“So wake me up when it’s all over…” —Wake Me Up, Avicii, 2013
Two years ago today, the world lost a legend. Do you remember where you were on April 20, 2018, when you heard that Avicii died? I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it. It was a Friday afternoon in New York, half a world away from Oman where he left us at the young age of 28. I managed to keep my composure at the office and that night, still in shock, I went to a club because I didn’t know what else to do. The DJ played ‘Wake Me Up’ and ‘Levels.’ Everyone shared a moment of silence and sorrow over the musical genius gone too soon.
I went home early and laid in bed watching Avicii music videos on my phone. ‘Seek Bromance’ … ‘Silhouettes’ … ‘Hey Brother’ … ‘Fade Into Darkness’ … until I broke down. It finally hit me. Tim Bergling was gone.
“This world can seem cold and grey, But you and I are here today, And we won’t fade into darkness…” —Fade Into Darkness, 2011
Today, two years since Tim’s passing, have fans found closure? I’m not sure I have completely—or if I ever will. But I’m steps closer, thanks to the generous efforts of his family and friends to share and commemorate his legacy.
My Introduction to Avicii
Avicii changed my life, and as cliché as that may sound, I know fellow fans understand. Just before Avicii’s breakthrough to what would be a meteoric rise to stardom, I was going through some of my darkest days: overcoming the loss of a loved one, failed relationships, self-doubt about pursuing my passion amid the recession. Nights out were about escaping my problems and I avoided house music because it just sounded like “untz untz untz” to me.
Then my friends introduced me to a song called ‘Bromance’ by Tim Berg, Avicii’s early name. Though instrumental and the precursor to lyrical ‘Seek Bromance,’ it captivated me with its unique melody. After that, I heard Avicii’s remixes of Daft Punk’s ‘Derezzed’ and Armin van Buuren’s ‘Drowning.’ I got hooked.
“Oh, sometimes, I get a good feeling…” —Levels, Avicii, 2011
I counted on Avicii’s melodies to lift my spirits whenever I was feeling low. Not only that, he was the producer-DJ who introduced me to the good vibes of the dance music community. Suddenly, it didn’t matter if I was with my closest friends or complete strangers—dance music made me happy.
Avicii debuted ‘Levels’ with Etta James‘s “Oh, sometimes I get a good feeling” vocals at Ultra Music Festival Miami in March 2011. The crowd went wild. It would become the defining EDM anthem of the decade.
I saw Avicii perform for the first time at Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas in 2011 and experienced the magic of hearing ‘Levels’ and ‘Fade Into Darkness’ live. By March 2012, Avicii had earned an introduction at Ultra by Madonna, who called him “amazing.”
A month later, Avicii blew me away at Coachella, DJing on top of a giant head. Immediately after, he embarked on his Levels Tour, the first all-arena tour for any EDM artist in the U.S. He took the production up a notch with the forehead disengaging from the skull so that he flew over the crowd while DJing, as if on a spaceship.
“There’s an endless road to rediscover…” —Hey Brother, Avicii, 2013
The world had fallen in love with Avicii’s signature sound, but at Ultra 2013, he threw us for a loop. Rather than premiering another ‘Levels’-like epic hands-in-the-air track, he brought a band on stage for live performances of songs from his upcoming album. They included ‘Wake Me Up’ with Aloe Blacc, an unlikely blend of country and EDM that fans were not receptive to. Many stopped dancing.
The sound turned out to be too advanced for the crowd at that moment. Avicii explained that the album was “about experimentation and about showing the endless possibilities of house and electronic music.”
“Its about how to incorporate acoustic instruments from different styles and influences you wouldnt expect and still stay true to your own sound and musicality which for me has always been about the melodies and positive energy,” Avicii wrote on Facebook on March 25, 2013.
‘Wake Me Up’ went on to become the highest-charting dance music track of the decade. That and similarly styled ‘Hey Brother,’ my favorite from the True album, pushed the appeal of dance music into the mainstream, setting it up for an unprecedented level of success.
“One day you’ll leave this world behind, So live a life you will remember…” —The Nights, Avicii, 2014
As Avicii played hundreds of gigs across the globe each year, I expanded my horizons too, as a fan. I opened up to different genres of dance music and experiences, traveling out of my state and country for events. In fall 2014, I was sad to hear he had ongoing health issues and decided to cancel his forthcoming shows. I caught Avicii at Tomorrowland in 2015, a journey I promised myself I would make at least once in my lifetime.
Several months later, he postponed the remainder of his shows for the year. In March 2016, Avicii announced he would retire from touring indefinitely. Devastated, I looked up flights for his final shows scheduled in August 2016 in Europe. When my friends bailed, I was faced with going alone or not at all, and decided on the latter. I figured I would catch one of his remaining performances stateside at his Las Vegas residency. Unbeknownst to me, they would be canceled. My only consolation for not booking a flight was the hope that Avicii would one day tour again.
“I’m going Bonnie and Clyde without you…” —Without You, Avicii, 2017
In his retirement note to fans, Avicii wrote he would “never let go of music—I will continue to speak to my fans through it.” Sure enough in summer 2017, he released his fourth EP, Avici (01), with the lead single, ‘Without You.’ It was an instant hit and though the dance music scene was without him playing as a headliner, the song made its rounds at events through other DJs. No one at the time foresaw the meaning the lyrics would take on eight months later when Avicii departed.
On April 20 two years ago, I couldn’t help but think back to a few weeks prior at Ultra 2018, when I had a glimmer of hope that the surprise closing act could be Avicii making a comeback. I remembered being disappointed that it was instead, as rumored, Swedish House Mafia.
After the festival, I went to an after-party in downtown Miami’s Entertainment District and as I was leaving at 3:30 a.m., something on the sidewalk caught my eye. It was stamp art of Avicii’s Stories album with the October 2, 2015, release date, just like the one he posted on Instagram days before his last show. It made my night. I could not believe we would no longer be able to look forward to more of his brilliant tracks.
“You must have saved me ’bout a thousand times, I wouldn’t be the one I am today, If you hadn’t been a friend of mine…” —Friend Of Mine, Avicii, 2017
I never got to meet Tim, and after watching his documentary Avicii: True Stories seeking closure, I realized that my love for his music blinded me from really understanding him. It was clear from the documentary the physical and mental toll that performing had on him, and that he was never going to tour again. I felt bad for having wished he would.
“Can you hear me? S.O.S. Help me put my mind to rest…” —SOS, Avicii, 2019
On the one-year anniversary of his passing, I still felt a void. I was so happy that people close to Avicii were finishing the album he had almost completed, with familiar voices like Aloe Blacc on ‘SOS.’ “So heartbroken ‘Tim’ is your last album but your songs will get us through as always,” I wrote on Avicii’s memory board on the release date last June.
“We burn faster than light…” —We Burn, Avicii, unreleased
One of my favorite unreleased tracks, ‘Heaven,’ came out on Tim. The rest were songs he had not teased before. Avicii left behind dozens, perhaps hundreds, of tracks that never saw the light of day and many fans, myself included, have a desire for them. ‘We Burn’ and ‘Our Love’ featuring Sandro Cavazza and ‘Stay With You’ featuring Mike Posner, are just a few.
Like his posthumous album, though, we could be getting tunes that have not reached their full potential, by Avicii’s standards. While seeking solace in a familiar sound, we should respect and accept the wishes of his friends and family, who suffered a greater loss than any of us can imagine.
“Yeah you come to raise me up, When I’m beaten and broken up…” —Heaven, Avicii, 2019
When Avicii’s family announced they would be holding a tribute concert for Tim in his hometown of Stockholm, fulfilling his dream of having his songs performed by a 30-piece live band and the original vocalists, I was determined not to miss it for the world. I didn’t care if it meant traveling alone. This time, it was quite the opposite. Two friends stayed up with me until 4 a.m. ET and 1 a.m. PT to secure tickets.
Last December, with an Avicii sweatshirt I designed with “Live a life you will remember” from ‘The Nights,’ I made my way to Sweden. I stayed at a hostel, figuring I could vibe with a bunch of Avicii fans, and sure enough there were devotees from Norway, Dubai, Taiwan. Decked out in Avicii gear, we pre-gamed and caravanned together to Friends Arena.
I’m never sad at dance music shows—they’re my happiest place. But I got teary-eyed at so many moments of the tribute concert. It was the most emotional show I’ve ever been to, shared with more than 60,000 fellow fans from around the world. DJs dropped unreleased collaborations with Avicii, every live song was heartfelt, and the ‘Levels’ finale with indoor fireworks was euphoric.
Perhaps the way to get as close to closure as we can is to continue having tribute concerts, in different cities around the world. I know I’m not alone in saying that Avicii’s music has the power to lift you up from the lowest of lows—and that is how he continues to speak to us.