Writing and Photography by Bobby Talamine
Edited by Fiza Javid
No need to be skeptical anything with these guys: Axwell, Steve Angello and Sebastian Ingrosso- otherwise known as Swedish House Mafia.
Their set- elaborate as all get out, with the main focus not just on the these three top notch DJ's, but also on their giant ring hovering from above, making their stage and setup the definition of otherworldly.
The buildup to the full reveal, with the houselights down, the giant black curtain up- the mix of low end hiss and drones building up to the beats to "Can U Feel It"- makes your pulse pound, that's for sure.
So when the curtain drops, and you watch the entire main floor of the United Center instantly go manic- well you know from here on out that tonight you're gonna be in for a sweaty treat.
The setlist throughout, to make a point, consists of mashups, like a giant rave in an abandoned warehouse, last minute announcements on when and where kept secret to the last possible moment.
A word of mouth event, kept under wraps except for the sophisticated and in the know.
Swedish House Mafia have consistently kept this kind of mystique going on for years, relishing in all things underground to some extent, my belief in allowing more freedom to create and experiment without much outside influence to harm the bottom line.
Even with their headlining set at Coachella earlier this year, playing what looked like to a 100,000 people or thereabouts- even then, and coming out unscathed after that mega performance, they still hold that mystique of their brand of cool with not much fuss, and laying low.
Yes, they are one of the pioneers of house music, along with a taste of sorts in all things progressive, with a constant ear to the ground on backbeats within beats, with not much use for fanfare and extravagance and going over the top with nauseating fills of screeches followed by repeated blips, like some popular DJ's in the know.
As much as their sonic weave holds captivating sound structures, it's in their genes and sauce to present things loudly and defiantly, but with not much use of jagged stops and starts. They know how to meld songs together, keep the dance-floor moving, allowing occasionally for the subtle breaks, a moment to catch your breath, followed by more sweaty dancing as one on the main-floor (name your building).
Put it this way- they know how to read a crowd, they know how to read a room.
And the budget for such a production such as this- can't even begin to fathom that.
This is some serious EDM / Sci Fi level stuff- lighting mixed with angled staging, and prominent use of pyro mixed within a PA that leaves an indelible thump through your chest, whether you be in the mezzanine level, back of the house, or main floor.
My goal in this review with Swedish House Mafia is to cover this spectacle from all angles, including the specs of putting together a production such as this.
After editing down my photos for this review, spent most of the day after scouring the internet on anything whatsoever to guide me in the dealings and tech background on this overall production.
After a few hours of this- found nothing to help in the search.
Could be because the shows are just getting started, with a few sporadic dates already in the books since coming to Chicago- having only played in Miami, New York, Toronto and Montreal.
Would love to know the goings on in making such an elaborate production of this kind- and the overall design aesthetic.
For a music hound like me, it's well worth investigating such things, having seen countless shows over the years, and witnessing firsthand time and time again that when a band or artist puts a lot of thought into a satisfying production, such as what I just witnessed, it's well worth documenting and writing about the splendor of it all.
Keep in mind the Chicago crowd as well- when the doors opened for the show, about two hours before the opening act- it was sparse in and around the United Center.
Even the house photographer for the United Center, a guy I've known for years made a note of this- he said he was told to try and get some pictures of the GA main-floor crowd lined up along the south face outside of the United Center. He said he only counted ten people waiting in line before the doors opened.
As odd as that sounds- was nothing like that at all by the time Swedish House Mafia took to the stage- from my vantage point from back of the house- the United Center was packed, form 300 level down to main-floor.
So all the sophisticates in the know knew to arrive, but arrive when ready to arrive.
And as far as the setlist- again, the definition of a rave mashup- a rave mashup done for an outright party.
From their opener "Can U Feel It"- mashed with "It Gets Better / Greyhound", and followed with more "Can U Feel It", followed by their heavy hitter of a song "Miami 2 Ibiza", which was reworked and amped up for dancefloor approval, followed by "Can U Feel It" yet again, to keep the crowd amped up, and then a remix of "Sacrifice"- the whole night was like this with SHM, twists and turns working from a heavy duty catalog, reworked and reimagined for the 2020's and all things "HOUSE', all things "RAVE", some 28 songs in total, ending with the blast beats to "Don't You Worry Child / For You / Save the World" - which of course ended all things in style, with a true Swedish House Mafia mashup on top of a mashup.
This was a show with Swedish House Mafia flexing their muscles, establishing yet again their prominence and dominance in all things EDM Progressive House, a show that lets you know they know how to fill big rooms, and how to play to big rooms.
If anything, I'll close with this- Swedish House Mafia embraced a sprawling set, with a sprawling production, making the United Center look like one big gigantic house party, no angle left unattended with poor sight lines.
No matter where you were for this show- you felt invited and that you belong- not uninvited.
That says lots in my book- taking to heart the complexity of your production, and making it for inclusion, not exclusion.
Bobby Talamine - JBTV Music Television Chicago