Avicii's headliner status at Red Rocks confirms his overnight success in the constantly shifting realm of Electronic Dance Music. Ranked sixth place in DJ Magazine's list of 2011's top spinners, Sweden's 22-year-old EDM sensation credits his meteoric rise to a sensibility that's as old school as it gets.
"In electronic music, there are not that many artists that actually make melodic music, because it's so drum-driven," he says. "I think what I've always been strong at is making melodies."
While most electronic dance music begins with the crafting of the beat, Avicii takes a different approach.
"I always just sit down at the piano and make the main hook — what I want the track to be about melodically — and then I'll build everything else around that," he explains. "Let's say I'm working with a vocal sample. I'll start out by putting the sample in my [software] program, then I'll just start playing over it with my piano, because I want to always make something new."
But Avicii is also savvy enough not to ignore EDM's signature elements: layers of in-your-face, predominantly synthetic hooks over insistently danceable beats that, in Avicii's case, can work just as well in an arena as they do in a club.
The artist formerly known as Tim Bergling — he adopted his stage name from the Buddhist term for the lowest level of hell — began making waves by leaking some of his house-styled tracks through blogs and other Internet outlets.
But the key event that put his career on fast-forward was getting signed by artist manager Ash Pournouri, whom he credits with engineering his rise to the top ranks in Electronic Dance Music over the course of the past two years.
"I'd say the biggest impact has definitely been his way of marketing Avicii as a brand," he says, "and the way he's kind of looked outside the box when it comes to not just being an EDM artist."
That two-year period has seen Avicii release a string of popular original tracks ("Manman," "My Feelings for You," "Seek Bromance" "Levels"), as well as remixes in collaboration with such top-tier names as Sebastien Drums, David Guetta, Tiesto and Robyn.
How big is Avicii now? In the spring, he headlined Miami's Ultra Music Festival, where he was introduced by Madonna, whose "Girls Gone Wild" he'd remixed. He's currently in the midst of an all-arena tour, which is virtually unheard of in the world of EDM. The stage show, which Avicii premiered at this year's Coachella Festival, finds him spinning and mixing tracks from atop a huge modernistic-looking head that dominates the stage.
"I don't even know where to start," Avicii says of the elaborate stage production. "It's something completely new that no one's been traveling with before. It's basically 3-D mapping that gives you almost like an IMAX experience. The content is so beautiful, and it really is mind blowing to see it being mapped on that huge head and on the screens on the side."
It's a level of visual spectacle that's increasingly necessary, he figures, if he's going to translate the party atmosphere of clubs into arenas, which can be faceless environments.
"If you're playing for 10,000 people," says Avicii, "you have to deliver the whole package."