Can you turn an arena concert into a rave?
That’s the goal Swedish House Mafia set for their years-in-the-making return to the touring stage (Coachella and other one-off festival headlining slots withstanding), and the reunited EDM supertrio picked the ideal city to find out.
In the Swedish House Mafia universe, Miami has always been the place of beginnings and ends. This is where the group made their debut at Ultra Music Festival in 2008, and where they played their final concert at that same festival in 2013. Five years later, that’s where the trio surprised fans with a reunion set in 2018, and last night, it was at Miami’s FTX Arena where Sebastian Ingrosso, Steve Angello and Axwell returned for a sold-out return that dared to ask: Can you turn an arena concert into a rave?
To be honest, we were skeptical.
It’s not that we don’t believe in the transcendent power of dance music to turn a capitalist temple of entertainment, where the hard seltzers are poured by the double into plastic cups for $15 into something holy. It’s just that, since Swedish House Mafia reigned as the biggest DJ act in the world, the world over which they reigned has changed. The majority of fans aren’t screaming college kids breaking free of their suburban chains through the power of ecstasy and bare skin. They’re moms and dads, partiers settling into their mid-30s, and otherwise functional members of society.
Were fans going to kick back in their assigned seats and let go as they did a decade ago in the Ultra Music Festival field?
After an opening DJ set from Grimes that felt like a techno freak-out at the LAN party and a 30-minute changeover, it was time to find out.
A giant black curtain hung from the ceiling, concealing the sci-fi structure on stage. The opening thumps of SHM’s new track “Can You Feel It,” from the group’s long-awaited debut album Paradise Again, began to pound as smoke and white lasers poured past the barrier. When the drop finally came and the curtain fell, we saw the three Swedes standing at a long table, glowing through the smoke with all manner of buttons and nobs, but it was the giant ring hanging above their heads that stole our breath.
“Can You Feel It” merged into Paradise Again single “It Gets Better,” as the music settled into a goosebump-inducing crescendo.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the man in the middle said into a mic. “My name is Axwell.” Cue applause. “This is Steve Angello.” Cue even more applause. “This is Sebastian Ingrosso, and Miami, we’re the Swedish House Mafia, are you ready?”
They launched immediately into the group’s 2012 smash “Greyhound,” signaling an approach that would continue for the rest of the night as the trio melted new songs with their classics, bridging then and now.
As a band, Swedish House Mafia had only released six original songs before splitting, but between the three, these men had a hand in nearly every EDM hit. Whether mixing in Swedish House Mafia hiatus songs “Dream Bigger” and “More Than You Know,” or Ingrosso’s 2013 hit “Reload,” the trio showed they’re still the kings of the genre.
As the hits kept coming, mixed deftly between new tunes including Paradise Again cuts “Don’t Go Mad,” “Frankenstein,” and the Weeknd’s assisted “Moth To A Flame,” the energy in the arena continued to rise.
About halfway through the show, something shifted. The arena exploded with white lasers and anticipatory screams, and the first notes of the 2012 Knife Party collab “Antidote” rang through the air. Fans were transported to another place and time, when the rooms were big, the bass was brutal and an EDM act could sell out Madison Square Garden. The familiar favorite twisted and crunched with gritty synth, then built to a fever pitch that let loose in the growling bass of the recent single “Redlight.”
The rest of the show was a slaughterhouse of pounding techno and nostalgic anthems, elevated by a forest of laser lights that showered over the crowd from the front of the stage to the farthest rafters. The three men on stage took turns grabbing the mic and shaking each other, while audience members dutifully sang along to every word of every remembered song.
“One important question,” Axwell asked. “Do we have any new fans here tonight?” There were yells, but nothing compared to when he asked, “do we have any old fans here tonight?” A true roar erupted, to which he answered “so in that case you’d be really pissed off if we didn’t play ‘Don’t You Worry Child.’”
In that moment, when the group turned down the music and the sold-out crowd sang in unison the lyrics of a song that has come to define an era, it all made sense. “Don’t You Worry Child” is a song about nostalgia, and it was big in its time, for sure, but singing a song about the golden days feels different when the golden days are living themselves out. It was here, 10 years after that song was released, that the song landed in its right time and place.
It’s like the song says. Those days are gone, and we may never again experience the decadent peaks of the EDM craze, but as long as Swedish House Mafia is out here turning a ring of lights into a dance-music spaceship and pushing the hits to go this hard, we may just yet be able to turn an arena concert into a fucking rave.