Wunderkind DJ Avicii talks electronic dance music, creativity and retirement

MUSIC/FILM: At 26, Swedish-born Tim Bergling is too young to be retiring. But that is precisely what is happening as he declares his highly lucrative touring days as Grammy Award-nominated DJ Avicii are coming to a halt.

As one of the world’s wealthiest electronic dance music (EDM) DJs, Avicii recently announced that he is giving up his day job as one of the hottest music acts and wants to use the time freed up to do a variety of other things.

First on the list is the production of Stories, a one-hour biographical documentary charting his astonishingly successful career, which started eight years ago.

Avicii, who is also an acclaimed producer and songwriter, says the film, named after his second studio album, will be helmed by his creative collaborator Levan Tsikurishvili, who directed the Avicii on Tour documentary about his 2013 tour in Australia for Swedish broadcaster SVT.

“That one was in Swedish for a Swedish audience,” Avicii said while promoting the Stories documentary with the UK’s BBC Worldwide in Cannes at the international MIPTV industry event. “Stories is in English for an international audience.”

What began as rumours about his retirement was confirmed in a 951-word letter to fans, friends, family and manager Ash Pournouri on 29 March on his official website.

And a week later in Cannes, he appeared to have no regrets whatsoever. “I’ve gone public with news, so there’s no turning back. I’m retiring from touring because there are so many things I want to do, especially making films.”

He has already made his directorial debut with two music videos created jointly with Tsikurishvili in 2015. “(Stories) is my biggest film project to date. It really excites me as I have always been into film.”

He hasn’t given up on music totally, avowing to fulfil all the concerts he’s committed to so far. He’s got gigs confirmed until August, when stints will include appearances at the UK Creamfields festival and a concert at the Boucher Playing Fields in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

“I will still make music, just less touring. I’m not cancelling the shows I’ve agreed to. But I’ve also accepted that this is not going to be for me for another 20 years.”

It is hard to know whether Avicii’s retirement is due to creative burnout or the prevention of one. Since the age of 18, he has been relentlessly in the public eye and appears to have had no significant time to be himself – Tim Bergling.

Whether he’s mixing discs live before hundreds of thousands of fans, accepting awards for gold and platinum albums in 25 countries, producing tracks for mega stars that include Madonna, Coldplay’s Chris Martin and the legendary Niles Rodgers, or breaking records with his anthem Wake Me Up! reaching No.1 in 40-plus national charts worldwide, it is always as Avicii.

“I got so drawn into the machine (of superstardom),” he said. “I am happy as long as I am making music and I love putting the shows together, but the constant touring and being in the spotlight, that never came naturally to me.”

For an individual artist (some would say he’s also a brand) that earned US$7m in 2013, plus US$28m the following year and US$19m in 2015 (according to Forbes), his timing for retirement could also say much about the state of the EDM business that made his fortune.

EDM revenues have been lacklustre of late. The IMS Business Report calculated the sector generated US$6.9bn in revenues in 2014, a 12% jump from the previous year. The 2015 figures are not out yet.

But the fallen fortunes of Robert F. X. Sillerman, the financially troubled US entertainment entrepreneur who wanted his empire at SFX Entertainment (MTF Issue No.23) to be the world’s biggest dance music conglomerate, indicate the genre’s popularity could be peaking.

SFX, formerly listed on NASDAQ, has been forced to seek bankruptcy protection. Its complicated organisation includes defaulted loan repayments and failure to return to private ownership. Its valuation has slumped to a reported US$1.24m at the end of 2015 from its US$1.1bn peak in December 2013.

Avicii did not comment on such specific matters in the EDM market, but he expressed reservations about the genre maintaining its current momentum.

“When it started, it was bubbling for a while, then the US market commercialised it. It did have its time in the UK with the rave scene, but it never had a big stage as it did in America,” he says. “But I really don’t know how long that phenomenon will last.”

**The MediaTainment Finance interview with Tim Bergling took place courtesy of MIPTV News, published by Boutique Editions, in Cannes.