Swedish House Mafia Finds 'Paradise Again'

Swedish House Mafia Finds 'Paradise Again'

The are few artists as synonymous with the early 2010s EDM boom as Swedish House Mafia. A supergroup comprised of veteran DJs and producers, Steve Angello, Sebastian Ingrosso and Axwell, the trio quickly climbed the charts with euphoric stadium anthems like "Save the World" or "One (Your Name)" and prog house bangers like "Greyhound." It was a rapid ascent that saw the group leading the lineups of major festivals and selling out arenas, even becoming the first DJ act to headline Madison Square Garden. And at the height of it all, they broke up.

However, the group's farewell tour would go on to be an even bigger affair than anything they had done before, riding high on the success of their biggest track to date with "Don't You Worry Child." The hit pretty much embodied everything that Swedish House Mafia and, to a greater extent, EDM as a genre represented: a catchy singalong chorus and soaring synths all centered around that crucial dopamine rush-inducing drop. The EDM bubble would go on to burst shortly after the three went their separate ways and the musical landscape quickly moved on to the next thing.

Fortunately, the breakup ended up being short-lived, with the trio reuniting for a few festival spots all leading up last year's announcement of Swedish House Mafia's debut album, Paradise Again. Dispelling any notion that their proper artist album would be more of the same saccharine hooks and massive drops they were previously known for, the group kicked off their new era with "It Gets Better." A dark pulsating club tune full of blaring horns, clanging cowbells and throbbing bass, the song was unlike anything we had heard from Swedish House Mafia before in tone and structure and it had us excited to see what else they had in store.

Quickly following that up with more pop-leaning "Lifetime" with Ty Dolla $ign and The Weeknd collab "Moth To A Flame," Paradise Again sees Swedish House Mafia experimenting with even more genres and styles. From the bass heavy techno of the Gessaffelstein-esque "Mafia" to the horrorcore hellraiser that is the A$AP Rocky featured "Frankenstein" and even the Jacob Mühlrad's orchestral contribution, the album sees the group step outside of their comfort zone while still staying true to their artistic identity.

That being said, there's still plenty of house from Swedish House Mafia anchoring the album. The record has its fair share of festival anthems like French-touched "Don't Go Mad," or the four-on-the-floor banger "Can U Feel It." There's definitely flashier big name features like "Redlight," which actually saw Sting rerecord a line from "Roxanne" for the track, but Paradise Again shines brightest is in its more subdued moments.

"Home," a trudging house roller grounded by distorted piano chords, brushed percussion and lo-fi crackles, is actually a shadow of an earlier track, "Heaven Takes You Home," even sampling the same vocals, but it manages to strike a more pensive tone. The album's closing tracks "Another Minute" and "For You" strive for the same euphoric release that Swedish House Mafia is so good at, but without the massive high impact drops one would expect. Instead, they opt for synth swells and rolling beats that carry listeners away on a cloud of bliss.

In the same way that dance music has matured beyond the brutish drops and Michael Bay theatrics that defined EDM's heyday, Swedish House Mafia's sound has also evolved into something with more nuance without losing sight of the all-important catharsis. As the album title suggests, the music is still about finding that version of paradise, Swedish House Mafia is just doing it again.

Let's start with the decision reunite as Swedish House Mafia, what was the thinking behind or series of events that led up to that?

Steve Angello: Obviously we have a long history together, growing up, spending time, having adventures and experiencing the world together so we fill the void of being alone and coming back together. You miss your time with the boys and there was no better time than when we decided to [come back]. It started out as an intimate conversation and it ended up on a festival and feeling that energy from the fans and the crowds, the fans have been so eager throughout this whole split up to bring us together, and they eventually did. So it’s us being back together, with the family, and reuniting not only with each other but with the fans.

How did the path to the album begin?

Sebastian Ingrosso: We felt like we always wanted to make an album together, but we never had time. Everyone was on tour, in their own careers, and making an album is hard work as we are the producers, artists, songwriters, but we don’t sing, not yet. It took some time to dig deep into what we actually wanted to do and how this album would sound. We came to the conclusion and had a clear vision of “Okay, what is paradise for us? What is the dark side before paradise? How does it sound when you come to paradise?” So we started to make music — everything from how Swedish House Mafia could sound at 2:00 AM, or 4:00 AM, in a basement in Berlin? Because that could also be paradise. How can it sound on a Sunday morning when you’re sitting by the beach with a beer or a joint, whatever you prefer, because that’s also paradise. We started to soundscape our dreams and different thoughts about paradise together with our fans.

What is your idea of paradise?

Steve: Like Seb said, it’s a sonic adventure. It’s more like: how do you soundscape a moment in time and what does that sound like? For us, it’s more sonically than literally. We live our lives sonically and everything we do and express is through music and notes and sounds to the vision.

Seb: And to add, paradise to me as an individual, is when you feel free with the music and sharing that with someone else. If it’s 100,000 people or just you and someone else, that’s paradise. Doesn’t really matter where you are.

On this record there’s a lot of nice euphoric House moments but there’s also a lot of dark moments in between with new genres and styles that we haven’t heard from you before. What was the process behind all the sonic exploration on the album?

Seb: We were curious and we love to open new doors ever since we started making music and until the end, I hope. We got disgusted by the idea of making music that’s been made before, but we also have a certain taste and melodic language that we like. We like melancholic, emotional, dark. We just wanted to explore and see what would happen if we made something without thinking, like “What do we want to do?” We didn’t really think, we just made it and it came naturally. We felt like this was interesting and Ax or Steve could just play something that they did that was tickling me or vice versa, and things just started to happen. That’s the magic of moments in music when you don’t really think or know what the end result will be. We didn’t think “let’s do this genre,” we just made music and fell naturally into this. This is what we felt.

Was there a moment along the way that surprised yourself as producers?

Steve: All the time.

Seb: Yes. Every song to be honest. Like you said, there’s new space, new worlds we haven’t touched before so it was scary, just going into something totally new and risking everything with something you haven’t tried before but I think that’s the most important thing. We learned a lot and we had so much fun.

Steve: I agree. That’s freedom, right? That’s the beauty of not putting yourself in a folder, it’s just free. That’s where we ended up now and it’s just endless for us.

The album features an extensive list of collaborators and features. How did some of these collaborations end up coming about?

Steve: First we sit and consume a lot of music. We listen to music all the time. Like Seb was saying earlier, we’re super curious and explore all the time, so for us we start with having a vision or a dream of working with something. We listen to a voice and are like “imagine what that would sound like. How do we bring that into this world and make something that sounds like a little orb?” It's about first and foremost trying to work with people we really look up to and love. It’s never been a formula to us like “the label’s saying this" — none of that exists. We live in a little bubble and we hear and we imagine and we can visualize what could be. It always starts there.

Seb: And also every artist that we work with, we want to challenge and [for them to] challenge us. We want a sound like they have never done before. It’s like, “Oh what happens if we take this artist and do something like this? That would be so exciting.” A lot of these collaborators just went into a room and talked. Everything came very naturally and it was a great process and a lot of fun. I would love to do it again.

Listening through the album, there’s a lot of samples incorporated into the record. What is your approach to find and playing with various samples?

Seb: It depends. We have a huge sample library obviously and some other people we worked with come in with a sample, like “I just heard this” or “Ax has come in with a sample,” and we make a beat and we throw something in that would be fun like, “Ah this vocal part here, we should work on that and loop that.” Sampling for example, can start there, but remixing is where we come from. That’s what we grew up on, that’s how we started making music because it was hard for us to book a session with a very known artist because we didn’t have money or a big studio. We just made our own versions and that’s in our DNA and we think it’s so much fun.

For example, the song we did with Sting, we made this dance song that we put the vocal in and chopped off the big hook that is “Roxanne.” We thought “what the fuck, let’s do another version of this song, in fucking Berlin world where it’s six in the morning and people are off their heads, and Sting comes in... how would that sound?” That’s very exciting to us and that song is very different from everything else. Like Steve said before, we consume a lot of music. We listen to Italian soundtrack music from the 1950s to current music and sometimes you hear a sample that could come from a radio station or somewhere else that just tickles you. You start digging into that catalogue and take something out because you get an idea.

What were some of the specific influences you played around with on the record?

Steve: Everything.

Everything? Yeah, that’s a pretty broad question.

Steve: Yeah for us it’s like we consume so much music.

Seb: I’m actually going to my inspiration list on Spotify and name you some names because I have one. It’s everything from old Laurent Garnier techno, a legendary techno DJ from France, to Swedish techno guys like Adam Beyer to Jacob Mühlrad who we worked with who is like an orchestral musician. It’s so much music from Bjork to Tangerine Dream.

Steve: To Pink Floyd

Seb: A lot of music we’ve been listening to. Some African music even, we don’t have much African inspiration in our music that you can hear but there’s some folk music that’s inspired us also. Everything from old French dance music to techno to Mr. G, a legend from Chicago, it’s so much.

The live component to Swedish House Mafia is obviously a very integral part of the group. How are you planning to translate Paradise Again into a new live show?

Steve: For us it’s not that hard. We’ve also done bold moves and pushed boundaries in the live shows, getting inspiration from the way we made music. It’s a really interesting visual component. You can break something down in a show and give them something really appealing that we get goosebumps off. That doesn’t necessarily have to fit into anybody’s live performance but it fits into ours. Everything we do is very finessed. We just want to push boundaries with everything we do, with the live shows, with the album, with everything. We always try to do what excites us. We were talking earlier, we’re like little kids still discovering and just trying out. Once you put yourself in folders and try to restrict yourself, you’re going to fall in the trap. For us it is about being free and doing whatever we feel like and if we have a darker moment that brings us to a different world we’ll do that visually with lights and bring the whole crowd with us into this little hole. That’s very exciting stuff, being able to do that.

Is there a moment you’re excited to see the fans experience?

Steve: Every moment. We’ve been limited on what we could do live in the past couple of years, so for us to just go out there and see the fans and feel that energy and look them in the eyes, that’s everything.

Paradise, again.

Axwell: Yes, it’s great! Indeed sir.

Thinking about the musical landscape of today versus when Swedish House Mafia was at the end of their last tour, how do you see the differences between those two eras?

Steve: I feel like it’s a big difference. Back in the day, we were so busy. Individually and together we were doing like 200 shows each year. Back then we were young and discovering and kicking out doors, the challenge then was being accepted by the world. From growing up in a super tiny club scene in Stockholm to having 10 years of steps getting out to the world and then kicking doors to Madison Square Garden for the first time and Milton Keynes Bowl in England. Our goal was to make a record that we’ll play tonight and it’s going to be awesome. Everything was new. Now it’s like you’re rediscovering and being reborn in a way. I feel younger than I did 10 years ago and it’s because I'm discovering things in a new way. It’s forever young, just trying to be experimental like Seb was saying. We’re discovering, we’re challenging everyday, and that’s the exciting part.

Seb: I don’t know who it was that said this to me but it was the best saying ever. He said: “it takes a long time to become young.” That’s how it is to be honest but it’s interesting, not to talk off topic, but we grew in a time in between different worlds in dance music. All of us come from disco, hip hop, early techno American house music from Chicago, Detroit, general house music, and then dance music started to become really commercial and it started to move into trendier house sounds then back to French dance music. We had everything in our spine, if you compare to young producers today, they are inspired by people like us or even younger people than us. We had the whole spectrum with us. When we started to make music we were like “oh my god” there’s a lot of influences from disco, funk, to techno, everything is in our minds. That’s pretty interesting to be honest — I never thought about it before we made the album.

What do you hope people will take away from the record?

Seb: That's a good question. For me, I hope they get inspired somehow.

Axwell: Also that it was worth the wait, because it took awhile.

Steve: It took awhile, yeah, but it’s also self expression so it’s like an artist painting a painting. You’re not going to know what it is until it’s finished. For us it's like we’ve had late nights, we’ve had years of late nights expressing, and this is us. This is our DNA. This is Swedish House Mafia.

Photography: Alexander Wessely