Eric Prydz is sitting in the patio bar of a hotel in Queens, sipping a Heineken and recovering from a cross-country road trip. The Swedish DJ-producer has a serious fear of flying, so to make it from Las Vegas (where he has a monthly DJ residency at the Wynn Hotel) to New York (where, in a couple of hours, he's playing at the massive Electric Daisy Carnival), he had to travel by tour bus. "What's really struck me is how different it is state to state," he says with Euro-awe. "People eat so unhealthy over here, and then you go to L.A. and everyone's a raw vegan." Prydz, a soft-spoken 36-year-old from Stockholm, has been a dance-music star for a decade, with two Grammy nominations and several international hits. Yet he's never taken the easy route, even to his own gigs. Back in the early 2000s, he passed up on joining a crew with three buddies he DJ'd with at a local gay bar. The trio went on to become Swedish House Mafia, the biggest act in EDM history. "They had a taste for the big vocals, the big hooks," Prydz says. "A lot of my music has a darker edge to it."
Prydz is still friends with the SHM guys, who retired this year, and he's collaborated with them on occasion. It's a little like if Pete Best had stayed on good terms with the Beatles while going on to become as big as Donovan. In 2004, Prydz topped charts throughout Europe with "Call On Me," an outrageously catchy house track hooked around the chorus of Steve Winwood's synth-y "Valerie." (Winwood liked it so much he recorded new vocals for the song.) Two years later, the same strategy paid off with "Proper Education," credited to "Eric Prydz vs. Floyd," which used a hunk of "Another Brick in the Wall." "I made it in the back of my tour manager's car on the way to a show," he says. "I wanted something like the card up the sleeve that I knew would get an instant reaction."
Along with this chart success – or maybe as a way to push back against it – Prydz records harder techno as Cirez D. (One track, "Drums in the Deep," took a sample of Sir Ian McKellen in The Lord of the Rings and set it over a brooding, orc-friendly electro-throb.) His live act deploys a laser show that's like a moody Eighties music video on a Spielberg budget, including massive holograms that would impress Kanye West and a gigantic rotating projection of Prydz's own head. "The setup is actually bigger than a jumbo jet," he says. It's so huge, he can haul it only to major events like Coachella – he's working on a scaled-down, more tourable version.
Last year, Prydz made his first extended trip to the U.S. in five years – where he discovered an unexpectedly booming dance-music scene. One afternoon, while drinking tequila at a Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles, he called his girlfriend back home: "I told her we should move here – it's fucking great." The nascent American network of clubs and festivals is now just as viable as the European scene, even for a plane hater.
"Something happened in America," he says. "Dance music is in a different place now. It's above the ground."
This story is from the July 4th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.