As a loyal fan of the Swedish House Mafia, I was both excited and genuinely curious to see what Axwell would do with his 90-minute block at Electric Zoo this year. There are inevitable expectations when seeing a member of the SHM crew, but the decision to call it quits has afforded Seb, Steve, and Axwell a new chance at superstardom on their own individual terms. However, make no mistake about it: when Axwell, Seb, or Steve introduces themselves as “from the Swedish House Mafia,” they do it with pride.
Like many others, I’ve become frustrated and bored with the choreographed SHM spectaculars, but it looks like the guys are beginning to use their status as a launching point to push lots of new music like they used to. I happened to see Axwell as he was entering his trailer 30 minutes before his set, and I told him that I hoped he would change things up. His exact response doesn’t matter, but it was essentially a polite ‘fuck off’ with a slight grin. Little did I know that Axwell was already a few steps ahead.
Just from examining the intricate track selection alone, you can tell that Axwell came prepared to give the New York crowd something different. While he started off with the symbolic “Greyhound,” he also dug beyond the Beatport top 10 and whipped out a ton of new combinations and ID tracks. He went tribal right from the start with “Azumba” from Gregor Salto but added in bits and pieces from “Allein” to keep the crowd’s gaze. NO_ID’s “Leave A Light On” remix was brought back from the dead, with help from Thomas Gold’s 2011 rework of “Marsch Marsch.”
Gregor Salto – Azumba
The vibe became much more bouncy / disco with Tom Staar and Kryder’s remix of “Can’t Stop Me,” which is more a complete re-thinking of Afrojack’s original than a stereotypical “remix.” Another highlight of the middle section was Sebastien Drums, Whelan & Di Scala’s track “Here I Come” with elements of “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” and “Leave The World Behind.” He also spiced up the classic “In The Air” with “Miami 2 Ibiza” and Alesso’s upcoming “Clash” with “Together” and “One.”
Afrojack, Shermanology – Can’t Stop Me (Tom Staar / Kryder vocal mix)
After throwing it back to the original SHM anthem, he cut all the background music and played the first verse of Chris Martin’s vocal on “Every Teardrop Has A Waterfall” as a true acapella. At the perfect moment, the strong piano chords of “Resurrection” kicked in, and the rest you had to be there to really appreciate. To quote SiriusXM’s Danny Valentino, “I have goosebumps.”
Axwell was even able to restore my faith in the tired “Quasar” when he chopped it with Florence’s “Spectrum” vocal and Faithless’ “Insomnia.” Careful not to wear out the overplayed Hard Rock Sofa drop, we were treated to Quintino’s “Epic” drop the second time around. It was followed with more Thomas Gold and Tommy Trash, “Sing 2 Me” with “Ladi Dadi” and “Alright.” Axwell was not messing around.
When Ax announced that he was playing his last track and thanked the crowd, a distinctive pulse overtook the main stage area. As soon as “Heart Is King” was recognizable, everyone thought they knew was in store — a “Save The World” vocal and the Knife Party remix drop. Well, we got that, but one final surprise from Axwell’s arsenal: “Reload.” Arguably one of the most played songs at this year’s Electric Zoo, it was an incredible ending to an impressive set that was both highly technical and thoroughly entertaining.
Axwell was able to push us to listen to new songs by expertly pairing with well known elements that kept everything familiar, but also new at the same time. Mixing old with old and new with old proved to be the perfect formula for keeping the crowd engaged and also exposing it to a wider variety of beats. The structure was reminiscent of a Kaskade set, and I think I like it for all of the same reasons.
It’s safe to say that the performance was hands down the highlight of my Zoo experience. It proved that SHM’s members are not sitting on their laurels, and it’s just the response I needed for friends who pick on their sets for being repetitive or unimaginative. The more interesting thing now will be to see whether the guys will pursue different sounds or remain similar in their approaches. Steve Angello already appears to be returning to his darker, underground roots, and I can’t wait to see what he and Seb bring out at upcoming gigs. With Size In The Park and ‘All Mixed Up‘ coming up in the next few months, we won’t have to wait long to find out.
Axwell definitely set the bar high for his SHM brethren, but I’m confident that this is a game in which everyone wins: better music all around. Isn’t that the point of this whole thing anyway?
Editor’s Note: The track embeds in this article are as close to the real thing as we could find, but may differ slightly from Axwell’s private bootlegs.