Swedish House Mafia's Steve Angello: The Swedish Godfather
In the just-released Swedish House Mafia tour documentary Take One, SHM member Steve Angello recounts his infamous brush with Paris Hilton in Miami in 2009. After she rushed the DJ booth and requested he change the tune he was playing, her bodyguard got into it with the spinner and, Angello says, "He ate my fist."
"I'm Paris Hilton," he recalls her saying. "I don't give a fuck," he says he replied. "I'm Steve Angello."
Indeed, the Los Angeles–based DJ has seen a few red carpets of his own since then. His successes have helped him start a family here, buy a Ferrari and tour the world as a top-tier dance-music headliner. The Swedish House Mafia's mix album Until One, featuring Pharrell, Miike Snow and David Guetta, has been unavoidable on global dance floors in the last year. Angello's Size Records label has become a staple of the contemporary big house tune scene.
And now he's as high as any DJ on the bill — including one-time world No. 1 Paul Van Dyk — at one of America's greatest music weekends, the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival.
Angello's spring Size Matters "rock-star bus" tour (his words), which is being covered by MTV2, brought him to a reunion with his Mafia pals in Miami last month, where a "Masquerade Motel" party ended in a near riot on the adjacent beach as people clamored to get in. It also will bring him to Indio, where Hilton will have to climb over fans and security guards alike to make a request this time.
"I'm a huge fan of his," says Power 106 DJ "Swedish" Egil Aalvik. "His could be the best DJ set that day if not the entire weekend at Coachella."
After a fast childhood in Athens and Stockholm — his father died when he was a child and Angello took to spinning hip-hop — he ended up as a gigging DJ in Sweden by age 16. Sebastian Ingrosso was his best friend, and up-and-coming spinner Axwell soon joined the two to form the Swedish House Mafia.
In 2002 Angello started his label Size Records, and these days he performs as many as 170 gigs across the globe in a year.
Already making waves in Europe, Angello came to Los Angeles from Stockholm in 2004 to DJ at the Independance electronic music festival at the Coliseum. A few more visits over the years, including a residency at Avalon Hollywood, and he was stuck, living here part-time in 2007, until making the city his permanent base in 2008. Now he and SHM record some of their music here.
"It's a perfect place to come home from a hectic lifestyle," the 28-year-old says. "I just come home and relax. It has good, creative people, which I like."
Strange concept for the rest of us, who watch Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen party for the tabloids: L.A. as a bedroom community. Angello and his wife welcomed a baby girl here 11 months ago.
While many artists, including Moby, Daft Punk and Tiesto, have called the city a full- or part-time home, "it's not Miami or New York, which is good — because I don't want that," Angello says.
The party, it seems, is on the road, where Angello's big, bright house-music sound has supplanted the dominant superclub genre of trance. Like that of Deadmau5 and Kaskade (and even some hip-hop stars), his music taps into the synthetic euphoria of trance without letting it escape the subterranean bass line and black roots of house music.
"America is just on fire right now for house music," says Egil, who spun Angello's tunes early in the '00s on his own grooveradio.com. "What made the Swedish House Mafia exciting for me is that new style of big chords. They have that big, stabby orchestrated sound that appeals to trance and house fans."
KCRW (89.9) DJ Raul Campos says, "It's no surprise he's getting higher billing at Coachella than Paul Van Dyk."
Indeed, the Coachella lineup this year seems to have eschewed last year's Ecstasy-flavored bill (Tiesto, Deadmau5) in favor of often housier, tech-driven, deeper rhythms (Sasha, Erick Morillo, Axwell, Sven Vath). Last year's festival brought a crush of young ravers. Not that they'll be put off by the likes of Angello, who, despite playing house, knows how to perform emphatically.
The Angello/SHM sound is a hybrid of bouncing warehouse music and hand-raising, early '90s rave sounds. He broke through with his glow stick–worthy rerub of the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams" in 2004, but perhaps his biggest tune was a return to the rave-house overground — his 2007 remix of Robin S.'s "Show Me Love."
No track seemed to bridge the worlds of raver, house-head and Hard festival–attending cool kid like that rendition of the rave-diva classic.
That's the flavor you'll taste at any Angello show, because he only plays his own tunes, those of his Size label or those he has remixed or edited specifically for the gig. (A recent favorite of his is Tim Mason's "The Moment," which has bigger chords than Dire Straits' proverbial Guitar George.)
As gigs have become more important moneymakers than records in the download/podcast era, that's the new milieu in DJ culture. And guys like Deadmau5, Kaskade and Sasha often do it, too: branding their shows as exclusive.
"I rarely play a track that I haven't touched," Angello says.
But the production — lighting, video, sound — is just as important. Angello says he's putting much of his Coachella fee back into the production in order to put on a memorable show. He uses prototype Pioneer CD players he's helping to test out and develop for the company. They accept memory sticks, on which he can place an entire record box of not just tunes but a cappellas and loops — so each set is customized and remixed.
John Lyons, co-owner of Avalon Hollywood, attests to Angello's dedication to the clubgoer.
"He doesn't just come, put the needle on the record and leave," Lyons says. "All elements of the experience he personally gets involved in. It's not enough just to have good sound and lighting. He loves those magic moments, when the whole room just swells up into a state of frenzy."
Angello's own creative gravity has helped attract his fellow mafiosos, Axell and Ingrosso, for winter stays in L.A. DJs Mark Knight and Funkagenda also stay here at least part-time, and New Yorkers Roger Sanchez and Erick Morillo are rumored to be coming here, too. Plenty of talent for Avalon and future Coachellas.
And if they're booked up, Angello might just have another place where they can play a few.
The DJ says he plans to open a 2,400-capacity superclub here in the fall: "It's going to be an internationally known brand that is going to be coming here," he says. "We're working on that now."
Just don't invite Paris.
Steve Angello performs in Coachella's Sahara Tent on Sat., April 16. Info on the April 15-17 fest is at coachella.com.
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