Can you turn an arena gig into a rave?
That’s the goal Swedish House Mafia set for their return to the touring scene (Coachella and other unique festival headliners), and the reunited EDM supertrio picked the perfect city for the discover.
In the Swedish House Mafia universe, Miami has always been the place of beginnings and endings. This is where the group made their debut at the Ultra Music Festival in 2008, and where they gave their last concert at this same festival in 2013. Five years later, this is where the trio surprised the fans with a reunion in 2018, and last night was Miami’s FTX Arena where Sebastian Ingrosso, Steve Angello and Axwell returned for a sold-out comeback who dared to ask: can you turn an arena gig in rave?
To be honest, we were skeptical.
It’s not that we don’t believe in the transcendent power of dance music to transform a capitalist temple of entertainment, where hard seltzers are double poured into plastic cups for $15, into something sacred. It’s just that since the Swedish House Mafia ruled as the world’s biggest DJs, the world they ruled over has changed. The majority of fans aren’t screaming college kids breaking free from their suburban shackles through the power of ecstasy and bare skin. They are moms and dads, party people settling into their thirties, and functional members of society.
Would fans relax in their assigned seats and let go like they did ten years ago in the Ultra Music Festival grounds?
After an opening Grimes DJ set that felt like a techno panic at the LAN party and a 30-minute change, it was time to find out.
A giant black curtain hung from the ceiling, hiding the sci-fi structure on stage. The opening beats of SHM’s new track “Can You Feel It”, from the group’s long-awaited debut album Heaven again, began pounding as smoke and white lasers streaked past the barrier. When the drop finally came and the curtain fell, we saw the three Swedes standing at a long table, shining through the smoke with all sorts of knobs and buttons, but it’s the giant ring hanging above- over their heads that took our breath away.
“Can You Feel It” merged with Heaven again single “It Gets Better”, as the music settled into a creepy crescendo.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the man in the middle said into a microphone. “My name is Axwell.” Applause. “It’s Steve Angello.” Cue some more applause. “This is Sebastian Ingrosso, and Miami, we are the Swedish House Mafia, are you ready?”
They immediately launched into the band’s hit “Greyhound” in 2012, signaling an approach that would continue for the rest of the night as the trio fused new songs with their classics, bridging the gap between then and now.
As a group, Swedish House Mafia had only released six original songs before breaking up, but between the three, these men had a hand in nearly every EDM hit. Whether it’s mixing in on-hiatus Swedish House Mafia songs “Dream Bigger” and “More Than You Know,” or Ingrosso’s 2013 hit “Reload,” the trio have shown they’re still the king of the genre.
As the hits continued to roll in, expertly mixed between new tracks, including Heaven again cuts “Don’t Go Mad”, “Frankenstein” and “Moth To A Flame” assisted by The Weeknd, the energy in the arena continued to rise.
Halfway through the show, something changed. The arena exploded with white lasers and screams of anticipation, and the first notes of 2012’s Knife Party collaboration “Antidote” rang through the air. Fans were transported to another place and another time, when the venues were big, the bass was brutal, and an EDM act could sell out Madison Square Garden. The familiar favorite twisted and crunched with a gritty synth, then built to a feverish tone that roared into the rumbling bass of recent single “Redlight.”
The rest of the show was a slaughterhouse of techno and nostalgic anthems, enhanced by a forest of laser lights that flooded the crowd from the front of the stage to the farthest rafters. The three men on stage took turns grabbing the mic and shaking, as audience members dutifully sang every word of every song that was remembered.
“An important question,” Axwell asked. “Do we have any new fans here tonight?” There were shouts, but nothing compared to when he asked, “Do we have any old fans here tonight?” A real roar erupted, to which he replied “so then you’d be really pissed off if we didn’t play ‘Don’t You Worry Child.'”
In that moment, when the band turned down the music and the sold-out crowd sang in unison the lyrics to a song that came to define an era, it all made sense. “Don’t You Worry Child” is a song about nostalgia, and it was important in its day, of course, but singing a song about golden days is different when golden days are lived. It is here, 10 years after the release of this song, that the song landed at the right time and in the right place.
It’s like the song says. Those days are over, and we may never experience the decadent peaks of the EDM craze again, but as long as the Swedish House Mafia is here, turning a ring of lights into a spaceship of dance music and pushing the hits to go just as hard, we might still be able to turn an arena gig into a fucking rave.