Another mind-blowing year of Ultra Music Festival has come to an end, with two music-filled weekends of unprecedented Miami revelry in the books. Yet amongst the many exciting sets and worthwhile bits of news to come out of the festival, one particular story has dominated the EDM headlines the past few days: Avicii’s controversial set at Ultra’s Weekend 2. For those who didn’t view or listen to the set: approximately midway through Avicii’s standard lineup of house tracks, the set suddenly came to a planned halt. The sound system stopped pumping out tunes, and instead thousands of festival-goers were treated to an unusual medley of acoustic performances (featuring bluegrass artist Mac Davis, members of alternative rock band Incubus, and rapper Aloe Blacc), all of which were apparently snippets from Avicii’s upcoming album due out this summer.
Needless to say, this caused quite a stir in the EDM community, and amongst festival-goers and video streamers who thought they would be getting something quite different from the Swedish house icon. inthemix, the Australian dance music site, posted some of the best reactions from the DJ community (link), some of which accused Avicii of “jumping the EDM shark” and made fun of the “country music” that graced Ultra’s main stage. Now, Avicii himself has issued a response to the controversy through his Facebook:
“Wow looks like I stirred up some controversy with my set friday night at UMF. Seeing alot of people who dont understand. My full set wasn’t being streamed, only the last 40ish minutes with all new material from my album.
In a 75 minute set, I brought a 15 minute different breakdown with live musicians to a festival with nonstop dance music for 3 days straight 2 weeks in a row . I really wanted to switch things up and do something fun and different, as I always strive for, and this album is about experimentation and about showing the endless possibilities of house and electronic music. Its about how to incorporate acoustic instruments from different styles and influences you wouldnt expect and still stay true to your own sound and musicality which for me has always been about the melodies and positive energy. I will always produce music that I love and listen to. But my album is certainly not “country”, and people have gotten hung up on an instrument we used for the live cover of a song. Every song on the album is a fusion with house and electronic music.
We wanted to make a statement, and theres really no better place to make one than UMF mainstage. People will soon see what it’s all about.
My music is open to anyone who wants to listen to it and I will always stay true to my sound. Love you all who listen with open hearts and open minds. These past few months Ive been so lucky to have had the chance to work with so many talented artists and to bring them there when I launch the album was amazing and they all did an amazing job.
This was my first time performing with a band and I couldnt have asked for more a professional team, I really want to thank @MichaelEinziger and his fiancee, @vatoben and @JoseAPasillasII from Incubus, @Aloeblacc, legend @Mac Davis, @audramae and @dantyminskii for joining me on stage.”
Avicii expectedly defends his creative choices, saying that a lot of set viewers “didn’t understand,” and that “people will soon see what [this new sound] is all about.” Our take? Avicii is walking a tightrope by gambling that his name recognition can carry forth an experimental project in a music scene which, though we all love and appreciate, is still pretty young and underdeveloped. Whether such an unproven experiment can succeed in the global EDM arena remains to be seen, since for the most part producers are expected to have a consistent sound, and are known by the genre of the music they create.
In addition, the history of music in this country is full of artists who went in bizarre creative directions that were not well-received by the public. Bruce Springsteen dumped his famous “E Street Band” in the late 80s and significantly altered his sound. Kanye West’s 2008 album “808s and Heartbreak” featured none of his signature rapping, and was instead a mishmash of auto-tuned vocals. However, it’s important to note that the musical environment of this country (and worldwide) has surely changed over the past decade. Perhaps this new era of digitalized music and distribution has made these creative experiments easier, and more accessible to the public. Then again, perhaps Avicii is overestimating himself in embarking on this unprecedented creative journey and expecting the public to respond positively. Can the Swedish house magnate pull off what most people view as a strange and unexpected turn in his sound? Only time will tell.