Inside the Weeknd and Swedish House Mafia’s Coachella collaboration

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The couches strewn around the backstage performers enclosure at Coachella were still shrouded in plastic when the Weeknd and the Swedish House Mafia gathered earlier this week to rehearse the joint headlining performance that will close the first half of the annual desert mega-festival on Sunday night. .

“Just like grandma’s house,” veteran hip-hop producer Mike Dean said as he munched on a mini bag of Doritos. Dean, who plays guitars and keyboards in the show, was discussing material with Steve Angello and Axwell of Swedish House Mafia, the Stockholm-based dance music trio; the Weeknd, who halted production on an upcoming HBO series to perform at Coachella after Kanye West’s abrupt withdrawal, was discussing television with a member of his team. (He hasn’t had time to watch much lately, though he recently caught the 2018 docuseries “Wild Wild Country.”)

A stagehand arrived to introduce the team to Coachella’s huge main stage, where a scouring disco groove exploded across the sprawling polo field – empty for now but soon to be filled with tens of thousands of elated music fans. to be back in the desert for the first time since 2019. Angello pointed out, “We’ve got nine lasers up there,” he said, “and we’ve got nine lasers up there.” Someone handed the Weeknd a microphone, and suddenly his high, pleading voice floated through the twilight.

“Can we do this one again?” he asked after a minute or two. Silence. Then: Boom-boom-boom-boom.

For Swedish House Mafia – who last performed at Coachella in 2012, shortly before the group split – Sunday’s performance with the Weeknd is a flashy way to reinvigorate a high-profile reunion that had barely begun when the pandemic has stalled the trio’s comeback plans more than two years ago. On Friday, he’s set to release a new album, “Paradise Again,” which stakes a future beyond the genre of EDM with which Angello, Axwell and Sebastian Ingrosso (who arrived late from Sweden for rehearsals) have made a name for themselves. .

Through a representative, The Weeknd – who worked with the band on their latest album, “Dawn FM”, and who appears on “Paradise Again” in the soulful sci-fi “Moth to a Flame” – has called Swedish House Mafia “the greatest DJs in the world” and said he was “ecstatic” to “have them as bandmates for this once-in-a-lifetime collaborative moment”.

The Weeknd will headline Sunday night at Coachella alongside the Swedish House Mafia.

(Ashley Landis/Associated Press)

For the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, scheduled for Friday through Sunday at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, before repeating April 22-24 with the same bill, the mash-up represents an elegant solution to the problem. created when West bailed out of the closely watched event with less than two weeks before showtime. Neither the rapper nor Coachella has officially explained his cancellation, even though it follows West’s refusal to perform at this month’s Grammys due to threatening messages he posted online. (Other high-profile performers slated to appear at Coachella, which is sold out, include Harry Styles, Billie Eilish, Doja Cat, Lil Baby, Phoebe Bridgers, Megan Thee Stallion and Karol G.)

The Swedish House Mafia were already booked to take part in the festival when the coveted Sunday evening slot opened; indeed, it was the first act announced for this year’s edition, which comes after the 2020 and 2021 shows were both canceled due to COVID-19. The original plan was for the band to perform directly after Styles’ headliner on Friday, Angello said in an interview ahead of this week’s rehearsal. Sitting outside a swanky Palm Springs hotel, he and Axwell discreetly vaped as they talked; at one point Angello slipped a small packet of snus under his upper lip. “Abel was always coming too,” albeit in a smaller role, Angello said, using Weeknd’s first name.

Wassim “Sal” Slaiby, who manages both acts as well as Doja Cat, said the idea of ​​moving the performance to Sunday and expanding it to headlining dimensions — on the Coachella poster, he is billed as Swedish House Mafia x The Weeknd – reunited quickly following West’s withdrawal. “Paul Tollett and I have spoken,” he said, referring to the president of Los Angeles-based Goldenvoice, which organizes the festival. “He’s a good friend. I have been going to Coachella for over 10 years. Never miss it. So it was kind of natural.

Asked to respond to a New York Post report that he had to push Tollett to pay the Weeknd what Tollett planned to pay West — $8 million plus $500,000 in production costs, according to the Post — Slaiby said is mocked. “I don’t even know where this story started from,” he said. He also brushed off a question about negotiating Coachella’s radius clause, which prohibits artists booked for the festival from playing other gigs within a certain distance of Southern California for a period of time. “Our goal was just to give the fans a special show,” Slaiby said, adding that the performance will be unique to Coachella and not a version of the touring production the Weeknd will bring to SoFi Stadium in Inglewood in September.

Everyone involved wanted to keep the details of the concert a secret; Coachella, with a minimum ticket price of $449, values ​​its “you have to be there” quality, even though the festival is streamed live these days on YouTube. But Axwell has cleared that the show will feature Swedish House Mafia and The Weeknd separately and together. And Angello said they were going further in terms of staging than when they were scheduled to play on Friday. “There were limits before because Harry’s stuff was going to be in there,” he said. Now, these 18 lasers are just the start.

The spectacle was perhaps the defining mode of the Swedish House Mafia during the band’s first tour, when it helped bring club music to arenas and stadiums around the world. “We were ahead [in] trying to outdo ourselves with production,” said Axwell, who formed the trio with the other two in 2008 after each established themselves as solo DJs. “We always thought you’re never going to get on stage and say, ‘Oh, I’m glad we saved money by not making these pyro hits. “”

Two men dressed all in black stand side by side

“We don’t have a hit record on the radio right now, but we’re headlining Coachella,” says Swedish House Mafia’s Steve Angello, right, with Axwell.

(David Vassalli / For the Time)

Music has changed dramatically in the decade since the band scored a Top 10 pop hit with the soaring “Don’t You Worry Child”; EDM, which in the early 2010s filled the Hot 100 with brilliant bangers from David Guetta, Calvin Harris, LMFAO and others, eventually gave way to darker, weirder sounds. Still, demand for Swedish House Mafia remains strong: This summer the band are touring Europe and North America, and they’re still playing arenas and stadiums even though many of their peers have downsized.

To release “Paradise Again,” Slaiby brokered a deal with Republic Records, one of pop’s most successful hit machines. (In addition to The Weeknd, whose “Blinding Lights” spent a record 90 weeks on the Billboard singles chart, the label is home to Drake, Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift and Post Malone.) But Angello says he doesn’t isn’t interested in running after what’s happening, for example, on KIIS-FM from LA, which he says he doesn’t listen to.

“We don’t have a hit record on the radio right now, but we’re headlining Coachella,” he said. “There are so many artists in the world that do more than just have a Top 40 record. Look at Kanye and the ‘Donda’ album. Look at Tyler, the creator. Look at Kendrick Lamar. A chart hit versus to cultural impact – those are completely different things.

“I spoke to Paul [Tollett] yesterday, and he said to me, “I booked you for the experiment,” Angello continued. “I’d rather be remembered for this than ‘for 2022 – they had a hit record’. Who gives af-?

He and Axwell say they modeled “Paradise Again” on the genre of immersive albums they grew up with – LPs from Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder and Gang Starr. (Daft Punk’s 2001 “Discovery” was a specific dance music touchstone.) Beyond “Moth to a Flame,” which has over 275 million streams on Spotify, the 17-track set includes collaborations with Ty Dolla Sign, 070 Shake, Mapei, ASAP Rocky, and Sting, who sings a few lines of the police’s indelible “Roxanne” over a pounding beat in “Redlight.”

“We just stole the sample from YouTube, as a placeholder,” Axwell said of the song’s creation. “We thought it was cool but we could never get it off. But then Sal said, “Hey, let’s try.” I sent the track to Sting and he said, “Let’s go, I’ll even sing the vocals for you.” And we slaughtered his song!

The band recorded ASAP Rocky’s vocals for “Frankenstein” a day before the rapper began serving a month-long prison sentence in Sweden linked to a recorded street fight in 2019. “It was the elephant in the room,” Angello said. “But listen, he took it like a champ, and we ended up going back and forth on the track after he came out.”

“It would be easy to think he would have a grudge against anything Swedish,” Axwell said. “But no.”

When asked who they would like to collaborate with in the future, Axwell mentioned Willow Smith (“Great voice”) while Angello chose FKA twigs (“I love her sonics”). The key to a successful partnership, they said, is finding someone willing to explore new ground, “so we’re both doing something we’re not used to,” Angello said.

This is why Swedish House Mafia and The Weeknd operate, they added. “It’s actually really hard to get people out of their comfort zone,” Angello said. “They say they want to in interviews, but they don’t. Abel, Pharrell – there are only a few guys who really push the envelope.

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