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Avicii finds his level in Santa Monica this weekend

September 14, 2012|By August Brown
  • Avicii, here in San Francisco, starts a three-night run at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium tonight.
Avicii, here in San Francisco, starts a three-night run at the Santa Monica… (Reukes.com )

Starting tonight, Swedish DJ and producer Avicii commandeers the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium for a three-day stand of his ethereal, pulsing dance music with a major new live setup. By any standard, it’s a landmark concert series in the 23-year-old’s career, a victory lap that comes after releasing one of the year’s biggest EDM singles, a Madonna collaboration and some unexpected indie accolades

But these concerts are also a sign that he’s made a soft landing after the first nerve-racking burst of the electronic-dance-music bubble in America.

Avicii’s managers had enormous initial hopes for this summer tour, initially booking dates at some of the biggest arenas in the country, including Houston’s Reliant Arena and Minneapolis’ Target Center. Tim Bergling, who performs as Avicii, was a major new star rising just as dance music began to expand beyond festivals and clubs into large mainstream live spaces. But for a variety of reasons --  management has cited stage plotting logistics and routing challenges while others at the recent EDMBiz conference in Las Vegas suspected lower-than-anticipated sales -- the Avicii team scrambled to cancel, postpone or re-book many of the marquee dates in smaller rooms in the fall.

Skeptical EDM watchers enjoyed some schadenfreude, and the business side of dance music culture gulped at the prospect of a major new star falling back to Earth. But Bergling looks back on it all as a necessary course correction.

“I’ve always just focused on the music and DJ’ing, but yeah, a lot of the routing had to be re-scheduled. In hindsight, a lot of the spaces weren’t right, so it’s turned out a lot better than I thought,” he said. “I’ve been lucky and very sheltered in my career, so I can just focus on the music, so it was a lot of stress, there was so much last-minute promotion we had to do to make it work.”

Be it humbled hubris or logistics or artistic perfectionism -- the fact that Avicii is no longer the poster boy for the EDM economy is probably a good thing for his musicianship and live ambitions.

This tour features the full incarnation of his new live setup, of which he debuted pieces at Coachella this year. Clips of the 3-D-mapped visuals over the monolithic DJ booth look pretty mind-melting, and after a summer of festival dates, this is his first real solo tour as a major star with a full time slot devoted to his own vision.

And the musical vision is underrated in the fast-churning EDM stylistic sea. By now,  his Etta James-sampling “Le7els” has been played often enough to practically alter the DNA of dance fans. But his next moves on record look even more rewarding. “Silhouettes” is the best track in his catalog, a transcendent and ethereal single that carves space for a sad, pitch-shifted melody in all the glittery pomp. It slyly avoids obvious drop moments that make the final, confetti-cannon payoff even more rewarding -- but it also works astonishingly well as an actual song, not just a floor-killer.

“There’s so much inspiration to be found from older music --  I’m always trying to write in Motown’s style, but updated,” he said. “Soul and bluesy styles and samples work so well in house music. I want to combine the styles of today with the best of what’s been done.”

Bergling’s not entirely averse to star power’s opportunities -- he’s a new face for Ralph Lauren’s Denim & Supply line, and his striking cheekbones and frost-blond hair make him a natural fit for the job. But even if he’s no longer the future of the EDM business model, that might be better for him as an artist in the long run, especially as one with designs on bigger goals than adhering to genre conventions.

“I never felt like I’ve only had one kind of crowd,” he said. “And I’m constantly working and getting used to writing on the road and evaluating different styles.”

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