One of the biggest names in the EDM/house music scene has passed away, and much, much too young: Tim Bergling, best known by his DJ name, Avicii. Despite leaving us at only 28, Avicii helped dance music become the most popular commercial music for several years, thanks to hits such as Levels, Wake Me Up, and Hey Brother. Levels, and his collaboration with David Guetta on Sunshine, both earned him Grammy nominations. His style was greatly imitated, particularly when he married house music with folk singer-songwriting.
Avicii was born in Stockholm on the 8th September, 1989. From his early teens, he was already an avid producer, and working on a lot of music and remixes. He was a member of the Laidback Luke Forums, hosted by the DJ of the same name. With the support and feedback of other budding producers on the forum, Avicii developed his sound, which quickly manifested as a distinctive, deep house style. He was already signed to the Dejfitts Plays label in 2007.
After a number of remixes secured a foothold in the industry for him, Avicii scored his first bona fide hit with Seek Bromance in 2010, then still releasing music under his own name (stylised as Tim/Berg). It reached the top 20 of charts across Europe, including the UK, France, the Netherlands, and his native Sweden. This success won him a publishing deal with EMI.
Avicii was christened as ‘Avicii’ when he found that the Tim Berg name was already taken by another MySpace music page. He explained the meaning behind his new moniker as being the lowest level of hell in Buddhism — a friend had been telling him about it previously, and it returned to him when he realised he needed a musical alias.
He was promoted to top 10 status only a year later. His 2011 release of Levels, his dance-pop track featuring an Etta James vocal sample, launched him into the international mainstream. It shot into the top tier of the charts in the UK, Germany, Italy, and Belgium, while topping the charts in Sweden, Hungary, and Norway. His career became a year-by-year ascendancy, as in 2012, his collaboration with dance superstar, David Guetta, produced Sunshine, earning the pair a nomination for Best Dance Recording at the Grammy Awards.
At this point, Avicii was already performing at the biggest dance music festivals across the globe, including Ultra Music Festival in Miami, where in 2012 he premiered his remixes of legends Madonna and Lenny Kravitz. He rounded off the year by releasing I Could Be The One with similarly stratospheric DJ, Nicky Romero, another dance hit which has never stopped being heard in night clubs since. 2013 did not let up for Avicii: he was nominated for a Grammy once more for Levels, this time losing out to Skrillex.
2013 was the year in which Avicii became a household name, with the release of Wake Me Up, the first single from his debut album, True. While the song initially received an unfavourable reaction from audiences when debuted at headline festival sets, it immediately took fire once its radio play was underway. Featuring the vocals of Aloe Blacc, the single saw Avicii taking a gamble by fusing Mumford and Sons-esque folk with his trademark house music. The gamble paid off, as the song topped the charts across the world, extending his success way beyond Europe. It set a new record of topping the Billboard Dance/Electronic chart for 14 consecutive weeks.
Subsequent singles increased the success of his first album, such as Hey Brother, and Lay Me Down, which features vocals from Maroon 5’s Adam Lambert, and guitar from Nile Rodgers. His foray into mainstream music was further solidified when he collaborated with Coldplay to produce and co-write Sky Full Of Stars. However, it was around this time when concerns over his health surfaced, as he was hospitalised and forced to cancel his closing set at the 2014 Ultra Music Festival. Fans later learned he had required immediate gallbladder and appendix surgery.
His health declined to the point where he announced his retirement from touring in 2016, despite being one of the most sought after and highest-paid DJs for festivals across the globe (that year, Inc Magazine announced Avicii as the sixth fastest growing ‘company’ in the world, with a revenue of €7.7 million in 2014). It emerged he was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis, caused partly by excessive drinking at the many, many after parties he attended.
Characterised by an understated uniform of t shirt, jeans and a backwards baseball cap that allowed his platinum hair to ruffle out the back, Avicii was another young talent who got swept away by the spotlight, in which he didn’t always feel that comfortable. While he enjoyed the parties for a while, he would often say that he didn’t enjoy being recognised or having too much attention on him. Certainly a tough gig when you’re the poster boy for EDM.
The touring retirement never spelled the end of his music making, and Avicii remarked that he was glad to be back in the studio, where it all began for him, before the glitz and glamour. His final release was AVICI (O1), a six-track EP released only in August 2017.
While EDM has faded from the forefront, there are no signs that Avicii, whose pioneering music spearheaded the genre, will do the same. His songs, always defiantly positive and celebratory, have served as collective catharsis for the thousands who gleefully attended his massive festival sets. And despite his personal problems, he remained committed to spreading that joy, whether it was behind the decks in Miami, or in the safety of his studio. Thank you for sharing your light, Avicii.