Avicii rolls the dice at Ultra 2013; too advanced for dance
Avicii has the type of relationship with Miami Music Week that most artists dream of, outdoing himself year after year, spectacle by spectacle. On South Beach, he’s had shuttle buses in 2011, ice cream trucks in 2012, and his own hotel in 2013. In Downtown Miami, however, Tim’s legacy has taken on a life of its own. Madonna joined him on Ultra’s main stage last spring for a scene that would be nearly impossible to top, so the pressure was on to once again roll the dice on Ultra’s largest platform. After nearly an hour of quick mixing through an eclectic selection, he brought another set of talented musicians to his stage — only this time, he stirred the controversy without The Queen of Pop.
With less than 30 minutes of his time slot remaining, there was an sudden, silent pause before a live band took the stage to join Avicii in premiering his debut artist album. Without a “Levels” or a “Bromance” to entice his crowd, he took a risk — one worth taking when you’ve been the poster boy for innovating electronic music since your breakthrough single brought new life to its genre. Feedback has since been exchanged between fans, artists, and everyone in between — but was this year’s on-stage extravaganza revolutionary, or did the risk come without the reward?
Sound returned and emitted Ultra’s massive sound system after the minute-long intermission, only it wasn’t what the festival crowd had paid for. It wasn’t his signature uplifting melodies, friendly progressions or thunderous climaxes. At first listen, it was a variation of genre-blurred bluegrass or soul, and fans found themselves confused without a drop to jump to or a kick-drum to stomp along with. They didn’t care who was on stage, they didn’t bother giving Tim’s new music a chance to sink in, they just wanted to dance — and this music was not to be danced to like the first half of the set, it was meant to be appreciated in isolation.
On stage was country legend Mac Davis, bluegrass musician Dan Tyminski, singer Audra Mae, soul artist Aloe Blacc, Incubus guitarists Mike Einziger and Ben Kenney, and Incubus drummer Jose Pasillis II. Did this matter? If you were at Ultra to dance, sweat, and exchange beaded bracelets — the verdict says no. If you are a receptive music fan that can appreciate the daring inventiveness of what Tim attempted to do — absolutely.
Fans on site shrugged off the main stage performance and either took a seat to relax or moved around to dance with the likes of Carl Cox, Boys Noize, and Fedde Le Grand. Fans streaming live via UMFTV, on the other hand, had the capacity to enjoy Avicii’s new instrumentally intricate tunes from home, and did so with a warm welcome.
In terms of production, Tim is taking more than one large step forward and, as he’s said himself, “this album is about experimentation and about showing the endless possibilities of house and electronic music.”
“It’s about how to incorporate acoustic instruments from different styles and influences you wouldn’t expect and still stay true to your own sound and musicality, which for me has always been about the melodies and positive energy.”
Measured by his own goal, Tim succeeded last Friday night in Miami. Each record from the album boasts his unique flavor of enchanting chords and harmonies that support unprecedented involvement from a wide range of instruments and voices. By the Ultra attendees’ own expectations, however, his outing lacked the power to keep their feet moving.
When those same fans get their hands on a mastered copy of the album, will they finally enjoy the music? Definitely, but this time they will enjoy it the way it was meant to be enjoyed — from the luxury of top-notch headphones and “with open hearts and open minds.”
“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.”
His Ultra set was no departure from his authenticity; he did stay true to his sound. True enough for a genuine musician, not true enough for a rambunctious festival crowd. Tim has since responded to the mixed reviews and has claimed that he”wanted to make a statement, and there is really no better place to make one than the UMF main stage.” Well, Ultra is the place to make a statement… most of the time. Just not this time, not for Avicii. The live experience may have come as a disappointment, but the material that was overlooked by most provides dance music hopefuls with a new sound, a new album, and a new facet of EDM to look forward to.
Change is often met with hesitation and anger, but in a scene so often marred by artistic unoriginality, Avicii made an effort to re-invent – a risk that should be commended rather than berated, even if it fell short of its intended goal.
As an artist, Tim Bergling is a risk taker — and more times than not, that risk is followed by reward. On this roll of the dice, however, Tim rolled snake eyes. Call it a swing and miss, but he stands alone with the courage to step up to the plate. Maybe Ultra wasn’t the place to premiere such an avant-garde album. Maybe that place would’ve been SXSW, the Grammys, or even Coachella. Maybe Tim would’ve been better off rolling his dice on someone else’s stage. Maybe it was just too advanced for dance.