ABBA is arguably Sweden's biggest music export ever with over 400 million records sold of which most was bought in a time when the music industry was flourishing. Since then, the conditions of the industry have greatly changed and such a feat now seems incredibly hard to reach if not impossible. When we say ABBA is our biggest music export ever, how can we apply that same measure in today's climate?
For each generation, there have always been certain music genres that have attracted the biggest crowds and fans. With the explosion of electronic dance music (EDM in short) in the last couple of years, it would be fair to say that EDM is what rock was to people in the seventies. As with rock, there are always those artists who truly define the genre and pioneer in producing new sounds and styles. If you were to ask us, we would have to say Swedish House Mafia is one of those artists that currently dominate the house music scene (house music is a subgenre of EDM).
Imagine how excited we became when we managed to arrange a meeting with Axwell (Axel Hedfors), one of the three members of Swedish House Mafia (the other two: Steve Angello, Sebastian Ingrosso).
We met with Axwell at his hotel on a sunny day in Los Angeles. Still not entirely convinced the meeting would become reality, we were nervous out of our minds until the very last minute when he came in to greet us with a smile. After some general chit-chat (and Axwell generously offering us an invitation to their secret gig the same night!) we dove into the interview and let Axwell tell us how it all started.
Music was something that interested Axwell at young age. He liked the music that his parents listened to and after being introduced to instruments at school, he started bugging his parents for a drum set. "I remember not eating candy for a year, and at the age of ten I finally got a drum set" says Axwell. A couple of years later he first laid his hands on the computer Amiga 500. "Most people in my age loved playing computer games on those things, and I did too, but what captivated me the most was the application on which you could produce music. It was very primitive, just a couple of tones or so, but it got me hooked".
The years that followed he went through high school, military service, a college degree in "Systems Sciences" from Lund University and a job at Ericsson. "Even though music was my passion, it made sense to take that path". We jokingly insinuate that he could have been working at Ericsson today and Axwell laughs and continues on what made him go for the music. "I was crazily passionate about producing music, I didn't want to do anything else than being in the studio, so I moved up to Stockholm to pursue my dream. People questioned my decision and I never really thought I would ever become anything, but I just had this crazy dream and passion that it made no sense doing anything else". At this point, both of us could not help thinking about great inventors and entrepreneurs who are crazy about a dream and have the guts to pursue it. "In Stockholm, I had some smaller jobs here and there to get around, and it wasn't the nicest life, but producing music made me happy. Around 1999 or so, I had made some remixes that record labels bought, it was not very much money, and sometimes they did not even pay, but it was nice getting some recognition for your work". At this point, the music career had picked up a little bit, so Axwell started receiving bookings at clubs. "I was mainly a music producer, I had never DJed before, and quite frankly, I did not really have an interest for it at that time. I decided to perform at those gigs anyway so in the beginning I was probably a bad DJ since I did not know how to do it but I kind of learned as I went on".
In 2004, Axwell released the song "Feel The Vibe" which became a major hit that boosted his career. "After releasing Feel The Vibe, I started to feel that music could become my living, and that is when things picked up". In 2006, he produced a track with fellow swede Steve Angello called "Tell Me Why" under the artist alias "Supermode". They also produced two tracks with Sebastian Ingrosso and Laidback Luke called "Get Dumb" and "Leave The World Behind" and after this the trio Axwell, Angello and Ingrosso started to get referred to as the Swedish House Mafia in forums and on radio shows. In 2010, the trio produced the first official track under the name "Swedish House Mafia" called "One". From there on out, the trio has enjoyed great success both individually and together releasing hit after hit.
Fast-forwarding to today, we are speaking with a person who can be considered one of the most talented music producers in the industry. He has not only produced mega hits in the genre of house music but many famous pop songs as well. Grouped with Steve Angello and Sebastian Ingrosso who are also on the same level, it is really not that hard to see why Swedish House Mafia is such a popular group right now. They were the first DJ act to ever play in the classical grounds of Madison Square Garden in New York, a concert which sold out in a matter of minutes and this summer they are also playing in the Milton Keynes Bowl in the UK for around 65 000 fans. Top that off with their very own show "Masquerade Motel" that they did in Miami in March and two weekends of the California-based festival Coachella as well as a couple of bigger festivals yet to be revealed and you could say that the group has a lot on it's plate. Individually they also have sold out gigs in the hundreds booked for 2012 and with over 150 travel days it is hard to understand how the trio have the time to produce mega hit after mega hit together, not even taking personal time into account. "Producing music makes me happy" - this is probably the mindset you need to have to be able to accomplish all of the above.
This article represents the views of the authors (Jonathan & Jonathan) and not necessarily the views of SACC San Diego. There are no actual quotes as the interview was conducted in Swedish and as such, the quotes you see were freely translated by the authors.