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Posted: 10:42 a.m. Monday, Oct. 8, 2012

Avicii owns the arena with a musical mix of genres that never loses the melody



By Michael Corcoran

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Police officers are everywhere. Cruising the parking lot, strolling on the concourse and at the side of the stage. Entering the venue requires a full-Hello!-body frisk. Guys in T-shirts and jeans, mostly in groups of three, and coiffed-up girls in tight skirts, mill around where it’s OK to smoke.

It’s like a big rock concert in the ’70s, except that it was OK to smoke everywhere back then. And these days when it says the headliner goes on at half past nine, that’s when he goes on.

So at 9:30 sharp, the house lights go out and the curtain parts to reveal a head the size of Donald Trump’s megalomania, 15 feet high and 10 feet wide. As stage lasers splash the face, the sound of the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” fills this 3,000-capacity room where the famous “T.A.M.I. Show” was filmed in 1964. Fists in air, heads jerking in anticipation. The visual overload, with lasers aplenty, is insane. “Don’t cry, don’t raise your eye, it’s only teenage wasteland” sings an old rock star and then the beat drops. And then it’s on like Kong, as the rock classic segues into “Fade Into Darkness,” which has the crowd singing along in a warm glow of humanity.

Electronic dance music, or EDM, is the new arena rock and Avicii is a rock star who doesn’t play an instrument onstage and doesn’t sing. But it’s his music, and the big head he dances on the top of for almost three hours represents where it comes from.

Tim Bergling, a 23-year-old Swede better known as Avicii, is the hottest thing in EDM. He takes his stage name from Buddhism’s lowest level of hell, but his religion is melody. His big house-music beats get the folks dancing, but the core of his sound, as evidenced by the multi-million times downloaded “Le7els,” “Seeking Bromance,” “Penguin” and “Silhouettes,” is repetitive piano lines that burrow into the subconsciousness and don’t let go.

Looking a bit like a Nordic Justin Bieber, Avicii’s good looks have led to him becoming the face of Ralph Lauren’s “warehouse” line Denim & Supply. But its his sense of community, working with other artists to generate a creative spirit, that makes him the Golden Boy of dance music. In Santa Monica, the acceptance of many styles of music — hard rock, disco, ballads, trance — made the show feel more like a love-in than a rave. And not a single glowstick to be found. Working with “competitor” David Guetta on “Sunshine,” which samples Florence and the Machine’s “Spectrum,” was a highlight. With Flo also playing ACL, maybe we’ll see an onstage collab.

“Le7els” (pronounced “levels”), with its sample of Etta James’ 1963 gospel-inflected number “Something’s Got a Hold on Me,” made Avicii a superstar of the growing EDM scene. Longtime fans of the genre know the sample from the 2008 Pretty Lights d-floor filler “Finally Moving.” But in EDM, that’s less a ripoff than a nod. Pieces of music are swapped and remixed and repurposed as if joyful sounds are all part of the public domain.

“Le7els” is also the basis of Flo Rida’s three-million selling smash “Good Feeling,” for which Avicii gets a piece of the songwriting credit and publishing. According to Forbes magazine, Avicii made $7 million in 2011. Double that for 2012.

Bergling/Avicii was an 18-year-old bedroom producer when his music started getting noticed in Sweden. His father is a guitarist who loves old soul and blues records. His brothers and sisters were into rock music. “I was always between everything,” Bergling recently told Billboard magazine, “but so focused on melody I forgot the other stuff. I just got lost in the melodies.”

He discovered digital production through a computer program that didn’t require any previous training or know-how. “I got so into it,” he told Billboard. “I was producing a track a day. If I only did two tracks in a week I would feel bad, like, ‘Oh, I need to work harder.’ I was almost OCD.”

Bergling/Avicii has always been upfront about his influences. Besides Swedish House Mafia, which was to him what Chuck Berry was to the Rolling Stones, Bergling will rattle off such inspirations as Daft Punk, Laidback Luke, Steve Angello, Tiesto and Tocadisco.

But he’s made melody his thing. In Santa Monica, half a dozen songs had the entire crowd singing along, unusual for dance music. The most instantly accessible of the new house music DJ/producers, Avicii fit right in when Madonna had him open her two shows at Yankee Stadium this year. And he’s also been the first DJ to headline at historic Radio City Music Hall, with its theater seats and opulent design.

EDM has come a long way from the fields in the middle of nowhere. And the tuneful beatmaster Avicii, who just exudes good vibes, looks to be key in taking it to the next le7el.


Avicii performs at 8:15 p.m. Friday on the AMD Stage.

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