The superstar DJ trio Swedish House Mafia talk about the search for goosebumps, why Ibiza still matters and how house music will take over the world.
Nowhere in the world is more entrenched in dance music than Ibiza. The airport terminal is emblazoned with superclub logos, while giant roadside placards advertise superstar DJ club nights: David Guetta, Deadmau5, Sasha… and Euro combo Swedish House Mafia (producers Axwell, Steve Angello and Sebastian Ingrosso), whose Masquerade Motel party is a Monday night fixture at legendary venue Pacha, and whose first single, One, is due for release. It’s gone midnight by the time Swedish House Mafia appear in a stylish Ibiza Town restaurant for a chat. They’re jovial and blokey, flexing tattooed muscles in designer T-shirts, but they’re in no hurry – they’re not due at their decks until 4am.
‘Our club theme is a rough, edgy take on Moulin Rouge fantasy – a bit like our music,’ says Axwell in chirpy Swedish tones as the trio snack on late-night sushi. Swedish House Mafia are unusual in that they’re a ready-made club brand, with each member established in his own right (Axwell’s solo hits include 2007 Ibiza smash I Found U; Angello is a sought-after remixer; Ingrosso contributed to Kylie’s latest album, Aphrodite). However, they’re clearly having a blast together. ‘I love making music with these guys,’ booms Angello. ‘It feels relaxed, even though it makes us step up professionally.’
‘I remember DJing in different countries early in my career and being at luxury hotels alone – it’s much more fun to share the experience with friends,’ says Axwell. ‘We’re so in agreement when we work together, it’s embarrassing. We find an interesting melody, then bam – we go. It just happens, like God channelling His energy through us…’
One sounds perfectly pitched at Ibiza’s revellers, with its bombastically catchy riffs, surging beat and teasing build-up/breakdown. The Balearic nightlife scene is traditionally the launchpad for summer dance anthems to cross over to the mainstream charts and One looks set to follow suit. Why is Ibiza still such a special location?
‘When you get here, people have just one thing in mind and that’s to party; you feel the excitement on the plane,’ says Angello. ‘In the 1980s and 90s, it became this island of happiness and freedom, and that’s still in the air. Dance music is bigger than it’s ever been.’
The trio clearly travel well, with packed-out international shows including at London’s Brixton Academy – so what is the Swedish House Mafia audience? ‘They’re mainly hard-core fans with their hands in the air – with a few champagne-drinking VIPs,’ says Axwell.
‘We travel so much, I used to say we sleep minus four hours a day,’ smiles Ingrosso drily. He lists varied musical influences (‘Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd, Depeche Mode…’) but agrees that passion is the key to their sound. ‘When we make a track we want people to go: “Raaarrrghhh” on the dance floor and really react,’ he says, clutching at his chest. ‘Maybe they’re in love, maybe they’re heartbroken, but there has to be emotion. House music is the drug.’
‘In the Swedish House Mafia, we have an expression: “The goosebumps never lie”,’ says Axwell. ‘That’s how you know a track will work. When you don’t get goosebumps, you wonder what’s wrong. The mayhem that One creates is just incredible – it brings out the devil in people. What’s also exciting is that rules have relaxed so much. Now there’s a mishmash of genres borrowing from house and lending ideas back.’
Swedish House Mafia also appear laid-back when it comes to famous guests; they’ve recorded a vocal version of One with Pharrell, while their next track features British grime-popster Tinie Tempah. ‘A couple of years ago, I couldn’t have imagined hearing our tracks on daytime radio,’ says Angello. ‘Give it five more years and house will be the leading genre in the world.’
Given such cheery bravado, it’s hardly surprising Swedish House Mafia are at ease with the term ‘superstar DJs’. ‘A superstar is someone that fills arenas and we do that,’ says Axwell stoically. ‘And if we’re not enjoying ourselves, how can we expect to please thousands of people? For sure, look at us!’
As 4am approaches, Pacha’s main room is thronging and Kylie and her dancers have just played a frisky secret gig before Swedish House Mafia’s headline set. The first record they play is One and its tune instantly grips and shakes the dance floor like a massive cardiac arrest. The clubbers roar ecstatically; the trio in the DJ booth beam – they’re giving music fans something they can really feel.
One (Virgin) is out on July 19.