It’s not presumptuous to say that a musical group has reached powerhouse status when people sing along to its songs that don’t even have words. So it was with the legendary progressive house music trio Swedish House Mafia last weekend. They kicked off their North American tour last Wednesday in SF at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium with five shows in a row. All five days sold out (the first four shows sold out in eight minutes); the group announced a couple of months ago that it would be their last tour.
The tour, aptly titled “One Last Tour,” drew an interesting combination of ravers with binkies, 40-somethings in plaid and college students with bro tanks. There were buttcheeks flying out underneath rainbow tutus dancing next to sweaters with button-downs underneath.
The group technically formed in 2008 and have produced numerous billboard hits from their two albums, including “Save the World” and “Miami 2 Ibiza.” The trio — Steve Angello, Sebastian Ingrosso and Axwell — have become an international sensation, headlining Coachella and many other music festivals and shows. Easily, they are now one of the iconic names of progressive house music or EDM (electronic dance music), with the likes of Avicii and Skrillex.
They have produced anthem after anthem that has succeeded both as a radio hit and earned respect in the EDM community. They are one of the strongest bridges between the mainstream and the candy-colored ravers. Their wisdom and hard work to value their performance artistry just as much as their music have ensured their success.
Last Wednesday, the mixing setup was temple-like on the stage before an open dance floor. Four horizontal panels stretched to the ceiling for the graphics and light show. Scenes of the bay, ghoulish faces, skulls and galactic shapes pounded forth during the entire set, not to mention flying sparks, the aggressive exhales of fire and several rounds of confetti that showered down on the crowd. The trio rarely spoke, and only near the end did they finally begin to interact with the crowd.
But we didn’t need them at the beginning. The group were so much higher up in their throne than the audience on the dance floor. Their presence was godlike, so dominating that it was easy to forget it was just three dudes manipulating sound on their laptops and other mixing machinery.
The crowd, however, was so hyped after waiting three hours since the doors had opened to see Swedish House Mafia that there wasn’t a need for the DJs to egg them on. Fights broke out in the front of the dance floor in the lull after the openers finished. Small security squadrons shoved their way to the front and had to drag people out several times. Such violent desperation to see the group burst at once when the group came on opening with “Greyhound.”
When the crowd finally stopped smashing one another to death and gave each other room to dance and enjoy the music, the DJs seemed to enjoy themselves more as well. “Don’t You Worry Child,” one of their top singles of their career, slowed after a couple of minutes, and the entire auditorium was ordered to sit down. In less than five seconds, no explanation needed, almost every single person sat down in the gum, beer, blunts and abandoned glowsticks without a second thought. It’s Swedish House Mafia — you do what they say. So when the beat dropped and everyone in the entire house jumped up at once, it was like the group was coming on stage all over again.
Though the group didn’t play all of their greatest hits, and there was only one encore song for a barely two-hour set, the crowd didn’t complain; Swedish House Mafia could have played the same two songs the entire night. Their presence alone was momentous enough. The point was not to overindulge but to leave the crowd wanting more.
They played “Don’t You Worry Child” again near the end but slower this time. Thank yous scrolled down the same screen that had, for the past two hours, been furiously exploding with more than a million dollars worth of lasers. The final line stayed on the screen the longest: “You came. You raved. We loved it,” and the dazed fans realized that Swedish House Mafia was now history.