not the apple trees and the snakes... We had one of our best nights in a small club in Sweden for 99 people. That was paradise for us."

"It was the first time we could make music that didn't purposefully have a set time for a show," Angello added.

Tied to the music are Swedish House Mafia's otherworldly live performances. The stages take months to plan out, with the final production feeling more like utopian architecture.

The Swedes take their live shows seriously. Prior to their Ultra 2018 reunion show, the trio fired their entire production team that had experience staging shows for acts like Radiohead and Massive Attack after one too many hiccups.

"If I spend two weeks and a shit ton of money doing something, I'm expecting somebody to do their job," Angello told Billboard.

It's hard to say exactly what caused EDM to take the world by storm in the early 2010s. Maybe it was the high-octane buildups or the rally crying of PLUR (peace, love, unity, respect). But if we're being cynical, it was probably the money to be made.

But if one good thing came out of the EDM boom, it certainly was Swedish House Mafia, three music lovers who emerged from the clubs to dominate festival stages.

With techno now the dance-music sound du jour, Swedish House Media has adapted accordingly. Still, the emotions and foresight that Swedish House Mafia possesses are unwavering.

As Lowe told the band during his interview, the tours are great, money is great, but the albums are bodies of work are forever.

"That's life," Angello added. "That's life."

Swedish House Mafia. With Grimes. 8 p.m. Friday, July 29, at FTX Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd; 786-777-1000; ftxarena.com. Tickets cost $34.75 to $270.75 via ticketmaster.com.
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Grant Albert is a writer born and raised in Miami. He likes basset hounds, techno, and rock climbing — in that order.
Contact: Grant Albert