Some DJs build their sound and sets around anthems – that distinct vocal line or synth melody anyone can hum and have it immediately recognized. Others are symphonic. Sounds, from soaring synths to thudding deep bass, saturate the venue’s air, vibrating the walls and pulsating through every individual. Avicii, the young Swedish DJ behind this year’s mega hit “Levels,” falls into the latter, and his September 26 Radio City Music Hall performance cements his status as a powerhouse DJ.
The producer born Tim Bergling didn’t just craft a memorable show this past Wednesday – he broke a record for the genre. No DJ, until this week, performed in Radio City Music Hall, and perhaps, until now, this was done in good reason. The shell-shaped interior provides the perfect reverberation for a bass beat, but the concert hall setup essentially acts as a barrier against dancing. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop nearly everyone from moving to the beat.
Opener Matt Goldman, starting right at 8 p.m., set the tone. A strong 4/4 beat, with synth melodies intertwining, stated to the audience filtering in: This is house – not pop house, not dub-house , but classic house, with a consistent beat and synths, samples, and loops organically shifting from one theme to the other. Harking back to a pre-mainstream EDM time, the opener not once resorted to throwing in and remixing a hit.
Avicii, on the other hand, has built – or, more precisely, saw his fledgling career soar – as the result of a handful of hits. As much as long-standing DJs cry “Originality!” with a set, Bergling has a crowd to consider. But, as he demonstrated at Radio City Music Hall and in previous performances, hits are not technique restricting, and by altering his recognizable tracks, Bergling shows that he’s both a producer and a DJ in tune with this audience.
“Penguin” – the instrumental precursor to last year’s “Fade into Darkness” – opened with expansive string chords, quickly segueing into a vocal mashup. During the first half, Avicii touched on nearly all of his familiar tracks, switching from his recent collaboration with Mike Posner to “Seek Bromance,” “Silhouettes,” and “My Feelings For You.” Not being one to just press play, Bergling, in mixing his tracks, gives all greater depth, showing that, in spite of his good-natured, uplifting melodies, he has a darker side. The bass was turned up significantly, while melodies flitted between the light tininess of Tangerine Dream and the swinging groove of disco.
The second half of Avicii’s set took a darker, more improvisational turn – he’d run through most of his hits, so what was left? During this half, Bergling resorted to more traditional DJing, triggering samples and experimenting with beats much like his opening act. Retaining that symphonic quality, he shifted from darker cello samples to series of buildups and bass drops. Melodies were lingered upon or transformed into remixes of Swedish House Mafia’s “Don’t You Worry Child” and “Antidote.” Bergling frequently cites the house trio as his influences, but when it comes to putting on a performance, he gives their somewhat banal tunes an edgier sound, with fuller bass and a secondary synth line. Continuing to offer his take on the latest hits, he gave David Guetta’s latest Sia-featuring tune “She Wolf” a similar treatment. Guetta should take note.
Can Avicii perform in Radio City Music Hall and not do “Levels”? With just 10 minutes remaining, the familiar synth line and sampled Etta James vocals emerged after a long, chromatic build.
Perhaps setting a precedent for other performers, Bergling closed with what appeared to be an encore. But, rather than a lackluster play through of a familiar track, he played two brief, bass-heavy instrumental tracks. A hint of greater things to come? Aside from the historical significance in EDM, his Radio City Music Hall performance indicates that Bergling has an excellent career ahead – one that hopefully won’t be overshadowed by too many collaborations.