Live review: Swedish House Mafia’s Masquerade Motel
The snow machines were a welcome touch at Swedish House Mafia’s Friday farewell set in Chinatown. On a night with miserable outdoor concert weather -- chilly temperatures, with just enough rain to turn the L.A. State Historic Park into a frigid mud slurry -- when the trio of DJs kicked on the midfield snowblowers, you could almost pretend that you were actually raving astride a Swedish fjord. Almost.
“Serious respect to the girls who came out dressed in bikinis on this … warm spring night,” joked one of the Mafia members from atop a monolithic tiered stage at the park’s north end. “That’s the kind of friends we have.”
If EDM artists and festivals have enjoyed a perpetual spring and summer in America over the last few years, the retirement of Swedish House Mafia might herald a changing season. Not a winter of discontent, exactly. But Friday’s show -- the first of a two-night “Masquerade Motel” stand on the band’s final tour -- is the clearest sign yet that EDM artists at the peak of their powers and influence are beginning to plan for what comes next.
The career arc of the trio (comprised of the DJ/producers Sebastian Ingrosso, Steve Angello and Axwell) is synonymous with the ascent of EDM in the U.S. Formed in 2008 in Stockholm, the group combined progressive house sounds with the songwriting and stage presence of a rock band. They were unafraid of yearning, Coldplay-ish choruses (a band whose song “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” would later get an SHM re-mix), and used a pass-the-baton approach to live mixing that made them much more fun to watch than most of their solitary DJ peers.
Swedish House Mafia proved a perfect introduction for mainstream American audiences dipping their pink fuzz-boots into contemporary rave scenes. Along the way they garnered Grammy nominations, their own official themed vodka drink (Absolut Greyhound, tied to their single “Greyhound”), became the first EDM act to play (and sell out, in nine minutes) a Madison Square Garden gig and headlined slots at almost every major festival that hosts dance music.
Masquerade Motel was a valediction for those heady, turn-of-the-decade years when EDM was something genuinely new in mainstream American music (and the music business). This crowd came of age in dance music to Swedish House Mafia songs, and while house-music purists might rend their garments at that fact, the band’s sign-off is a major pivot in EDM culture.
Friday’s show was actually a mini-festival of 35,000, with a full day of younger peers like Alesso and Otto Knows on the decks before them (Saturday’s version sports Zedd and AN21, among others). It’s laudable that SHM gave so much real estate over to rising artists on their own farewell tour. Even the incongruous themes of the night (the field was half decorated like a mid-century Palm Springs motor inn, and half futurist-Marie-Antoinette masked ball) had a senior-prom sweetness -- a celebration of youth, and a way to say goodbye to it.
The band’s two-hour, career-summing set showed how they helped create the structures of today’s pop-EDM.
Dance music is supposed to be immediate yet transient -- sounds are felt viscerally, but lapse quickly as the party moves on. Swedish House Mafia has a talent for keeping the power of EDM’s sonics while writing songs that stick like power ballads. Singles like “Save The World” are party tunes, but they’re really about later feeling nostalgic for how great that party was. It’s a neat trick -- all the upside of bass-throttling dance music, and all the wistfulness and longing of good pop. That’s why they’re the rare DJ crew that gets a stadium-capacity farewell tour after operating for only five years and two studio albums.
Sometime it’s a little cloying, and their single-finger synth melodies can make more seasoned dance fans nostalgic for a time when house music had some actual open space and sexiness (“Miami To Ibiza” is so wantonly jet-setty it can make you prefer the life in “Eagle Rock To Glendale”).
But even the merchandise for sale -- T-shirts that read, “We came, we raved, we loved” -- played to the night’s sentiment of completion, of passage, of graduation.
When the snow machines blew lazer-lit flurries for the chorus of “Don’t You Worry Child,” the cyclical, seasonal nature of dance music became literal. Swedish House Mafia seemed to be saying, in its way, that not-so-young-anymore EDM fans are going to be fine without them.
-- August Brown
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