In that time two tracks produced by a 23-year old Swede known as Avicii were the pillars of this transformation. “Seek Bromance” brought the euphoric piano and soaring synths to the casual listener whereas “Levels” took on a life of its own and evolved into a global anthem for EDM. Avicii exploded onto the scene and went from opener to headliner in less than a year. Last weekend in Miami he was given the opportunity to headline Ultra Music Festival by closing the main stage on Saturday night.
As the clock struck 11pm a surprise guest appeared on stage. Madonna emerged to introduce the young Swede and then joined him on stage for the first part of his set. Avicii opened with a remix of Madonna’s new track “Girl Gone Wild”. Their time on stage reminded me of Romeo and Juliet – not the love story, the tandem suicide. Madonna seemed awkwardly out of place and Avicii delivered one of the least inspired sets I’ve ever seen. Up until Saturday it seemed like Avicii could do no wrong. What happened?
Well, Madonna was a big part of it. During her introduction she apparently thought it was a good idea to reference drug use asking if the crowd “had seen Molly?” (a nickname for MDMA). It felt like a mother trying to be cool by using hipster references to fit in (something Deadmau5 didn’t take too kindly too: LINK). If you watch the youtube video you’ll get a better sense of how awkward the whole introduction seemed. The opening track had Madonna’s vocals with a pure Avicii sound and seemed to get the crowd at Bayfront Park going. He had the opportunity to make up for Madonna’s blunder by delivering a great set – he didn’t.
Avicii the DJ relies a lot on Avicii the producer. His real talent is producing music while he is serviceable as a DJ. His mixing is average, but people usually love his live shows because of the quality of tracks he spins. After opening with the new Madonna track he mellowed things out with a remix of Lenny Kravitz’s “Superlove” and never regained control of the crowd. The rest of his set was disjointed and seemed stale. He played ‘Levels’ for 10 straight minutes during a 1-hour set which was as confusing as it was inexcusable.
In hindsight, it appears that Avicii would have been better of politely declining Madonna’s request to join him at Ultra. It might not have saved him from a poor set, their collective missteps amplified one another. Although, I can’t imagine any musical artist denying a request from Madonna and in Avicii’s defence there was no way of knowing that it would be such a disaster.
It was the first time I have seen Madonna look truly out of touch and out of place at a music event, proving that she just doesn’t belong in the realm of EDM. As for Avicii, it was a disappointing performance from one of the industry’s brightest young stars. His talent for music production is world class, as is evident by the effect his tracks have on people. But delivering such a flat and disjointed set as a first time Ultra headliner was proof that his abilities as a DJ are not good enough to headline major festivals.
The difference between playing a show or a festival is that at a show, everyone comes to hear you, whereas a festival brings in DJ’s from all genres of EDM along with their fans. It was obvious early on that the crowd wasn’t buying what Avicii was selling.
Great DJ’s have the unique ability to feel the crowd and adapt their set accordingly. Saturday night at Ultra proved Avicii is not there yet. Instead of embarking on his worldwide arena tour (that screams ‘cash grab’) Avicii needs to get back in the studio and focus on his true talent – production. His DJ skills will improve over time, but if he continues to focus on ‘pop’ remixes and fails to deliver quality shows, the faction of fans that left Ultra labelling him a sell-out will continue to build.