Avicii death: Electronic dance music DJ whose meteoric rise forced him to retire aged 26

His ascent was as fast-paced as the pounding music that he took across the world, making thousands dance in one city after another

Lily Fletcher
Friday 27 April 2018 11:14
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Swedish DJ Avicii dies aged twenty-eight

Superstar DJ and twice Grammy-nominated electronic dance music (EDM) producer Tim Bergling, better known as Avicii, spent much of his career packing out the world’s largest arenas, earning eye-watering fees of an estimated $250,000 per show and recording with some of the biggest names in music, including Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Madonna and Nile Rodgers.

However, on Friday 20 April at the age of 28, Avicii was found dead at a hotel in Muscat, Oman. His cause of death is yet to be announced, but two post-mortem examinations have been conducted and police are not treating it with criminal suspicion.

Bergling was born in Stockholm, Sweden to Klas Bergling and Anki Liden, a successful actress appeared in more than 50 films and television shows. As a creative, teenage autodidact, Bergling began making music on his computer in his bedroom. He chose the moniker Avicii because it sounded cool – his real name was already taken when he set up his MySpace account.

(He later learned that the Sanskrit term avici denotes the lowest level of the hell realm in Buddhism, where those who have committed the gravest misdeeds are reborn.)

In Avicii: True Stories, a documentary film released last year, he expressed concern about the impact touring was having on his life. The film, which has been taken down by Netflix, highlighted the exacting expectations of his former producer Arash “Ash” Pournouri.

Bergling said: “I have told them this: ‘I won’t be able to play anymore. I have said, like, I’m going to die. I have said it so many times. And so I don’t want to hear that I should entertain the thought of doing another gig.”

The pair met in 2007 when he was 17. Pournouri, who was 26, had noticed his tracks on DJ and record label founder Laidback Luke’s online forum. He then duly signed to the Dejfitts Plays. Pournouri promised to make him bigger than the biggest DJ he could name.

The pair set to work and Bergling began receiving offers to do remixes for world-renowned EDM producers such as Roger Sanchez, Tiësto and David Guetta. He was billed at dance music festivals around the world.

He achieved his first breakthrough single in 2010 with “Seek Bromance”, which reached the top 20 in several countries across Europe. His next smash hit was “Levels” (2011), a combination of synths with a sample of Etta James’s billowing vocals from her 1962 song “Something’s Got a Hold on Me”.

In 2013, Bergling released the world’s first crowd-sourced song “X You”, which he created by combining his fans’ submissions of melodies, basslines, rhythms and vocals. The same year he released “Wake Me Up” (2013), in which he made the unlikely move of infusing his sound with acoustic country-folk influences.

Avicii performing at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival in Utah

Bergling expected this to be a controversial move, and he was right. The track was initially booed when he premiered it at an EDM festival in Miami, but it eventually won over audiences and reached number 1 in more than 40 countries. Today, five years after its release, the music video for “Wake Me Up” has received 1.5 billion streams, placing it among YouTube’s all-time top 40.

The relatively recent term EDM is predominantly used in the US as a catch-all expression for electronic music, but its more specific use is to denote the euphoric, mainstream, accessible, pop-y subgenre of dance music, of which Avicii is the ultimate master. And his timing on the scene could not have been more perfect, as the genre was exploding. “House music and dance music really had such a rise at the same time I had my rise,” Bergling explained.

But despite commercial success and global fame, Bergling was a shy and reserved individual, described by entrepreneur and nightclub owner Jesse Waits as innocent, naïve, and really genuine” – he did not relish the limelight.

In 2014, Bergling made number 3 on Forbes’s “Electronic Cash Kings” list of the highest-earning DJs – his worth put at $28m – but his hectic lifestyle travelling the globe performing every night came at a price.

In 2014, while on tour in Australia, he was admitted to hospital for stomach pains. He had both his gallbladder and appendix removed, and was diagnosed with pancreatitis caused by excessive drinking. “In the beginning, I was too afraid to drink because I didn’t want to screw up,” he said.

“But then I realised how stiff I was when I wasn’t drinking, so then found the magical cure of just having, like, a couple of drinks before going on ... that’s what kind of helped me be able to do all those shows without feeling completely exhausted.”

In 2016, his health deteriorated further when he was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis. Bergling says, “It’s the worst stomach cramp you can imagine, pretty much. It feels like someone’s stabbing you ... in the stomach and the back simultaneously.”

He played his final show at 2016’s Ultra Music Festival in Miami, then retired from touring altogether, telling fans that stress and anxiety were taking their toll.

In a 2016 interview with Billboard after his retirement, Bergling’s friend Laidback Luke said that after seeing him playing a show in Ibiza in 2015, “I envisioned my friend, now 26, joining the infamous ‘27 club’ of music and film stars who died at that age. It sounds horrible, but it’s the truth.”

Bergling is survived by his parents, his sister Linda and his brothers Anton and David.

He leaves a rich legacy, and will be remembered as an industrious and truly modern musical innovator. “One day you’ll leave this world behind. So live a life you will remember,” ring out the vocals in his 2014 single, “The Nights”.

Fellow artists including Madonna, Calvin Harris and Deadmau5 have taken to social media to pay their respects to the DJ. “Devastating news about Avicii, a beautiful soul, passionate and extremely talented with so much more to do. My heart goes out to his family. God bless you Tim x,” Calvin Harris tweeted.

Thousands gathered to pay tribute to Bergling in his native Stockholm the day after his death, dancing and holding their hands up in the shape of hearts as Avicii’s music filled the area. In one touching scene, bell ringers at a church in Utrecht, Netherlands played “Wake Me Up”, “Without You” and “Hey Brother”, which echoed around the city.

Tim Bergling aka Avicii, electronic dance music DJ, born on 8 September 1989, died 20 April 2018

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