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Steve Angello On Why Swedish House Mafia Broke Up, New Music & What New Fans Don't Understand

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Steve Angello reflects on 18 years of DJ'ing and his time with Swedish House Mafia.
Steve Angello reflects on 18 years of DJ'ing and his time with Swedish House Mafia.

The nice thing about electronic dance music is that you can be an industry veteran before you hit 30. Take Steve Angello, for example. As a solo artist and one-third of Swedish House Mafia, Angello has performed in every corner of the globe, headlined Coachella and Madison Square Garden and started SIZE Records, a highly successful independent label.

To casual observers and even those who have seen the group's documentary, "Take One," Angello's life is comprised solely of the following activities: Boarding private jets, playing loud music for a couple of hours at a time, stopping by parties and flying to the next stop.

While endless touring is certainly a part of the Swede's reality -- Angello just came off of seven straight weeks of gigging -- even the most exciting of those perks has its downsides. "I really don't like private jets, to be honest," he told HuffPost Entertainment in a recent interview. "I find it claustrophobic. I feel safer in a big plane. If it's three connections or private, then I'll go private. But it's super expensive, it's a waste of money."

And the live shows aren't as quick as they seem to the glowstick waving rave crowds, either. "They think you just show up there with a USB stick and plug it in and hit play," Angello said. "They don't understand how much work you actually put into a show."

On Friday, the group released the video for "Don't You Worry Child," filmed at their performance at the Milton Keynes Bowl. The track features John Martin singing memories of being comforted by a father after facing heartbreak.

The release belies good timing on the SHM's part, because it turns out all shiny things eventually lose their luster. Earlier this year, Angello, Axwell and Sebastian Ingrosso announced they would hang up their black v-necks after a final tour as Swedish House Mafia. HuffPost Entertainment spoke to Angello -- who will be stopping by New York's Central Park for a special engagement on Sept. 22 -- about the fatigue that led to the surprising breakup, why he's sick of fans who assume his job is easy and why big business will never get a grip on electronic dance music. An edited transcript of our extremely candid conversation follows.

Do you have anything special planned for SIZE in the park?
I think we do about four or five key events every year, and this is one of them. I got asked to do this venue and I didn't even read the whole email before I said I wanted to do it. Growing up in Stockholm, we've always been very connected to New York somehow. It's always been the big city outside the city to us. They have some sound restrictions and I can't go full-on production, because of the park. I couldn't use confetti or streamers, because they're very strict with the policies. So it was a tough one to crack, but the main focus here is the music. And all the new visuals. We've redone everything for this specific show.

I'm extremely excited about it, we've been working with the team for months. I've been involved from everything to where the VIPs and sound stacks will be based to every single detail. We have production calls every week. So it's one of those [type of events]. You pick a few of those and really go for it.

Sometimes people assume that there's just a big business behind all the logistics.
Yeah people just assume. It's like the whole DJ'ing thing these days. They think you show up there with a USB stick, plug it in and hit play. They don't understand how much work you actually put into a show. For us, we're usually our own promoters too. When I came into the Central Park gig, I had to choose what my ticket prices would be … we're involved from the scratch up.

In that vein, I know you're close with A-Trak, who wrote here on HuffPost about the balance between using technology and staying true to the craft of DJ'ing. There's no doubt in your mind that you could DJ with records or anything you needed to --
Of course. I started out like A-Trak. I was in scratch competitions when I was a younger kid in Sweden. I started out when I was like 12 and I started performing doing that. Then when I grew up, I got into the electronic thing when I was 16 or 17. But I was still very technically involved -- I was working with a lot of the DMC guys. So I came from that school.

I'm turning 30 so I've been doing this for almost 18 years. The thing is that people are just very ignorant. They don't look back. For a lot of people, for example, Swedish House Mafia is a new act. They're like "Oh wow, you guys are so amazing and you just came through." No, we've actually been doing this since the '90s. I just think that new fans don't get technology. And I have this thing, where I play without headphones. And people can't get it right. They're like, "Hey, hold on, you're just faking it." There's a mathematical solution to how you can do that. As a scratch DJ, for example, when I used to put all my marks on vinyls, I didn't have headphones. I had my cues but I didn't have time to stand there and look for a cue. I'd have my cues on stickers and I'd fast forward until I got to that sticker and then it was showtime. So I didn't come from the digital age.

When I was 15, I had a record collection of 5,000 vinyls. I just think people are ignorant. Reading A-Trak's comments, I thought they were brilliant. He's one of the few in our genre who [mixing on turntables]. And I respect that, and that's why we're friends. Not only because he kills it, but because he's real.

In a sense, you guys are similar because you're both honest about the technology you use. Even though he frequently says he uses Traktor and the infamous "sync" feature, people assume he's not. On your side, people assume you're just relying on the machines.
It's the same with anything. You remember when the digital cameras came along, and everyone was like "Oh, wait, how can you take a picture with that? It should be analog and real and you should have to develop the pictures." And now every photographer in the world is on the Red. It's like that with everything. Like when the iPhone came, and people were like "What the fuck is this?"

People like to diss stuff. Especially online. It's like, "Come on, man." I've never understood those people. I've never been one of those people who goes in there and comments "Don't buy this album, it sucks." Don't you want to give that opportunity for people to experience for themselves? Everyone can have their opinion and if you like something, you like it.

With us, some people are like "I can't believe you sold out Central Park." I didn't go to New York with a gun and start threatening people to buy tickets for my show. It's just what it is -- people like to be cool about what they think. It's easy to disrespect people who are creative if you're not a creative person yourself.

I had a discussion with a guy and he was telling me [that it's easy to see which DJs perform well], so I tweeted at a DJ and said he sucked. So I asked him what he did for a living, and he said he was a server in a restaurant. So I said, "What would you think, if someone walked two feet behind you and said 'you suck' every time you put down a plate?" His response? "I'd knock you out." Exactly.

Is there anything you miss from when you were doing more scratch and break stuff or just growing your Stockholm parties?
You know what I miss? I miss normal. I remember just being excited to go and play at a regular club. And you're thinking "this is my night," and there may only be 250 or 300 people there. And there was no pressure. I kind of miss that it used to be playful. You could be creative, nobody judged you. Today, it's all judgment. You're never a prophet in your own city, but at the same time, when you grow up and become big, everyone says you're doing well.

But the second you get big, they tell you that you suck. I'm a firm believer in being positive and promoting what you love instead of dissing what you don't like. I said I'm a big Coldplay fan, and I told someone that and they said, "Yeah but they're so commercial now." Who cares? They still write great records -- the melodies are fantastic, the lyrics are great. It's the same with anything. Lady Gaga was really cool until she had her first No. 1 and now everyone thinks she's weird. I just miss the whole playful thing. And that's why I use a lot of aliases when I produce, because I can take the Steve Angello hat off and just play.

Did these things factor into the decision to end Swedish House Mafia?
I think we felt like it had become a very big machine. I think the pressure … It just wasn't having fun anymore. It was this humongous monster. We felt like tired. Swedish House Mafia was never something planned, it was just like, we're three guys, let's do this and have fun and throw parties and have a blast. So we just thought, "You know what? Let's end this."

And you've done things that no other DJ acts have done…
We've done things I never thought I'd do! I talk to my friends about those things, like being able to do Madison Square Garden, or going up on a headline slot at a festival against a band like Coldplay. We never thought we'd be doing that. All of a sudden you're there in front of 60,000 people and everyone is going nuts to your music. We grew up loving what we do, and Swedish House Mafia was a special example of the idea that if you love something and you work hard enough, you'll get there.

I know you have "Yeah!" coming out and I heard there's another single in the works with Third Party?
It's called "Lights," it's a bit more rocky. I did a remix of Pendulum's "The Island," and it's in the same vein as that. I'm trying to collaborate with all the kids on the label now, and I'm working on my solo album, which should be done by the end of the year. We have some really amazing vocal performances on there too -- I'm not sure how much I can say because we're still working on it. But I'm really excited about it, I'm going to call it Wild Youth.

Is taking more of the mentor role something you're excited about, now that you'll have a fewer SHM shows to handle?
I really enjoy doing that. When I grew up -- I started my label in 2002 -- I didn't have any support. Just being able to sign these artists and help them develop and not make the same mistakes you did -- I took that upon myself and I really enjoy it. I give [DJ'ing] five, maybe maximum of eight years. Then I'll just step into [production and mentoring] full time. Because I'm very into business, too. Especially now with the overflow of electronic dance music, I would like to be there for the kids and be the hand that holds them through the tough times. Also, having them around really energizes me. It can get very boring and lonely sometimes.

Do you find that there are enough people in management and labels who have been around enough to understand how to cultivate the scene?
Listen, I think there are very few who understand 100%. Every city and promoter in the world wants to have a festival, and thinks they can. But they don't know how to -- they don't understand. There are very few in North America who know how to do that. They have great club nights, but it's a different world.

I have the weirdest calls every single day from big Fortune 500 companies who want to come and get involved. And I'm like "how?" They will tell me they just want to "get into the EDM space." But they'll be, like, selling trimmers. "But you have a beard!" Yeah but, what do you want me to do? Shave on camera so you can tell people all the dance acts use Phillips?

Everyone just wants in. I've been given offers by every major label to come and buy [SIZE]. But I can't sell that -- it's my baby. If I give up creative control, then what do I do? This is what I worked for my whole life. We can be partners, but I'm not just going to give you the keys to my car and say, "Drive it." That's not how it works. There are a lot of people who are not fit to do this. Every single day we get an email that's just really awkward, and I look at my people in the office and we just say, "What the fuck?"

Angello's next single, "Yeah," is out Sept. 29. More information is available at SIZE Records' website and Angello's Twitter and Facebook.

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