About eight months before the death of EDM superstar Avicii, his friend and French DJ colleague David Guetta received an urgent message from Avicii’s then-manager. “It was a little bit of a crisis, to be honest,” Guetta says. “His manager called me and said, ‘I don’t know what to do anymore. It’s a bit out of control.’ I offered anything I could do or we could meet and talk. I texted [Avicii], but it was difficult to communicate at that time.”
The following year, in April 2018, Avicii died by suicide while on vacation in Oman. Guetta wasn’t in touch with him at that time, but on Thursday night, he’ll pay tribute to his friend on a public stage as part of an all-star Avicii tribute concert at the Friends Arena in Stockholm. The two-hour show, with ticket sales going toward mental-health and suicide-prevention organizations, will feature DJs and singers who worked with Avicii, including Adam Lambert, Rita Ora, Aloe Blacc, Kygo, Laidback Luke, Gavin DeGraw, and Nicky Romero; Avicii’s father Klaus Bergling will also address the crowd to pay tribute to his son. The concert, which starts at 9 p.m. Swedish time, will be live-streamed on Avicii’s YouTube channel as well as on Facebook and Instagram.
Guetta, 21 years Avicii’s senior, was immediately impressed with the DJ-producer’s work when he heard a piano-fueled remix by the new, young Swede. Guetta reached out soon after and asked Avicii to remix one of his own cuts. One of Guetta’s subsequent tracks, 2011’s euphoric “Sunshine,” was so inspired by Avicii that Guetta invited his younger colleague to full-on collaborate on it; the two also worked on an even bigger club hit, “Lovers on the Sun,” complete with a video starring Ray Liotta.
But Guetta says the moment he knew Avicii was destined for an even bigger world stage came when the two were hanging in Ibiza and Avicii played him “Wake Me Up” and “Hey Brother,” both destined for Avicii’s breakthrough album, True. “That was like, ‘Wow, okay, that’s it – you’re taking over the world,’” Guetta says. “Music is very often a surprise. You don’t really know what’s going to connect with the people. But when I heard this, I was like, ‘Okay, there’s absolutely no doubt – you’re the next one.’” (In a 2012 interview, Avicii dismissed the “new David Guetta” tag attached to him: “It’s not annoying, but I definitely don’t consider myself the new anything … It’s still a compliment that people think we’re alike.”)
Guetta maintains that Avicii was “a nice, introverted humble guy,” but like many in his world, he witnessed what came next for his friend: the crossover hits, the fame, the relentless traveling for big-purse DJ gigs, and the excesses that came with it. “It’s the pressure of maintaining success, the nonstop touring and jetlag,” Guetta says. “I remember a conversation, because I was in the business for more years, telling him and his manager, ‘Guys, you need to be careful —you’re doing too many shows. Of course it’s fun, but it’s going to come back at you.’”
Elaborating on the lifestyle he and Avicii coped with during the EDM gold rush of the 2010s, Guetta says, “You push yourself constantly and it never stops. Rock bands, even pop bands, take a year to make an album and do promo and then do a tour and take a year off. We do everything at the same time. We do production on tour. We do interviews. You always need to deliver constantly. It’s very difficult and the expectations, when you’ve reached the top, are huge, and so many people depend on you.”
Adding to those issues, Guetta says, was his feeling that the only people who can understand what EDM superstars endure are their fellow DJs. “We all feel the same,” he says, “but you can’t complain to your friends or family, because people are like, ‘Are you crazy? You make crazy money and you are having a fun life. Are you complaining about that?’ And it’s true, you know? But you can’t speak to anyone about this. We are always in the places where the party is. People go there, spend two weeks and then go back to a normal life, whereas this is the entire year for us. So this was the type of conversation we had with him.”
Guetta says that Avicii would, at first, laugh off his advice with, “David, you’re getting old — I’m full of energy.” But then he caught up with Avicii at an Ultra festival around 2014 and, he says, “It was hard for me to pretend like everything was normal and good, you know? He lost so much weight at some point of his life. He had problems with his stomach and then he couldn’t eat. He was so skinny and already sick.”
Like many in his world and in Avicii’s camp, Guetta was relieved when Avicii bowed out of touring in 2016 to take care of his health. But he also received mixed messages about his friend’s situation over the next two years. “There were cycles,” he says. “I remember a moment when he was super happy and going to the gym. But there were also super difficult moments.”
The weekend Avicii’s death was announced, Guetta was on tour in Las Vegas and played remixes of Avicii hits in his set that night. “Everyone was so sad,” he says. “We couldn’t believe it.”
As to his own theories about what happened that still mysterious day in Oman, Guetta pauses and ultimately begs off: “I don’t know more than what people said. I don’t know. Tim had a problem. We all knew there was a problem. I could see he wasn’t happy. So it’s not like it came out of nowhere. But it made me a little mad, to be honest, because it’s almost like you could see it coming. I didn’t think it was going to be to that extent. It just went too much in the dark side.”
In the aftermath of Avicii’s death, which he calls ”a wakeup call for our community,” Guetta cut back on his own touring; he now only plays about 100 shows a year, down from 180. He still hasn’t watched the documentary True Stories, made before Avicii’s death, which includes footage of an emaciated, worn-down Avicii grappling with his fame and workload; even now, Guetta is worried the film will scare him.
However, Guetta has just completed a track, “Before I Could Say Goodbye,” that he and Avicii began working on about a year before his suicide. Guetta says there were discussions about rush-releasing the song back then, but he felt comfortable doing so. “I didn’t want to look like I was taking advantage of him, so I decided not to put it out,” he says. “It was too much at that time.” But Guetta says he plans to unveil the track soon.
Looking back on Avicii’s impact and the way he embodied EDM’s crossover dreams of the last decade, Guetta recalls another important moment — the time Avicii told him he was going to play True songs at the 2013 Ultra festival with a live band aka dance music’s Dylan-at-Newport moment. “He told me, ‘David, I’m gonna do something really crazy and take a big risk, and I’m nervous about it,’” Guetta recalls. “At the time he was very criticized for this. But I thought that was very brave because it was such a statement. Sometimes the fans only want to hear one thing, but when you love music, you can appreciate any type of music. And he was someone who loved beautiful music.”