Avicii’s passing this weekend hit me pretty hard, as far as celebrity deaths are concerned. After taking a few days to collect my thoughts, I hope I can express how much his music impacted me.
Before middle school, I mostly listened to the country music my parents liked, and didn’t explore music on my own. My first memories of pop music start in 2007 when Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” and Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love” were popular. Yeah, remember those? At that point, I mainly listened to what I heard on the radio, still rarely listening to albums on my own.
When I got my own desktop in middle school, I discovered the world of Spotify and Pandora, broadening my horizons a bit more. But I didn’t delve into EDM at the time. My first taste of it came when Avicii (real name Tim Bergling) and Aloe Blacc absolutely blew up with “Wake Me Up!” in 2013. It’s an infectious track that I grew to like over time, but I wasn’t a fan when it released. “Hey, Brother” came along shortly thereafter, and I almost discounted Avicii entirely. But then I heard “Levels” in 2014. November 25, 2014, to be exact, when Google Play offered the 2011 track as a free download. That’s when everything changed for me, musically.
Instantly, I was hooked. I had never heard music like it, and to this day, I still haven’t heard anything quite like it. All five-and-a-half minutes of that song are pure bliss, filled with buildups, drops and musical genius. I can think of a handful of similar EDM songs, but none of them evoke quite the same feeling as “Levels.” It is simply unique.
I blasted “Levels” in my car regularly for weeks, and it sparked me to go back and listen to the rest of Avicii’s music with new ears. I downloaded his debut album, True, and fell in love. His two hits that I previously found mediocre became two pieces of the beautiful puzzle that is “True.” The album is so diverse, from the country-pop “Wake Me Up!” to the bluegrassy “Hey, Brother,” to the Nile Rodgers-backed “Lay Me Down” and the dynamic closer, “Heart Upon My Sleeve.” The songs’ genres, by all means, should not flow smoothly on an album, but Avicii threads them together with his signature acoustic guitar and keys. From then, I could identify new Avicii songs long before seeing the name attached. His sound was tight and unmistakable.
Then Stories dropped in 2015 and was just as magical. I mean, the producer turned Zac Brown electronic and told Wyclef Jean’s story of growing up in Haiti on the same album. Again, the sounds were so diverse, but it worked. Few artists I listen to have that ability. “Pure Grinding” instantly became one of my favorite electronic tracks, and if we’re being honest, its inclusion in 2015’s Need For Speed was probably the only redeeming quality of that mess of a game.
So what did Avicii mean to me? Not only did I fall in love with his music, but Avicii introduced me to electronic music of various types, from EDM to trance, and so on. Electronic music has the ability to take listeners to places only accessible within our imaginations thanks to the sounds computers can create. Electronic music can take us to outer space (Daft Punk, “Contact”), to the depths of the ocean (Daft Punk, “Motherboard”, to fictional universes (Pixels, “Pure Imagination”) and everywhere in between in ways that no other type of music can. Listening to Avicii introduced me to Zedd, Daft Punk, Marshmello, Galantis, MitiS, Swedish House Mafia and so many others that I listen to regularly. Much of my music library exists thanks to Avicii.
It wasn’t until Avicii died that I realized just how much he stood out from that aforementioned list. His fusion of traditional instruments with computer-mediated production is something that, now that I stop and think about it, I have never heard from another artist with the same level of mastery. I guess The Chainsmokers do it a bit, but their fusion doesn’t compare to Avicii’s. It is no exaggeration to say that Avicii was an EDM pioneer and played a massive role in popularizing the genre in the USA.
At the end of the day, I owe a lot to Avicii, as far as my musical tastes are concerned. He introduced me to a new world of artists, ethereal sounds and concert experiences like no other. Honestly, no concert I’ve attended compares to the electrifying energy Zedd (one of Avicii’s peers) brought to Hong Kong last month.
People always have and will continue to say that electronic music requires little to no skill. While there are a million ways to debunk that statement, songs like Avicii’s speak for themselves. The way he fused electronic production and “standard” instruments from the ground up shattered genres and ideas of creating music. His influence cannot be overstated. If you only watch one of the videos in this article, watch the one below for “The Nights,” which is a fantastic example of how Avicii seamlessly blends the two realms. Plug in some headphones and listen closely to how he segues the acoustic guitar riff, harmonica and drum set directly into an electronic drumpad and synth for the chorus. It’s silky smooth and absolutely phenomenal. (Not to mention, the beautiful video encapsulates exactly how I feel about these past several months of travel.)
In short, the world lost a musical visionary this weekend, and I lost one of my favorite musicians. Avicii was on my bucket list of artists to see live, but he stopped touring in 2016, and I never had the chance. I hope that artists will take his inspiration and pick up where he left off, blending traditional and electronic music in new ways for years to come.
Rest in peace, Tim Bergling.