I’m not one to talk about loss. It’s a constant reminder of being human and the fact that we are not getting any younger. But evidently it’s a part of life, so here goes something.
I came across Avicii through one of the many long nights in my university dorm at Glasgow. I studied in the U.K. at an inflection point in the industry when what became known as EDM was slowly making it’s way into American airwaves. There were just two tracks from on the radio then when I left, Sexy Bitch and I Gotta Feeling both produced by David Guetta, one of Avicii’s mentor.
The track that did it for me, Young Penguin was actually a mashup done coincidentally by another kid no doubt from his college dorm. One-half of that mashup, Young Blood, led me to artists like The Naked and Famous, Florence + the Machine, Of Monsters and Men, Mumford and Sons etc.. The other, by Avicii led to folks like Alesso, Afrojack, David Guetta, Tiesto, Porter Robinson, Gareth Emery and many others.
At the time all of this was still fairly obscure to me. But after many many many late nights working to these tunes, one evening I found myself in a pub with some friends listening to a local band when the keyboardist started playing a melody in between their set. I recognized this, I said. I was ecstatic.
A year later, the summer I came back home, I was with my uncles in Dallas, Texas, when I heard Levels playing from one of the bars. That’s the one we’re going to I said.
Then the following year, in Abuja, my first time home in 13 years. In the taxi ride back to the airport, Levels again happened to come on the radio.
I know for most of us, it’s hard to fathom, but can you imagine the work it took for a 22 year old from Sweden to carry his music to Texas and Nigeria? Not only to make this happen, but to do it at a time where this sound was simply not a concept. At a time when electronic music was still so foreign. And again, in Texas, and in Nigeria. From Sweden. At 22.
These were very much the artist that kept me going during those and still ongoing late nights. It wasn’t just the elated melodies, hopeful vocal, and high tempos, it was also the stories behind the artists. Folks like Avicii, Alesso, Afrojack, Porter Robinson, to one genre, and J. Cole, Wale, Childish Gambino, Big Sean, even Drake from another part of the world. The idea that with enough work, grit, and dedication you can come into an industry and create something new out of nothing. Avicii especially stood out to me because his success wasn’t through sheer talent, it wasn’t a trend, it wasn’t his network or his wealth, he didn’t just stumble into this. You watched him develop. Publicly.
Avicii, and electronic music went on to teach me a lot more. I started recognizing similarities and differences across main stream music.
I came to value the incredibly unique aspect of electronic music where artists are not only allowed but encouraged to take and share each others work, creating unique mashups, remixes, and covers.
The idea that you can share your work-in-progress with the world and continue to craft it till it’s perfect. Early versions of Levels and Fade Into Darkness/Collide instance were already released as ID and Penguinrespectively, months before they were completed. And fellow artists had already started taking, sharing, and collaborating on this. This is how I came across Young Penguin.
The concept that you should very much revisit and re-approach your own work from different perspectives. Always. Avicii’s came in the form of several alias he used to remix and experiment, even going a far as remixing his own work and albums from Seek Bromance, Tim Berg, Avicii remix to his debut album True, and the rework Avicii by Avicii.
The notion that we can always study and borrow from the greats to create something unique.
Penguin for instance was titled from an Avant-pop group, Penguin Café Orchestra formed in 1973, and wrote the track Perpetuum Mobile, two years before Avicii and I were born. Etta James’ magnificent Something’s Got a Hold of Me which became the signature vocals on Levels, was written in 1962, 51 year bevel Levels was completed.
And lastly the fact that even after creating your magnum opus, you can and you should get up on stage and redefine your work. Even in the face of ridicule. After releasing Levels, the biggest track in the world, rather than continuing in that direction. He stopped and created an entirely new sound. At Ultra 2013, in the middle of his performance he stopped and brought out a few country and soul artists and their instruments and played something completely new. The show was met with mixed feelings, almost entirely negative. Many ridiculed Avicii for swinging into bluegrass and away from Electronic music. Despite this though, Avicii went on to release these tracks in his debut album, featuring artists like Nile Rodgers, Adam Lambert, and Aloe Blac. The album True went on Top 10 across the world.
So, yes. It’s an odd hollow feeling knowing the faces you use as a yardstick have simply ceased to exist. It does however somehow make their work, and the circumstances you were introduced to them all the more lasting. Knowing that those moments can never be recreated again is to be human.
But for now, Avicii’s life and work, more than ever is driving me to leave my own mark. After all, our Days/Nights are finite. Our work is not.