Avicii has done what no other DJ ever dared to do. He strayed from the format.
Ultra Miami is one of the world’s largest dance festivals, bringing together the best DJ talent including Tiesto, David Guetta, Skrillex and thanks to Avicii, country great, Mac Davis (who wrote for Elvis Presley) and folk star Audra Mae. Now in its 15th year, due to the huge demand, the festival has expanded from its original one weekend to two. This is the festival where Swedish House Mafia were to play their final show and the first time that people around the world could witness the spectacle via a live stream on YouTube.
Ravers of all generations and fans of all dance genres would be catered for by the impressive DJ roster that ranged from techno (Carl Cox), trap (Boys Noize) and straight up trance (Armin Van Buuren). The problem was what to do when you are headlining exactly the same stage for the second time running in a week? You could repeat the exact same set, or like Avicii, introduce your new album to the raving masses and online world….
Avicii began his 75 minute-long set with crowd pleasers including his collaboration with Nicki Romero, ‘I Could be the One’, a remix of Florence & the Machine’s ‘You Got the Love’ and of course, ‘Levels’.
Then complete silence. The soulful voice of Aloe Blacc (of ‘I need a dollar’ fame) starts singing, backed up by Inubus guitarist Michael Einziger and an electric banjo. I can now picture a bar full of cowboys and line dancers in my head. The only problem is that this is taking place at the worlds biggest rave, with a crowd full of youngsters in neon coloured swimwear, wearing crazy shades and making ‘the heart’ gesture as the camera pans across their delirious faces. I am sure that ‘this’ was not the new Avicii album they were expecting .
The next day, the internet blew up and critics, ‘fans’ and Avicii’s peers were divided in their opinion of this huge break from the standard DJ format of Ultra.
People accused him of going ‘country’, ‘trolling’ the Ultra festival and wrecking his career, while especially deriding the use of a Kazoo ( I for one found this hilarious but it worked well) during the live segment. He has also been defended by his fellow DJs.
The live tracks have really grown on me. The first with with Aloe Blacc, called ‘Wake Me Up’, for all of its country influences, was a really positive foot-stomper as it built up to its finale, before dropping into a whopping, hands in the air moment, fusing the country sounds with a pounding beat.
The second track, ‘Black and Blue’, written by Mac Davis and Avicii, had Aloe Blacc singing over a simple acoustic guitar before evolving into another stomper. Has country-house just been invented? Either way, it is another impressive song. This was followed by ‘Addicted to you’, sung by Audra Mae who later provided the funky Kazoo on ‘Road to Hell’.
I am a big dance fan and especially since I am going to Vegas for the first time in April, I really want to catch some of my favourite DJs. But this whole thing of seeing a DJ ‘live’ is getting a bit silly. What is live? Is Avicii making the music at the same time we are listening to it? Of course not, and it’s probably the reason why DJs have to overcompensate with elaborate lighting, sexy dancers and in Steve Aoki’s case, Caking his fans.
To me, nothing beats the experience of seeing my favourite bands and musicians recreate their work in a live setting. Live performances is how bands connect with their fans and just as they put in the hard graft, so to do the DJs. But reproducing that art into a live experience leaves them at a significant disadvantage because when they do bring the fruits of their labour to the masses, they get accused of simply ‘pushing the button’.
I’ve seen Tiesto ‘live’, it was great. Could I appreciate all of his talent, DJ skills and production genius in four hours at Brixton Academy? No and therein lies the problem for DJs in concert.
Avicii released a statement on his Facebook profile where he defended his live interlude.
“I really wanted to switch things up and do something fun and different, as I always strive for, and this album is about experimentation and about showing the endless possibilities of house and electronic music. Its about how to incorporate acoustic instruments from different styles and influences you wouldn’t expect and still stay true to your own sound and musicality which for me has always been about the melodies and positive energy. I will always produce music that I love and listen to. But my album is certainly not “country”, and people have gotten hung up on an instrument we used for the live cover of a song. Every song on the album is a fusion with house and electronic music.
We wanted to make a statement, and there’s really no better place to make one than UMF mainstage. People will soon see what it’s all about.”
Avicii definitely made a statement. Yes, the punters at Ultra Miami may have been happy for three days of pounding dance music with shiny lights and DJs fist pumping for three hours, but on the live stream, it was hard to connect with the atmosphere and even if I was there, I could imagine that the live part would be a cool and welcome break for me. Avicii, whether you like his new music or not, brought out 15 minutes of a ‘real’ live experience and I’m just annoyed that I missed it on the stream because the segment surely deserves to be called one of those “I was there” moments.
So well done Avicii, I hope you bring even more of the ‘live’ stuff into your sets because it’s awesome. You just gave EDM a kick in the ass and it folk-rocks!