Minutes before they took the stage for their headlining Madison Square Garden show, the members of dance supergroup Swedish House Mafia were unable to believe they were really about to play the legendary arena.
"We said it as a joke," mused Sebastian Ingrosso. "'We should play Madison Square Garden, ha ha.'" "Somebody must have been drunk . . . the one that booked it," added bandmate Axwell.
Their incredulity was warranted: No other electronic dance act had ever performed at the Garden. For Swedish House Mafia's longtime fans, however, the venue seemed a natural fit: the group had finally arrived at a place big enough to match its ambitions. The 20,000-seat arena sold out in just nine minutes.
The DJs of Swedish House Mafia—Axwell, Steve Angello and Sebastian Ingrosso—began teasing a huge announcement over the summer, throwing out cryptic clues at their shows and online. A strange alphanumeric code, displayed during an Ibiza set, sparked a virtual firestorm as fans scrambled to decipher the message. In September, the Madison Square Garden date (along with a summer 2012 show at the UK's Milton Keynes Bowl and an upcoming mix album) was announced with an over-the-top trailer and its own website.
Swedish House Mafia brought this same dramatic flair to the show itself, creating a spectacle big enough to turn a two-hour DJ set into an electrifying, floor-shaking, fist-pumping experience. A white sheet hid the stage setup from view, but as the house lights went down it lit up with vibrant flashes of the group's three-circle logo and the New York City skyline. The sheet dropped to reveal the three DJs completely encircled by lights and graphics: they stood on a towering convex platform outfitted with video screens, and behind them was another massive semi-circular screen. The massive rig dwarfed the members of Swedish House Mafia, emphasizing the overall visual experience and music. Even from the nosebleeds, the huge circular structure—perhaps a subtle nod to their logo—made for arena-sized entertainment.
The trio's set was similarly supersized to fill the space. Classics from the group and its members—"Leave the World Behind," Axwell's "Heart Is King"—were used in unexpected, perfectly executed mash-ups to keep the crowd on its toes; the group's single "One," for example, gave a remix of Florence and the Machine's "You've Got The Love" a harder electro edge.
Swedish House Mafia's energetic, anything-goes approach to their set also modernized dance music mainstays, tracks whose lyrics fans would expect to belt out at nearly any house show. Daft Punk's "Aerodynamic," overlaid with the irresistibly singable chorus of Diddy-Dirty Money's "Coming Home," felt fresh, as did takes on Calvin Harris's "Feel So Close" and Nero's "Promises."
Supremely smooth mixing kept the crowd's energy high throughout the show, with an almost constant bassline driving the set. To add to the continuity, the DJs would allow a song to percolate below the surface before bringing it to center stage—the soaring synths of Dirty South and Those Usual Suspects' "Walking Alone" crept into the mix minutes before the full song played. Three pairs of hands moved across the mixer rapid-fire as the DJs worked in wordless unison to perfect each transition, often switching spots with each other.
Which isn't to say the group’s members didn't have fun during their set. The boys took turns standing on top of the booth, singing along with fans and dancing. During the high-energy cameos of two guest vocalists—rapper Tinie Tempah for "Miami 2 Ibiza" and singer John Martin for "Save the World"—they loosened their hold on the decks a bit to dance with their guests. Swedish House Mafia's members themselves took to the mic numerous times as well, telling New Yorkers how grateful they were to be playing at the Garden. Sebastian Ingrosso cut the music for a moment to repeat an SHM tradition started at last year's Creamfields UK festival: the whole crowd sits down in anticipation of a track's big drop, only jumping back up to dance once the beat kicks in. The MSG crowd participated eagerly, of course, with countless cameras flashing and glow sticks waving.
For a fraction of the fans at Madison Square Garden, the night didn't end when the show did. Swedish House Mafia also threw an afterparty at Roseland Ballroom; the "Back to the Masquerade Motel" party was an NYC take on the group's famed Masquerade Motel shows in Ibiza. The mezzanine level featured "pop-up" bottle service hosted by Manhattan hotspot Provocateur, making the event feel much more like an impromptu party than a heavily orchestrated concert.
The group's goal for Roseland, Ingrosso said beforehand, was to "just wing it and have fun." Axwell agreed, saying, "We'll just go off the hype and adrenaline we have from the [Madison Square Garden] show, and see where it takes us."
Swedish House Mafia's second show of the night was intimate, in more ways than one. A smaller, lower stage setup allowed the DJs to see and be seen, enabling more interaction with the crowd. On a less bright note, the floor was packed with fans jostling to get further forward, making for a vastly different experience than MSG's tightly controlled environment. Unfortunately for those who went to both shows, the set was mostly the same, albeit with a few bold transitions and extra tracks thrown in. (Avicii's "Levels," for one, got everyone dancing and singing along.)
The afterparty also featured sets from Max Vangeli and AN21 (Steve Angello's little brother), Jacques Lu Cont and Carl Kennedy. It ended well after sunrise.
For their part, the Swedish House Mafia boys finished their set flanked by friends and family, squeezing into the booth together. "New York, we've come a long way!" Angello yelled. "We put a nightclub in Madison Square Garden."