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Steve Angello

There are only three people on this planet who know what it’s like to be part of perhaps the biggest DJ collaborative, and one of them is Steve Angello. Co-founder of Swedish House Mafia, record label owner, and most importantly an incredibly talented creative producer in his own right. The new single “ME” shows his pedigree as one of the best house DJs out there. With an energetic vocal and a truly euphoric, pulsing house beat, it’s sure to get a lot of airtime in 2024. 

Even though the song feels like it’s perfect for sweltering dance festival nights in summertime, we spoke to Steve in the midst of winter. Perhaps the track will manifest some sunshine and spring for us, including Steve himself. Turns out he’s not much of a wintery/cold climate person, despite having recently relocated back to Sweden from the much more agreeably warm LA. “With the cold, it’s not good for my energy. I need to drink a couple of extra coffees every morning,” he jokes. 

It’s not without reason, of course. Having been in the business since he was a teenager, now that he has two daughters, he wanted to offer them more stability. “I don’t want them to just sit in traffic all day. I want them to focus on going to school, and enjoy different seasons. I grew up without a family support system because I’ve always been touring – I was away. I want my kids to grow up and be like, here’s your cousins, your Grandma. Everybody’s here. It’s nice for them to have that kind of normal, grounded support.” 

Still, they’ve grown up accustomed to traveling a lot due to their father’s job. “They love what I do – they always watch when I livestream a show, and send me videos after. They come to the shows when they can. Now they’re eleven and thirteen, I am cooler to their friends though. But you’ll never be the cool parent with your own kids, you know? And that’s okay.” 

And while Steve contends that his music tastes are definitely better than his kids, he does always test his music out on them. “I spend 12 hours a day just consuming music, so of course I look at it differently. But whenever we’re driving, I’ll ask them – listen to this, what do you think? Because they’re in this TikTok generation and their span of interest is so short. It’s cool, they focus on other things. When they watch a stream, for example, they won’t necessarily listen to the music. They’ll go – oh, I saw this girl in the crowd, she had glitter. That was cool with the flags. They notice different things,” shrugs with a smile.

“If I feel something in the studio, I stick to it” 

It makes the new single “ME” somewhat of an odd duck, compared to other popular releases these days. At well over four minutes, the track does not lend itself to the short attention span reigning popular music and TikTok’s FYP. “I don’t want to approach music that way,” Steve tells me right away. “Everybody’s like – a song should be 2:54, the intro has to be this because of the Spotify click-through algorithm. I never set a framework or formula. I just make a song, and when I think it’s done, I’ll play it out a couple of times. Then I kind of make up my mind pretty fast. I’ve always been like that, ever since I was a kid. I make music to express something I want to express. It’s self-expressive.”

That’s not to say that execs and radio stations won’t ask for cuts or edits, but Steve will just tell them to do it themselves. “If a radio station wants to play it, they can cut it themselves. I make these songs to play in a club, at a big festival – different rooms. But not for radio.” It’s too on the nose, but there is a reason after all that the song is called “ME.” It’s got nothing to do with arrogance but with a real intuitive love for and intricate connection with music. It’s confidence, years of experience, and rightfully owned respect for his artistry. “It’s healthy for me to not think about everything outside. I always go back to one reference. I remember when MTV was really big, and Michael Jackson released Thriller. Everybody was doing four-minute videos, and he was like – mine’s thirteen. I always go back to that. If you’re an artist, you have to stay true to yourself. If I feel something in the studio, I stick to it. I felt that when I did it, so that’s what it is and will be. And then when I stand in front of 50,000 people this weekend, that’s the ultimate payoff.”  

It’s an interesting point, because “ME” was inspired not by the major shows, but by the smaller clubs. ‘An homage to the raw, unfiltered energy of S—A club set’, Steve calls it. “I love the big shows, don’t get me wrong. But there’s something in my spine – the club thing. Since I was a kid, I started DJing when I was 12, and started having shows when I was 15. From 15 up until now I’ve been a club rat, I spent my whole adult life in clubs,” he explains. It’s why he loves to find ways to plug club music in spaces where it’s maybe a little unexpected. As an example, he names his collaboration with Solomon last summer in Ibiza. “We come from different scenes but came together there and played until eight in the morning. It’s challenging because you want to do something spectacular when you’re in this place where you’re not supposed to be and do that. But that collision of styles, that’s the cool thing.” 

“I’ve never been mainstream, and I’ve never been too underground”

Steve is aware of his privileged position. His mega-success with Swedish House Mafia has earned him the right to pick and choose what he does. “That’s not something a lot of DJs and artists can do, they have to make sure their tour is financially sensible, routing, and so forth. The beauty of success is I can just select the things I really want to do. And so I love every single show.” 

He’s looking forward to 2024 and all the shows coming up, both as a collective with Swedish House Mafia, as well as his solo gigs. “I sort of plan around the big pillars that we’ve got booked with Swedish House Mafia. But we don’t do as many shows as I’m capable of doing. I can tour anytime a year, you know? I’ve having a genuinely really good time. When I come home, it’s beautiful and great to be home. But then I want to go out and tour again. I also think that where the music’s at, the dance scene is like, wide open. It’s perfect for me,” he adds with a smile. “I’ve never been mainstream, and I’ve never been too underground. I can have a lot of fun with it now just putting out tons of music.”

It goes back to his earlier comments about making the music that he wants to make. “There’s just no pressure. I’m gonna put out music that I like. I can put out records that would never work on a festival, but when I play it in a room for 400 people in an underground club, it’s gonna work there for me. You used to be put in a folder – you make this kind of music so stick to that. But now, it’s completely open. Some tracks I put out last year can be played by anyone and everybody. It can be Tiesto, and it can be Solomon or Peggy Gou. It’s so much more fun to just put out music that you feel for that certain second in the studio.” 

Maintaining that sense of excitement and joy whilst making music is really important to Steve. He emphasizes throughout our conversation that creating and producing does not feel like a job to him. And he recognizes how lucky he is to get to do what he loves, surrounded by people who he’s genuine friends with. For a lot of DJs and young solo artists, it can feel lonely. With Swedish House Mafia, co-formed with a childhood friend, Steve is very aware of the freedom it has given him. “Maintaining that mindset, that you have to remember the beauty of being so lucky, is so important. We’re one of the few that can do this for a living. On my own label, I sign a lot of young artists, and I try to be the support system that I didn’t have as a young kid. If they want to put out music, I’ll tell them they can come to me for feedback, whatever they need. It keeps you grounded, as well. These kids that are like 18 to 20 – I mean, they’re young guys coming up. They’re still kind of naïve, and I love that. You’re young, you have no worries. We have so much data in our heads, that it’s easy to get into the formula of things, but you have to reset that all the time. I’ll have to tell myself sometimes, ‘fuck it – you’re Steve Angello.’ I think you’ll achieve much more with that mindset, than being scared. If you believe in something that you created and you’re happy with it, learn how to filter the feedback,” he advises. “You have to stay true to yourself. Always.”   

“I have the luxury of having been successful.”  

It’s for that reason that he’s very selective about his own collaborations. Steve hardly ever does remixes, and when he does – it’s usually the ones he’s asked himself, not the other way around. “I pass on a lot of opportunities. But I don’t want to regret anything, either. You know, I don’t want to make something for a quick buck when in reality I’d sit in a studio and cry.”

Again, he makes sure to emphasize that he knows how blessed he is to be in a position where he can afford to say no. “I love it when people stir up debate about whether money makes you happy. Because yes, it will make you a lot happier if you make money. There’s a lot of worry that comes with everyday struggles – like inflation, food, and clothes. There’s all these normal things that could suck that don’t suck, you know? So we’re blessed. And then people will go, ‘but I’ve met poor people that are living off the street, and they’re really happy’. And I’m like, yeah for a second, but then it’s dinnertime. It’s a nightmare, you know? I work with a lot of charities, and I’ve done a lot of helping kids go through school or even build school programs. So I’ve seen poverty, and I have the luxury of having been successful. I thank everyone for that every single day.”

“From the heart, not from paper” 

Having a similar mindset and approach to creating together is therefore really important to him and by extension Swedish House Mafia. “We always start with a conversation, never in the studio. We never go, ‘This is the song, here’s the top line, this is the process’. It doesn’t work like that for us. We always hang out for one to three days first. We’ll share some music ideas and stories, and ask what they grew up listening to. There’s a whole bonding thing to making music. Only after that, we’ll be like, okay, let’s see what we got. It’s more from the heart than from paper.” 

Making music also makes you vulnerable as an artist. Steve likens it to a “long psychological rollercoaster”. Every album tells its own story, but in order to get to that story, he breaks himself down first. Add to that a world that’s filled with conflict, when music is meant to unite, and Steve finds himself having to take multiple days to refocus. “The world means everything to us. We speak the music language, race or color, religion or geography it doesn’t matter to us. Being able to play for everybody, putting smiles on people’s faces – that’s what we hope to do. So of course it affects us. You’re kind of a sponge of news and social media, it affects what kind of story you want to tell yourself.”

“I can’t just make music – I need mood boards” 

He confesses he’s currently about five months into the process of a new album, trying to find the right story to tell, with the right concepts to match. “It always starts with me with like, something visual, which I’ll then start building a sonic world around,” Steve starts, before immediately launching into an example. “I saw a keyboard the other day that was transparent. You saw the cables and all, it was built out of plexiglass or plastic I suppose. But it was transparent, so then I started thinking about transparency, and my brain just took off. I started thinking about transparent vinyl players, and then what’s the most transparent form of music? Raw cuts, no processing, essentially. So now I have these building blocks, that’ll go in a concept PDF file. And then I’ll start another one, and another one. I’ll build all these little worlds, and then in a couple of months, I’ll go – yes, I’m feeling like this now. And then I probably set aside three months, and then I just go in and make the album.”

It means that Steve currently has thousands of names and albums and songs and ideas stored somewhere, with only a few of them probably making it into a real concept. He’s a visual thinker, he shares. “My Pinterest is a mess. I need to do mood boards. I have big mood boards that I’m gonna soundscape. I have to start that way – I can’t just make music and come up with it on the spot. It doesn’t connect with me like that. I have to already have a concept before going to the studio.”

The best feedback for new tracks, however, will always come from playing live shows, which he’s extremely looking forward to. He’ll be returning to Brazil in February and is headed to Coachella later this year. “I played Tomorrowland in Brazil just a few months ago, and I can tell the difference straightaway from say, Tomorrowland in Belgium,” he tells me. “Crowd-wise, in Brazil they appreciate more of the transitions, whereas in Belgium it was more about the song. I love reading the crowd and going to different places. America is different from Europe, and England is different from Holland. I tend to play more things that they might recognize from their own upbringings, it’s fun.” 

“Never do things you’ll regret” 

It’s why he really struggled with the pandemic. “You know, when we did Swedish House Mafia, we fell into things. It was the process of playing a club with 30 people, then 300, then 3000. We never chose to become the big stars we became, and it was difficult to adapt. We wanted to just have fun in the studio, but all of a sudden we needed to sell 10 million singles and there was this weird pressure. So then we quit. And when we chose to come back, we chose to come back,” he starts off. “We knew what the playing ground was, said we’d never do anything we didn’t want to do, and agreed to just have fun in the studio, fuck around and make music. Whatever happens, happens. That was our framework, and we set those rules, and it was beautiful. All of a sudden, during the pandemic, that sense of freedom was completely taken away. So it’s made me so much more appreciative to cherish the joy, and to never do things you’ll regret.”

His advice for other up-and-coming talent out there? “Surround yourself with like-minded people who believe in you. Whether it’s a graphic designer, a video director, a photographer. Find your people, and then just go for it. There’s a big world out there, and whatever business you’re in, you’ll have the most fun trying to take over the world and conquer it together with friends. Trust me, I know.” 

Listen to new single “ME” below: