When I was 16, I thought EDM was the greatest genre on earth. It might be embarrassing to admit to that now, aged 23, but it’s not hard to see why a whole generation of young millennials bought into the genre's vacuous beauty in the first place; there was something quite unifying about it. One spin of “Levels,” a frankly iconic entry in the EDM songbook by Swedish producer Avicii, could transform any wrecked underage festival crowd or a dismal high school house party into a slurring, memorable celebration of a screeching synth and four-to-the-floor beat. Somehow, the once ubiquitous 28-year-old megastar created a formula for sonic euphoria and canned it, cracking it open at every live performance to send crowds of thousands wild.
But when the news of his death broke on Friday evening, it felt like the first time any of us had mentioned the producer’s name in years. Granted, he'd retired from playing live in 2016, due to health issues reportedly linked to his alcohol intake on the road. By the mid-2010s, lots of listeners had agreed to leave EDM in the past. To music snobs, songs like Avicii’s had become the butt of every pop joke as they watched the genre escape from the nightclubs of Ibiza and permeate the mainstream. It was a strange, if still remarkable thing to witness: by then, we’d replaced sing-along choruses on the charts with behemoth instrumental breakdowns (something that pop stars are still doing to this day). Teenagers were saving up their pocket money to see Tiesto and a bunch of other nondescript white men tear up Creamfields or Electric Daisy Carnival. Dance music festivals overall became havens for fresh-outta-sixth-form kids. Like his stuff or not, you can’t deny that Avicii fuelled some of that temporary madness.
Right now, a middle-aged music journalist is piecing together a print obituary laden with Avicii’s dazzling chart statistics (11 singles charting in the UK Top 5) and impressive slots at major music festivals – the most obvious markers of this man's success. Arguably though, the DJ’s more valuable moments are less measurable. It’s the halcyon memories he made for those once-teenage fans, now older, who associate listening to his tracks with their first house party, or memories of sipping painstripper vodka poolside at Mallorca Rocks. It's a tainted glory, for sure, but Avicii’s unambiguous music rarely won him an arselicking from music critics anyway. Instead, this rare and singular legacy feels like one Avicii would have been proud of. For all of EDM’s awful qualities – the way a solid 87 percent sound it exactly the same, and it treated pop songwriting like mere meaningless words designed to be yelled (read: slaughtered by drunk people) over beats – there’s no denying this guy’s work was the tacky glue that held our generation’s messy life experiences together.
So rather than critique a genre most writers berated anyway, I asked some of the people who embraced EDM’s brilliance to offer up their sweet experiences of it. Here are six once die-hard Avicii fans most potent memories of the DJ – first kisses, Sourz shots and all.
“I’d just snuck into an over-18s club for the first time”
Honestly, it’s mad how everyone in London is like, ‘WHO’S THAT?’ about Avicii and I’m like, ‘Fuck me, did you not get wankered off one can to his music in some horrible car park?’. I turned on Avicii as soon as I heard he had he passed away and “Wake Me Up” took me back to a happier time and place. I had just snuck into an over-18s club for the first time and was feeling woozy off two shots of Apple Sourz. He was an icon of his time – [the kind that] high culture doesn’t typically appreciate. So many people have had their first shot, or first kiss, or first pill to his music. In 40 years' time, his songs will make us feel young again. They’re a great gift for him to have left behind.
– Andi Buchanan, 21
“Hearing ‘Levels’ takes me back to my first attempts at rolling a joint”
When I was about 15. I had just started drinking, so I was, like, intensely into everything I even remotely liked. Avicii was the soundtrack to some of the best nights of my life at the time, I definitely considered myself a fan back then. Hearing “Levels” takes me back to my first attempts at rolling a joint and sharing it with my friends; to us all chugging from a vodka bottle without a care in the world. But because of that, it also reminds me of the first ‘deep’ conversations I’d have with friends that I don’t really speak to anymore. These parties felt like the first time we could all be independent and say exactly what was on our minds: talking about the future, our problems, our parents. If I could say something to him now, I’d thank him for being the soundtrack to some of my most important life experiences. He was a really talented dude.
– Erin Byrne, 20
“I’d just got a bum tattoo in Magaluf when I heard that “oooh sometiiiimes” Etta James sample on ‘Levels’”
I first heard Avicii’s music I was 18 in Magaluf – it was my first holiday away from my mam. I ended up drunk after downing voddies and apple soors (sourz), and then ate a hundred chicken nuggets for a dare. I’d just got an arse tattoo, was staying in Mallorca Rocks, and was hanging by the pool feeling severely dehydrated. Then, I heard that ‘Ooooh sometiiiiiimes’ [the Etta James sample that, besides the famous drop, keenly defines “Levels”]… I got rapid heebie jeebies, but didn’t know the name of it. I heard it again later that night, in BCM at a foam party. That’s when someone told me it was Avicii, so I wrote the name of the song down on a piece of paper (along with the name of a Calvin Harris track) and brought it back home to Glasgow. His music rarely resurfaces for me now, but it feels like the ultimate hallmark of those old EDM days.
– Graeme Mcleod, 25
“When I saw him live in Ibiza I thought the drug dealers were undercover cops”
He was to go-to option when you didn’t know what to put on at a party. You knew everyone would love his songs, and belt their lungs out to them even if they didn’t want to openly admit to being a fan. I fucking loved him, though. I went to see him in ibiza, [and remember being] too scared to buy drugs off someone inside cause I was convinced they were all undercover cops! In my defence, I didn’t know what Ibiza was like when I was 18, and so I succumbed to being sober, drinking $20 bottles of water. It seemed like he wanted to be more than just a maker of party anthems, but in the end, I guess he’d fallen into that persona anyway.
– Sophie Mackenzie, 25
“At house parties back then, there was always someone putting on one of his songs”
When I heard Avicii had died, I just thought about the time at his set at T in the Park in 2015, when this boy was shouting “Ma Dad died for this!” [Full context in Nathan’s viral tweet here ] – I was pretty gutted. I remember me and my pal Ben Wilkie were going mental when “Hey Brother” came on. Even though I wouldn’t say I was a massive fan, he did have some bangers, and his whole set was class. At house parties back then, there was always someone putting one of his songs on. I’m not sure why we all stopped listening to his stuff, or EDM. I guess we all just got a bit older and started listening to proper music. It was good at the time, don’t get me wrong, but I’m just not into it anymore.
– Nathan Henderson, 21
“He was my first-ever big concert, when I was 15, with my friends and drunk in a field”
I remember me and my friends went to see him at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow. I was 15, it was my first big concert and, honestly, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever been to. The sun was out all day, and we were all pished in a field with no cares in the world, haha! I remember he did a remix of Temper Trap’s “Sweet Disposition” and it was unreal, and when he played “Wake Me Up,” everyone went mental. I was honestly so shocked when I heard that he had died; I couldn’t really get over it. Having seen him a few times, he was a big part of people who were my age’s lives, especially as we grew up and started going to parties. I guess his music meant a lot to me. Now, seeing the amount of people in mourning, I know I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.
– Emma Rogers, 20
You can follow Douglas on Twitter.