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Q&A: Axwell

On dance music genres, new music and returning to India

Ambika Muttoo Dec 11, 2013
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Axwell. Photo:  Alex Kossek

When news got out that Axwell was returning to Goa for Sunburn in December this year, there was no stopping the fan hysteria. Many remember his set from the very first year of the festival, back in 2007. He returned once again in 2010, and then more recently in 2012, as a part of Swedish House Mafia’s “One Last Tour” to Delhi, followed by January 2013 dates in Mumbai and Bengaluru. It’s not an overstatement to say he’s a crowd favorite. Now that the Swedes have gone on their own solo paths, Axwell, and his label, Axtone, continue to go from strength to strength. His track “Centre of the Universe” reinstated his arena-filling capacity, and his summer residency at Ushuaia, Ibiza, with Sebastian Ingrosso proved to be one of the biggest nights on the White Isle this season. We had a little chat with the Axwell, while he was at home in Sweden, to weigh in on his musical developments over the year, and his relationship with India. We were pleased to find out he’s as excited as his multitude of dance music fans, to return to Goan shores. 

“Centre of the Universe” was a work in progress for many years, right? It was also the first track you released post SHM?  Tell us about the track, and about the concept of Remode.

It was a track I started before Swedish House Mafia, actually. So when Swedish House Mafia finished, I said: “You know what, I’m going to start with where I was back then, and try and finish it.” I have this thing where I always want to finish everything. This was one of those tracks where I was like ”“ one day I’m going to finish that. So I did one version. Also at that time, we were just going to kick off the Ibiza summer tour and do our concert called “Departures” so I wanted to do a different version as well ”“ a bit more, almost old-school, progressive sounding. I wanted to do a track like that, in my life. 

How did your Departures residency at Ushuaia pan out during the summer?

It was great! It was one of the biggest nights in Ibiza so that was great for us both, after a year. We were happy about it, you know, because last year it was Swedish House Mafia and this year, it was something new. I felt really good about it! We took it to the next level with the vibe and how it looked and how the event was performed. We took it as far as we could. 

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You’ve always been comfortable playing in both arenas and clubs. Right now, though, there’s this very orderly classification of genres in dance music. Is this a positive or negative? 

At one end, everyone tries to place tracks in different or correct genres, and hate on the tracks that aren’t in the correct genres. But on one hand, you can just do whatever you feel like, and mix and match freely. We called ourselves Swedish House Mafia, and at the time we started Swedish House Mafia, it was pretty much how house sounded. We played house, we made house, and as we developed, the sound developed. Maybe the Swedish House Mafia sound wasn’t completely true to the original, old-school house sound. I like to call it house ”“ but it’s not so important what it’s called, it’s more important that it’s good. 

Well said. Could you also fill us in on what’s going on at your label, Axtone, right now?

Right now, we’re putting out a lot of releases. The last one was a track by myself, called “I Am.” Then there’s a new track by Thomas Gold coming in, new material by Deniz Koyu coming in. There’s a track called “Tokyo by Night” releasing. So lots of stuff coming out, so we’re keeping busy!

You were one of the first DJs to champion India, and have visited a few times since. What is it about India that brings you back?

When I first came, it was the surprise of coming to such a different place and people liking what I did. That was such a surprise and I really was like ”“ what? I came all this way to such a country that was so different from my country and they liked the same music! That was the first impression and it was just crazy, and I had to come back! It was such an experience. India and Sweden are so far apart in so many ways, but we go off on the same music. Then, it just really exploded over there. It’s like a breath of fresh air because the rest of the world is so controlled and organized but India, I would say, to the untrained eye, which is probably mine, looks and feel more chaotic. But that chaos and disorganization is what you want when you play music. You don’t want people to be sitting in orderly rows. You want them to be crazy. That’s what works so well in India. People are super passionate about everything, I guess, but about music ”“ they are incredibly passionate. You can feel how they’re really feeling the music. For that reason, I keep coming back to India.

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Any special memories from your last visits?

When we did the Swedish House Mafia tour there, we did some filming and I just recently looked back at the film and I saw some of the people and heard what they had to say about the concert and how they reacted. It’s one thing being on stage and looking at the crowd, and another thing seeing it in a movie. It was really exciting and interesting and I’m now really looking forward to coming back to Sunburn in Goa, which is where it all started anyway.

Tell us something about yourself that you haven’t discussed before? Anything that would surprise us?

Okay, well, I’m really into serenity. Every once in a while, I need to go out into nature and just switch off. I need to go out and be somewhere where it’s quiet. If I come to a city where there’s an ocean, I always go to the ocean and look at it.

Then it’s a good thing you’re coming back to Goa!

Yeah! Whenever an ocean’s around, it keeps me relaxed!

Wrapping up ”¦ any updates or news we need to look out for?

Check out that track that’s coming out ”“ “Tokyo by Night.” Keep an eye out for that.

This article originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of Rolling Stone India  

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