Swedish House Mafia – Live In Birmingham – October 2022
One day in the summer of 2010, I was living my little life before I went to secondary school. I was listening to my bop of the moment: NOW That’s What I Call Music 76, and while I was innocently listening to Disc Two on my Mum’s stereo, I heard a song called One (Your Name) by a little musical trio called Swedish House Mafia, with the track featuring the musical prodigy that is Pharrell Williams. This was the best song I had ever heard at 11 years old, and for the last 12 years, Swedish House Mafia has been consistently on my playlists. I’ve been raving about them, and I used to rave to their music in my bedroom (I apologise profusely to my Mum for nearly tearing a hole in our dining room ceiling doing so!).
Made up of Axwell, Steve Angello and Sabastian Ingrosso, each has produced multiple iconic tracks that have taken over dancefloors around the world. Collectively, they’re typhoons of the electronic dance music scene, and they’ve been at the top of my artist bucket list for many many years. Tonight, they finish the UK leg of their tour at Utilita Arena, Birmingham (which was quite possibly their final ever UK show), and it’s fair to say that I’m pretty excited. I wasn’t a fan of their 2022 comeback album, Paradise Again as I felt the vibe they were going for fell flat on its face, which is my main worry going into tonight’s show. Having said that, I expect them to go big on the staging, lighting, pyro and everything else. I know they can bring the vibe, but can they make it last through a 90-minute set? We’ll see…
There’s so much to talk about here, and the first thing to mention is that the stage design was insane. The DJ decks where Axwell, Angello and Ingrosso were was right at the very heart of the stage, immersed in smoke effects on the floor and all around them. This smoke, a constant throughout the show, made the atmosphere even more special, as if the audience was about to quite literally escape reality for a couple of hours, and even connoted the supergroup as gods, in which they are… of the electronica scene at least. Above the trio was a circle that resembled the band’s recent album cover, Paradise Again, which was a great touch of decoration to the stage, but there was also a circular lighting beam, which was the real highlight of the show, not only did it work on its own, but it also collaborated with the circular structure to produce some insane lighting effects I have never seen done before, alongside some strobing that was some of the most effective I’ve ever seen at a live show. Both rigs moved around throughout the performance depending on the track and the type of music that was being played (eg. dark house, EDM, slower-sounding electronica etc.), which made the stage even stronger in execution. The lighting rig in the crowd worked wonderfully to make the crowd feel immersed in the show (especially the standing section, filled with ravers, some of whom were probably on ketamine throughout the show’s duration) while at the same time, not being at all distracting from the main stage, besides for Redlight in which there was quite literally a red laserlight taking up about half the arena.
Another thing about the staging which very much surprised me was that there was no projection or screens during the show, it was purely lights and pyro, and this I believe was a courageous choice and one that I fully approve of. I’ve never been a big fan of projections or screens in shows as I think they can take you out of the show and add more of a distraction than anything else, and I more than expected these to be used tonight, but I was wrong. And the final result was… brilliant. The setup of the stage, the lights and everything else worked incredibly well on their own, and adding the use of projections would have been overstimulating and would have reduced the effect of the rest of the lighting as well as the overall set.
I was only planning on touching briefly on pyrotechnics, but because there were so many, I have to take a full section to speak about them. I have a sheer hatred for pyro, as I’m autistic and very jumpy and can become triggered by them, but I know that if used right, pyro can be a sensational effect to have at a live event, and my God if anyone could use pyrotechnics right, it’s Swedish House Mafia. Pyro was used for approximately half of the 30-track setlist, and almost every single one was used phenomenally. The only time I don’t think it did was during the final 30 seconds of Frankenstein in which as well as fire effects being present on stage, there was also some very loud and sudden pyro that very much took over the stage when the flames worked perfectly on their own for that particular track, but with the mood of the track, a dark electronica infused hip-hop song featuring the vocals of US rapper A$AP Rocky, I couldn’t argue with it. But what was really impressive was their use of fire and mine effects (indoor fireworks) that were being set off from the sides of the stage horizontally, which added even more wow factor to Swedish House Mafia’s sensational set, as well as the full-scale indoor firework display for their finale of Don’t You Worry Child.
Moving onto the performance of the trio themselves, and as a first for me, I had to look at mixing ability instead of vocals, and they killed it. Every single transition sounded fluid and was completely flawless, but their stage presence wasn’t quite there as it would be for other artists, but on this occasion, I’m not going to take away any points for that as DJ’s aren’t the type to do backflips on stage and have a personal connection with the crowd, they let the music do the talking, and that’s exactly what they did tonight. They performed with such passion, speaking to the audience on occasion too, and you can tell that their hearts were in it.
Finally, let’s move onto the setlist, and oh boy, it was a corker. 37 songs were mixed into 30 tracks, and the show had everything. From the best of the trio’s new album, such as Don’t Go Mad to including vocal snippets of popular songs such as The Temper Trap’s Sweet Disposition mixed into their more famous songs. I couldn’t even sit down to rest and write my notes because they were playing banger after banger after banger! But the real highlight for me was when they were performing songs from the Until Now era (2012), which was when I was at the pinnacle of listening to the trio, and they played three of my favourite songs by them, Reload, Leave The World Behind and In My Mind back to back. I got very emotional watching this, as someone who played these songs on repeat for the last ten years, who put them into their radio DJ sets when they were 14 years old and as someone who at that time of their life when Until Now was released was going through hell and back, to hear those songs in oneself really touched a personal nerve for me, and it got me very emotional, I even shed a tear or two.
Overall, Swedish House Mafia pulled it off. They provided some groundbreaking special effects, curated a perfect setlist, performed with such heart and passion and had the whole 15,000-capacity Birmingham crowd at the palm of their hand for the entire duration. Axwell said during the closing moments of the show that tonight may be their final ever UK show, and if it is, then they have well and truly gone out on a high. At a time when dance music is more prominent than ever in this country, with tracks such as Eliza Rose’s B.O.T.A. (Baddest Of Them All) and LF System’s Afraid To Feel dominating the charts, this was the perfect and most exciting time to see Swedish House Mafia, it’s as though they were passing on the batten to the next generation of DJs and music producers. It was a pleasure to review this show and a pleasure to travel down to see these musical legends perform at their prime, and if this really is their last show in the UK, 15,000 people will be able to say they experienced it, and they killed it.
- Can U Feel It?
- It Gets Better
- Miami 2 Ibiza
- We Come, We Rave, We Love
- Tell Me Why
- Lifetime / Show Me Love
- Calling (Lose My Mind) / Smalltown Boy
- More Than You Know
- Teasing Mr. Charlie
- Dream Bigger / Sweat
- One (Your Name)
- Don’t Go Mad
- For Sale / Jack U
- Rave n’ Roll
- Leave The World Behind
- Love Inc / In My Mind
- Turn On The Lights Again
- Moth To A Flame
- Heaven Takes You Home
- Graveyard / Sweet Disposition
- Don’t You Worry Child / For You / Save The World