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The Secret of Swedish House Mafia's Success

Three Nordic nice guys are redefining rave culture – one pyro blast at a time

Swedish House Mafia perform during the iTunes Festival at The Roundhouse in London.
C Brandon/Redferns
June 12, 2012 4:55 PM ET

"Where is all the cocaine? Have you hidden it?" The three capifamiglia of Swedish House Mafia – Steve Angello, Sebastian Ingrosso and Axwell (a.k.a. Axel Christofer Hedfors) – are in a suite at the W Hotel, where the breeze from Miami Beach comes in through a door leading to the deck. Axwell, the chattiest member of the trio, is making a little joke: That night, when they staged their Masquerade Motel party – a two-hour-plus visual and sonic spectacle that sold 20,000 tickets for two nights – there would be at least three participants who were not on chemical stimulants.

"The crowd should be out there drinking and having a blast," says Angello, the brooding, lightly bearded mafioso. "But imagine if you go to a police officer and he's wasted. We have to be sober. We're the police. We're the truck drivers." Some people live the party; SHM steer it home.

The average truck driver would have to log a lot of miles to earn what these guys make in a night. Since getting their start DJ'ing in a Stockholm pizza parlor in the early Aughts, they've sold 3 million tracks; in July, they'll headline the 65,000-seat National Bowl at Milton Keynes in England. Recently, they've been translating their dance-floor success into actual radio-ready pop on tracks like "One (Your Name)," which features Pharrell Williams; "Miami 2 Ibiza"; and "Save the World." In March, they released "Greyhound" and teamed with Absolut vodka, another Swedish export, to create a video that shows them as mechanical dogs sprinting through the desert.

But their biggest success has been expanding the sense of spectacle in dance music by using arena-rock tricks – towering pyro, huge banks of LCD lights – and by mixing hip-hop and rock into their driving house throb (one of their biggest crowd-pleasers is a remix of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Snow"). Last December, they transformed Madison Square Garden into an oversize club. "The person who booked it must've been drunk!" Axwell joked.

Swedish House Mafia leave their hotel suite and begin Masquerade Motel, outdoors in downtown Miami, at exactly 8:40 p.m. "We like to start the show with a bang," says Ingrosso. "We keep it groovy, then take things down, and in the end, it's just bang – full on." It's a simple strategy attached to a multisensory experience, with the three just-visible DJs in black shirts, standing behind a DJ booth like wizards behind a curtain.

Masquerade Motel comes to a thunderous close at 10:40 p.m., then they are off to solo DJ sets and parties. They were up till seven the previous night, but Angello swears he doesn't get tired of the rock-star life: "The second I got onstage, it was like I got superpowers. I was like, 'Wow. Can't B-12 that.'"

This story is from the Big Issue of Rolling Stone.

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