A superstar is born, without the hype
By David Malitz
Friday, Apr. 27, 2012
A few years ago Tim Bergling had a decision to make. The aspiring Swedish DJ and producer was in his late teens and contemplating staying in school or diving headfirst into a music career.
"I continued to focus on the music, and then everything . . . "
The 22-year-old, known to the masses as Avicii, pauses before finishing his statement - about the only time he has paused in the past three years.
As electronic dance music continues its transformation from underground secret to mainstream sensation, Bergling's rise has mirrored the genre's popularity. His pulsing, party-friendly brand of house music has made him one of the faces of what was once regarded a faceless genre. DJs are the new rock stars, and Avicii is at the top of the heap and always in demand: On Saturday, he headlines the Sweetlife Food and Music Festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion; he spent the past two Saturdays performing festival-closing sets at the Coachella Music and Arts Festival in California; and next week he's off to Rome, then Oslo, then Copenhagen. These are just a handful of the 300 or so gigs Avicii has this year. He did close to 300 in 2011, as well.
"It's really a remarkable journey for sure," Bergling says, completing his thought.
Avicii represents a new breed of superstar, one who has reached his stature without breathless media hype, without releasing even one album. His legion of fans - many much younger than he - have discovered his music online, track by track, and have been seduced by the party atmosphere of his live performances. Take, for instance, his last local appearance, in November, headlining an event called Super Glow at the D.C. Armory. It might have flown under the radar compared with other arena-size shows, but the sold-out concert drew 10,000 hyped and happy people to the rarely used venue.
When a talent reaches that level of popularity so quickly, and especially when it's without the help of a deep promotional machine, the opportunists soon come out in full force. But a bombardment of offers, from remixes to endorsements, hasn't knocked Bergling off his stride, mainly because he doesn't pay attention.
"People come to me all the time, and if it's business related, I don't say anything about it. That's my manager's job," he says. "I don't even know half of the things that come in."
Sometimes the offer is a no-brainer. Doing a remix for Madonna was an easy call, and she repaid the favor by introducing him at last month's Ultra Music Festival in Miami. ("That was really cool for me because she's such a musical icon, and it was just an honor," he says.) For the most part, though, Bergling is too tied up in his own creations. Besides his work as Avicii, he releases dance tracks under the monikers Tim Berg and Tom Hangs, providing multiple outlets for his music. Avicii gets the club-friendly songs, such as his breakout hit, "Levels." But there are plenty of sounds to go around.
"I'm not at all patient," Bergling says, a trait he shares with his young fans. "I can't sit on [a new song] until it gets released." He likes to get new material out as soon as possible, which is one reason he doesn't feel pressed to make a full-length album. He also thinks it's a bit selfish. The way that fans, especially young ones, digest music these days, the need to make a full-length album is tied more to an old-school mindset of what determines critical success.
"It's not necessary at all," Bergling says. "I do think that I will make an album at some point. But that's something I'll do for myself."
For now, his barrage of singles and sweaty live sets should be plenty to keep fans fulfilled. And as the gigs get bigger and bigger and the continent-hopping becomes more and more regular, Bergling has figured out the best way to stay prepared for what comes next.
"I'm always packed."
12:30 - 1:15 p.m. — fun.
This is the band responsible for “We Are Young,” the song that’s probably stuck in your head this very second. (You know it: “Toniiiiiight / We are young / So let’s set the world on fiiiiire!”) A few years from now we’ll either wonder how this Queen-loving trio was so low on this bill, or forget who they were entirely.
1:45 - 2:30 p.m. — A$AP Rocky
This charismatic Harlem rapper is one of the safest bets for a 2012 breakout. Last year’s “LiveLoveA$AP” mix tape made him an online phenomenon, and his coming debut album, “LongLiveA$AP,” should launch him to crossover stardom.
3 - 4 p.m. — Fitz and the Tantrums
Here’s a band tailor-made for festivals. Its energetic rock-and-soul goes down easy and plays well on big stages.
4:30 - 5:30 p.m. — Explosions in the Sky
5:50 - 7 p.m. — The Shins
James Mercer has convened a new set of bandmates, but his knack for finely crafted, classic, catchy pop songs remains, as heard on new album “Port of Morrow.”
7:20 - 8:30 p.m. — Kid Cudi
9 - 10:30 p.m. — Avicii
12 - 12:20 p.m. — Ben Browning
12:25 - 12:45 — Action Bronson
This renowned chef-turned-rapper still spits lyrics about food, and his style invites comparisons to Wu-Tang’s Ghostface Killah.
12:55 - 1:15 p.m. — Haim
1:30 - 1:55 p.m. — Yuna
2:10 - 2:35 p.m. — LP
2:50 - 3:20 p.m. — The Knocks
3:35 - 4:05 p.m. — U.S. Royalty
The local neo-classic-rock favorites have become the Sweetlife house band: This marks the third straight year the quarter has performed at the festival.
4:20 - 4:50 p.m. — RAC
5:05 - 5:35 p.m. — Delta Spirit
5:50 - 6:20 p.m. — Zola Jesus
This exceedingly sunny festival needs a little darkness, and Zola Jesus’s glacial, icy synth-driven songs will fill that niche perfectly.
6:35 - 7:15 p.m. — Twin Shadow