What the Hell Happened to Miike Snow?
In 2012, the indie pop trio seemed destined for international stardom. Then, they disappeared.
All photos by Cara Robbins
"How long has it been? / Shall we get into it again?" Miike Snow frontman Andrew Wyatt asks in the opening lines of 2009's "Black & Blue." Though the tune would help establish the ubiquity that the Swedish trio would come to enjoy over the next four years, the query feels more relevant to the indie pop outfit today than ever. Just as Miike Snow seemed poised to become the genre's next big crossover export, they disappeared almost as quickly as they had infiltrated pop's consciousness.
From about 2009 to 2012, you'd be hard pressed to set foot in any Starbucks or corner bar without encountering the trio's infectious electropop. Synth-laden anthems like “Animal,” “Black & Blue,” and “Paddling Out” pointed the trio of Andrew Wyatt, Pontus Winnberg, and Christian Karlsson in the direction of international stardom, at once emblematic of the moment’s peak indie pop and a harbinger of the encroaching EDM takeover. Their songs were featured in everything from Budweiser commercials to Grand Theft Auto to the opening credits for British sitcom Friday Night Dinner.
Their two LPs, along with a kinetic, strobe-heavy live show, helped establish Miike Snow as a festival circuit darling. They performed before sprawling crowds at 2012’s Coachella, Lollapalooza, Reading, and the inaugural Made in America in support of their second album, Happy to You. Then, they disappeared.
Wyatt has spent the better part of the four years since in his sprawling Hollywood Hills estate—think hardwood floors and rustic overtones—where hundreds of records and empty Amoeba Records bags scatter on the floor. Wyatt sports an LA uniform of a black leather biker jacket and long hair, while his salt and pepper coloring hints at his 44 years. Up here in this secluded perch in an expensive part of time, Wyatt’s is as far from his bandmates—nearly 5,500 miles away in Sweden—as he’s ever been.
“We needed to do some work in our own lives. We knew that in order to do that we needed to take some space from Miike Snow,” says the Manhattan native.
Traveling within the confines of a tour bus for the Happy to You tour proved trying. Altogether, eight men—the band and five crew members—lived confined to a 100 square foot space for months at a time. By the time they walked off stage at the Hollywood Palladium for the tour’s final show in October 2012, Wyatt, Winnberg and Karlsson knew it was the end.
With Wyatt in the States, and Winnberg and Karlsson—producers in their own right as Bloodshy & Avant—in Sweden, the men have taken their time recovering from the fatigue that set in during their blaze of indie pop glory.
“Miike Snow’s place is one where it quietly influenced a lot of people,” Wyatt says. “It was never the band that the critics put at the top of the list or that was selling platinum records. It signaled a direction that a lot of people picked up on.”
The direction included Karlsson’s own EDM project, Galantis. The duo, consisting of Karlsson and producer Linus Eklöw (the pen behind Icona Pop’s 2012 smash “I Love It,” as Style of Eye), churned out synth-fried anthems like “Runaway (U & I),” with strobbed-out live shows left a trail of sweaty, fist-pumping carnage in the wake of their cosmic oontz. As Bloody & Avant, the pair have continued to pump out hits in Sweden and beyond, producing for David Guetta, Katy Perry, Jennifer Lopez, and Britney Spears (you may recall a little ditty by the name of “Toxic,” which earned them a 2005 Grammy for Best Dance Recording). Wyatt, meanwhile, has spent most of the last four years in seclusion, writing and producing for artists including Flume, Bruno Mars, The A.M., Mark Ronson, and Carl Barat.
“I didn’t know Galantis was going to do what it did,” Karlsson continues, “I just needed to do something else for a second. Now, it’s a little tricky juggling both [Miike Snow and Galantis], but it’s a good problem to have.”
With the distance between them only growing, the trio decided it was time to revisit Miike Snow at the end of 2014, but the trio would have to grapple with as many as 16 time zones, three continents, and the demands of new lives as family men before restablishing the physical and creative connection would shape what would eventually become the trio’s latest LP, iii.
“The fact that you’re dealing with vastly different time zones, e-mails literally take twice as long to answer,” Wyatt says. "If you follow that logically, the shit moves half as slow. Plus it didn’t ever feel real to us unless we were writing the songs together. It wasn’t possible except for a couple of occasions to be in the same room.”
Due to their respective locations and schedules, at no point where they able to convene as a trio during the recording process itself (Wyatt traveled to work with Winnberg and Karlsson individually); the photos in this piece were taken at the band's first rehearsal with all three present in years, and this weekend's Coachella performance marks the group's first festival performance since disbanding. The logistics of Miike Snow's revival proved as frustrating as they were inefficient. Yet the members' growth and successes as individuals reinvigorated the particulary chemistry that inspired Miike Snow in the first place, fusing their disparate personal evolutions into something cohesive on iii.
Standout single “Genghis Khan,” with its James Bond-by-way-of-LGBT-allegory video, updates Miike's Snow's trademark galvanizing melodies with prog house sleekness—it's as close to cracking the pop code Winnberg and Karlsson smashed with "Toxic" as Miike Snow has ever gotten. The Charli XCX-assisted “For U,” meanwhile, is sure to find homes this summer on festival and party playlists alike. But soulful tracks like moody album opener “My Trigger” venture into groovy funk melodies unheard on the group’s earlier material, culling from their respective individual experiences working with the likes of Mark Ronson in the time since, a shift they embraced after the feedback loop of their own electropop backgrounds drove them to burnout.
“I feel all three of us got better at what we do during this time,” Karlsson says of his band’s period of sepration. "Miike Snow is three very strong individuals. It’s good to have something else because you can go and do your thing because Miike Snow is built in a different way. ”
Unlike debut Miike Snow and Happy to You, iii incorporates a more adventurous sound that drops the leather jacket pop palatability of those early efforts in favor of J Dilla-inspired hip hop elements (see: “Heart is Full”) and mod-era Britpop.
Wyatt works from home, on his computer, the background of which is a photo of David Letterman holding a copy of Happy to You from the band's 2012 Late Show performance of "Paddling Out." Nearby on the desk is a signed photo of Yoko Ono.
“The studio is here without being intrusive,” he says, pointing to his console and organ.
Across a continent and an ocean, Pontus Winnberg has been busy in his own right. With two kids—and a newborn since the trio’s last album—the Stockholm-dwelling producer, 40, has shifted focus to his home life, a budding career as a restauranteur, and an assortment of other musical endeavours that include running his own INGRID label and playing with his other band, Amason.
“It doesn’t really feel like work,” he says of his schedule. “Just life.”
Managing these many projects has provided a solid refuge for Winnberg. He hasn’t had to track his bandmates’ activity, nor does he rely on them for a prompt return to making music. Though he cites Miike Snow as his top priority, the last few years have represented a quiet growth for the producer.
Karlsson, meanwhile, relocated to Bangkok with his family, following his diplomat wife who was appointed the Swedish deputy ambassador to Thailand a year-and-a-half ago. Before that, he bounced back and forth between Sweden and LA, where the 40-year-old also keeps his own studio, while he and Wyatt collaborated on their respective parts of the album.
Since forming Galantis in 2014, the progressive house 2.0 duo scored hits and played at at the world’s biggest dance festivals including Coachella, Lollapalooza, HARD Ultra, and Electric Daisy Carnival, where they closed out last summer's three day fest with a sunrise set on the mainstage.
“Now, whenever I have an idea, it can fit for either one of the two (projects),” Karlsson says over Skype. “I don’t need to hold back or steer it in either way because I can just go. But it’s good to be away from things sometimes, so I can come up with new things.”
“There’s no theme or plan when we get together,” Winnberg explains. “Whatever feels exciting that comes up in the studio is what we’ll go with. If it’s good, then we’re lucky.”
If you've been referring to Miike Snow as a "he" for the past four years, that's the point; from its inception, the project has been driven by its members' desire to be known as a collective, a singular entity that transcends the sounds they hock behind the boards as individual producers.
Now in their 40s, Miike Snow's concerns lay less in the band's trajectory and the visions of grandeur and stardom that may preoccupy their younger ilk, and more in appreciating presence of disappearing into a standalone project greater than the sum of its parts.
“I see Miike Snow as this funny, strange, slightly awkward UFO that we all three get on and take a ride in,” Wyatt adds. “And then we get off it and do our own things.”
Catch Miike Snow at Coachella on April 17 and 23.
Daniel Kohn is a journalist based in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter.