It’s been a good few years now since the explosion of EDM sent bass-primed shockwaves reverberating around the planet. Axel ‘Axwell’ Hedfors and Sebastian Ingrosso were pretty much at the epicentre of the blast, if not clutching the detonator, when it all popped off, trailblazing the way as two parts of the superstar DJ contingent Swedish House Mafia, along with fellow spinner Steve Angello who completed the trio. The tunes the Scandinavian Mafiosi put together were so widely adored by the masses that if you chanced to switch on the radio, go on an 18-30 holiday or generally exist between 2010 and 2012, it’s highly unlikely you missed out on hearing their catchy brand of pop-tinged dance music.
Nevertheless, when the three announced that they were axing the group in 2012, a bold statement befitting of the dramatically-inclined EDM scene, it seemed like it would become a tall order for any of the former members to emulate the enormous success they enjoyed whilst topping charts or cramming gargantuan venues worldwide with Swedish House Mafia – their farewell One Last Tour included a performance in front of a 65,000-strong crowd at Milton Keynes Bowl and a capacity show at New York’s infamous Madison Square Garden, which sold out within a matter of minutes. As the curtains came down on their kinetic extravaganza, Angello chose to remain in Los Angeles, whereas Axwell and Ingrosso returned to Stockholm to recoup and catch their breath.
This, however, is all history. After taking a well earned musical sabbatical, the two buoyant Swedes are back with a vengeance, and are poised to reclaim their titles as righteous kings of the EDM circuit this summer with a fresh self-titled double act, Axwell /\ Ingrosso. Having chalked up an impressive spring schedule which saw them close down both weekends at Coachella and return to a headline slot at Miami’s Ultra festival, the duo are now ramping up to dominate Ibiza’s Playa d’en Bossa with a residency at the island’s premier open air club, Ushuaïa. They’ve also confirmed that they’ll be hosting their own arena at Creamfields this August, a favourite fixture of the boys themselves – when asked about the electronic weekender, Axwell said it’s “always a great ending to the summer, it’s sort of our homecoming party.”
Perhaps most importantly, the pairing are quick to admit that they’ve been able to spend more time in the studio than when they were wrapped up in the whirlwind that was Swedish House Mafia. With a handful of tracks already released, anticipation is beginning to fizz around their debut album, which is set to drop this September. Featuring collaborations with hip hop mainstay Pusha T and the eponymous Pharrell Williams, the record is destined to be something of a big hitter.
The sonic snippets they’ve offered up so far pulsate with that intoxicating blend of melodic vocalism, euphoric synths and pounding basslines that they pull off with aplomb. For an anthemic number, ‘Something New’ ticks all the boxes and transmits a clear signal of the project’s intent (it’s in the title…), while ‘Sun is Shining’ represents a downbeat take on the traditional summertime hit; the couple purposefully “wanted it to have quite a melancholic feel.” If you’d like a more visual representation of the duo’s work, watch the two-part video they filmed for their high-octane bangers ‘Can’t Hold Us Down’ and ‘On My Way’ below. In true 80’s action movie style, their fiendish rhythms are comically twinned with mock fighting, pyrotechnically enhanced chase scenes and dodgy attire, say no more!
So, in awe of what’s to come, FMS scored an exclusive chat with Axwell and Ingrosso and fired a few questions their way. Clearly, the two haven’t suffered through the break-up and are hungrier than ever before, and although they’ve been on the receiving end of some heavy criticism of late, they’re both optimistic and see no sense in tailoring their approach – “we’ve never had the need to do anything differently, we just make music we like, and we are happy when people like it,” says Axwell. EDM may have its adversaries, but it’s a multi-billion dollar industry that’s still rocketing, and this Swedish twosome is still very much at the controls.
Hey fellas, let’s kick off by talking a little about the past. You guys were immensely successful when you were both part of Swedish House Mafia, what was the reason behind the 2012 split? How do you plan on taking things further this time and what’s different?
Axwell: Well with Swedish House Mafia we were kind of making it up as we went along, taking everything step by step. With each next move it was like fuck, things have gotten more intense again. We were always pushing it to the level and looking for a way to take to make it extreme. Eventually we got to a point where we thought that the most extreme thing we could do would be to break it off, so that’s when we decided to split. In terms of it being different now, we have more space to think about what we want to do, plan and take it in the direction we want.
Nice. How important is the British audience to you? EDM has always been well received in the UK, is that something you perceive?
Axwell: We definitely feel like we have a solid base in Britain, the people have always been so good to us so it’s always great to play to here. For us it’s unique because we’ve been here a lot, we have a long history with the crowd here, they know our really old songs back before Swedish House Mafia. And we know their history, the songs they grew up with. So we definitely have this special relationship with the people here.
Given that you’re well rehearsed in playing out in front of some enormous crowds, what’s the buzz like? Do you still get pre-gig nerves?
Axwell: (Laughs) Actually, Seb (Ingrosso) came up with a good way of describing it the other day, what was it, about the birthday thing?
Ingrosso: Yeah, so it’s like the same feeling when it’s your birthday and everyone starts singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to you, but imagine that extended for two hours!
Moving on then, you’ve just released ‘On My Way’ in the UK, how do you reckon the track will be received?
Ingrosso: Right, it was out today (5 June). To be honest it’s hard to tell whether it will do well. We just make music that we both like and hope that you guys are into it as well.
You released the video to the track in two-parts, along with ‘Can’t Hold Us Down’. The clips are pretty jokes, especially the scene where you’re both having a fairly realistic punch up. Was it a laugh to shoot, and did either of you leave the set with a black eye!?
Ingrosso: It was a lot of fun to make, we wanted it to be like an action movie, blowing up the car was awesome.
I guess you only got one chance to get that shot then?
You’re prepped to drop ‘Sun Is Shining’ this week too, are you expecting it to be a summer anthem? It’s not just the usual euphoric joint, it has quite a downbeat flavour too, how comes?
Axwell: You know that’s exactly it, we wanted it to have quite a melancholic feel, and then break it down into a big euphoric chorus. It’s all about making tracks that have changes in them. You can put a lot of variety into the music by introducing different styles, it makes it interesting and that’s what we’ve gone for on the album as well.
Your debut album is due out this September, how do you feel about it given that you didn’t release anything similar as Swedish House Mafia?
Axwell: It’s been a lot of fun to produce, it’s a very diverse album that we’ve had time to think about. With Swedish House Mafia we only released a few tracks so it’s been great to make something together that we’ve put a lot of into. We’ve got a few tunes to finish off now but we’re looking forward to getting it out there.
You’ve collaborated with some big artists on the album like Pharrell Williams and Pusha T, how did that work out?
Axwell: We knew straight away that we wanted to do something with Pusha T, he’s doing so well at the moment. When we got in touch he got the idea and he sent us exactly what we needed. Pharrell is a hero of ours since way back, and we’ve worked with him on ‘The One’ (Swedish House Mafia). We brought him into the studio in LA and showed him a track that we were working on he got a vibe on that, he did his thing and then we had to do our thing. It’s great to collaborate with people who add something to the track, they have their own idea sometimes.
Your tour schedule this spring has a hectic affair, including a headline slot at Miami’s Ultra and rounding off both weekends at Coachella. Was it important for you to hit the ground running on the live show tick?
Axwell: You know, first we kind of hit the ground running when we stopped Swedish House Mafia, then we went back into the studio for a bit and we actually had to take a lot of time off to write the album. Sometimes when you write music it’s important to be out on the road to get inspiration and to try out your songs, so we carefully selected a few key shows that we really wanted to do to test our stuff and meet our supporters from around the world. Now we are starting to run and take off from the ground again.
On the back of a busy start this year, you’re kicking off another residency at Ibiza’s Ushuaïa next month. Having already got a number of seasons in the bag over the last few years, how do you gear up for such a mammoth session and how do you keep it fresh?
Axwell: It’s going to be our third year doing Ushuaïa, me and Seb, and then we did two years with Swedish House Mafia there too. So this is in total our fifth year. We also did three years with Swedish House Mafia at Pacha right, so, wow, that’s a lot of years all of a sudden (laughs). But we gear up, it’s not hard when you’ve had a long winter. As soon as you’ve seen the sun stay up a little bit longer than normal you get geared up, then when the temperature begins to rise you get even more excited. Stuff happens to you as you get into summer, for us it increases our tempo and our thinking, everything, we’re more creative. We make it fresh, we’re not sure how but we do.
You’re also at Creamfields at the end of August, are you looking forward to that?
Axwell: That’s always a great ending to the summer. It’s sort of our homecoming party, we see all you Brits in Ibiza, then we say thanks for an awesome summer at Creamfields then we go our separate ways for a little bit. We love doing Creamfields.
A lot of people are quick to criticise EDM as being overly commercial, Carl Cox even suggested that it’s a genre that’s at odds with the true DJ ethos. What do you have to say in reply to those opponents?
Axwell: It’s hard to say, we can never win in a discussion like that. That criticism has been aimed at us for a long time, ever since the days of Swedish House Mafia. But don’t forget that before Swedish House Mafia, we made music in our bedrooms for ten years which was by today’s standards probably quite underground. We’ve been doing this for a long time, so we were quite sad and disappointed when we started to receive criticism from people in the same group as us. Back in the day when we had success as Swedish House Mafia we were sad. We were like “why were people attacking us for doing well because we just kept making the music that we wanted?” We never adapted to be mainstream, it was the mainstream that discovered us. For us, we were always wondering why people within music attack others within the scene, its one big question mark for us, even to this day.
Do you think it’s got something to do with certain divisions amongst the electronic music scene being quite cliquey, arguing that it’s better to keep it underground and out of the mainstream, and when it music does enter into that line of view it’s up for criticism?
Axwell: Yeah, as I said we were really surprised. It’s never fun when you think that you’ve made music from your heart this whole time and people start to think otherwise, that you’ve become commercial because many people start to like your music. It’s always been a shock as we don’t look at ourselves as people who’ve actively become commercial. It’s just the way that people got more open for this music the bigger the tunes got. Everybody can benefit from that, even people that make less commercial music can get discovered. So it’s a discussion I don’t think we’ll ever see an end to.
Right, so is your mantra just to carry on what you’re doing and stay true to it?
Axwell: We’ve never had the need to do anything differently, we just make music we like, and we are happy when people like it.
Ingrosso: But there are different ways of making music. It can be for yourself or it can be for awesome people who like good music. Before we made music for ourselves because we didn’t know that people liked our music, but now that we know we have a fan base we make tunes for our amazing fans that are so fucking cool.
Talking about your fan base, how are things different between your followers in the UK in comparison to your fans in the USA for example? Do you get the impression that the American EDM scene is parodied a little bit, especially given that a lot of DJs and writers are quick to label it as being a bit of a joke?
Axwell: That’s true, but also if you look back at the scene in the UK twenty years ago, did people not parody that too? And that was the foundation of what we have today. I remember looking at movies of British raves, people with like smiley glasses on and stuff like that. Everything is good!
Ingrosso: Even if it’s a joke or a parody, we’ve met so many good and nice people that do exactly the same thing we do and a lot of cool fans. When you’re standing there and you play music for an hour, you have certain moments when you don’t know what time it is, what day it is or where you are. That’s the feeling you should grab on to and keep on having every day when you make music. When people put too much thought into how to think about music when you listen to it, you’ve lost the whole passion in general, you know what I mean.
So then it becomes something cold and calculated?
Ingrosso: Exactly. When I’m asked what my talent is, I say it’s my gut feeling and what I feel inside when I listen to music. If I don’t feel things when I listen to a song then I guess me and the tune didn’t connect, then I move on.
Axwell: But one more thing about the UK scene I thought about when you were talking there. For example, in Sweden we have the occasional dance festival, and people say “I might go to that, I might not, if it rains, I’m probably not going to go”. Whereas here, in the UK it’s kind of mandatory that you go to a couple of dance music festivals every year, it seems like it’s a part of your lifestyle that it’s not even a question of “if”, you know, it’s more like “boom I’m going, we’re going to Creamfields, it’s the weekend what club are we going to.” It’s such a big part of the culture and it feels natural somehow.
Definitely agree with that point. To wrap things up then, what do you both get up to when you’re not touring or in the studio?
Ingrosso: Home, chill. Watch Game of Thrones, eat unhealthy food. That’s it!
Axwell /\ Ingrosso’s ‘Sun Is Shining’ is out now.
Words: Alex Rennie