It's almost 2am and we’re sat opposite Steve Angello on his private jet. Fresh from closing the Radio 1 stage at T in the Park and barely into a clean t-shirt, he's already on the phone to one of his record labels. Despite just moments ago being in a delirious post-performance high, he’s furious.
If you’re not a dance music fan, you might not know who Steve Angello is. We’ll get to that. For the moment, all you need to know is that four years ago, FHM saw a film that planted the seeds of an idea in our heads. The film, a fly-on-the-wall documentary called Take One, followed Angello and his previous super-group, Swedish House Mafia, at the height of their success.
Portraying Angello and his bandmates Sebastian Ingrosso and Axwell as hedonistic, fratboy party animals, the film showed them gallivanting from gig to gig on helicopters and speedboats, spraying champagne and threatening to “fuck nightclubs in the pussy” at every given opportunity. The critics called it Spinal Tap for the electronic dance music generation, recoiling at the behaviour of these three brattish Swedes flying around the world in private jets just to play records. Drinking Keith Richards-levels of alcohol, asking every group of women they met to “party” and selling millions of records in the process, they were a cross between DiCaprio’s Gatsby, The Rolling Stones and Johnny Bravo.
We sat and watched it all. Our mature side winced at the tantrums, fist-fights and cocksure approach to women, life, booze and partying. Our slightly less-mature side could think only one thing: Jesus, that looks fun.
Years went by, the group split up and our dream of one day partying with Steve and his Swedish pals fell by the wayside. That’s why, when the phone rings in the FHM office and a man calling himself Toni Tambourine invites us to go and live it up with Angello for two days, we assume we’re talking to a deluded fantasist and hang the phone up. Then he calls again and we realise that, although Mr Tambourine’s name is not totally real, his offer is.
Forty-eight hours later, we pitch up at Edinburgh’s T in the Park with the Scottish sun uncharacteristically blaring down on us. Steve is due to headline the Radio 1 stage that night but, slightly worryingly, he isn’t here yet. With time to kill, we attempt to walk into the VIP area, nervously uttering the words: “We’re with the Angello guys” to no one in particular. Our heart skips a beat as, for the first time in our lives, burly security men give us a knowing nod and allow us to traipse through unmolested.
Steve was running late. Five hours late to be precise. Left twiddling our thumbs with an increasingly nervous publicist, (the afore-mentioned Mr Tambourine), the upbeat atmosphere slowly dissipates. But then, of course he was late; he swans around in private jets. He’s a rock star, that’s what they do. Then – just when we think the publicist might be about to burst into tears – we spot him. Surrounded by a bustling entourage and shorter than you’d expect, Steve Angello has arrived.
We make small talk over cigarettes that are dished out by his sharp-suited tour manager. Steve tells us that he only smokes two a day. Tonight we’ll see him smoke at least five more and on various occasions stuff his upper lip with tobacco, the Swedish equivalent of a nicotine patch.
Is he nervous? He shrugs, shakes his head then takes a drag of a cigarette. “This is what he feeds off,” says the tour manager to break the silence. “You’ll see when we’re out there.” And then as if on cue, Steve announces: “I need to stretch.”
He does a lot of stretching. We stand back and watch as he breaks into a methodical, although probably not technically informed, series of warm-up exercises. It’s difficult to tell if this has any real benefit for a man that essentially stands in one place during his set, but it’s clear that it’s a sacred ritual to him. Feeling slightly awkward at witnessing a grown man performing lunges, we chug our beer. It’s at this point we notice that every single other person backstage is just drinking water. The real partying, we decide, must be kicking off later.
Then we hear it: drifting in through a cloud of dry ice are the war cries of a restless crowd, so loud that it’s drowning out the festival PA system. It’s time for Steve to go on. Disappointingly, there’s no team huddle or backstage group prayer just a quick fist bump. He takes towards his platform accompanied by bellowing, cinematic strings, doom-laden lighting and smoke.
For two hours, the 31-year-old Swede expertly manipulates the baying sea of dance fanatics. Flares are lit, girls flash their breasts and boys completely lose their shit. The waves of pyrotechnics are relentless. The bass reaches into the ventricles of our heart and threatens to give us a cardiac arrest. It’s easily the loudest gig we’ve ever attended.
“Look at my jacket, it’s all burned up. That’s a battle wound,” Angello beams as he leaves the stage after narrowly avoiding the final explosions of his set. Cigarette in one hand, bottle of water in the other, he’s in good spirits. “Did you see how many people there were? Could you feel the vibe?”
Before we have a chance to ask him if it’s time to fuck a nightclub in the pussy, he’s bundled into a car headed towards a private airstrip, to fly to London ahead of tomorrow’s Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) in Milton Keynes.
We catch a ride with Angello’s loyal team of stage techs. They painstakingly run through what did and didn’t work, anticipating all of the demands for tomorrow’s performance. It becomes glaringly obvious that nobody ever really sleeps in the Angello circus.
Boarding the private jet with Steve and his crew , we wonder if this is the point where somebody cracks open the champagne and we all start acting like Led Zeppelin. But nothing happens. Steve seems annoyed after a brief phone call with his American label.
“Major labels are lazy and getting worse. There’s no innovation anymore. It’s one of the reasons why I started my own label, and why I find advertising so interesting.”
Advertising seems like an unusual area for a DJ to admit having a serious interest in. Has he sold out? It’s certainly a criticism that was often levelled towards the hyper-mainstream Swedish House Mafia towards the end of their career.
“You’re only selling out if you’re doing something you don’t want to do just to get success or money,” says Steve. “If you love cheesy pop songs and you love being cheesy, that’s not selling out.
“I just did a thing with Google where we put out 10 years of music for free, we had 460,000 people download 100 releases each. You do the math. If working with big brands means I can give away music for free, then so be it.”
And this, rather than the party crazed myth that follows him, is Steve Angello in a nutshell. He’s a clever businessman with a keen eye for making money and maintaining his own brand. Is it selling out? Perhaps. But is it any worse than One Direction selling tickets for £70 to jobless teens? At least on Steve’s terms, everybody’s winning.
But surely it can’t all be work? What about the parties? The times where he wouldn’t sleep for days on end, surviving on booze, beats and adrenaline?
“With Swedish House Mafia, we partied and drank a lot and we had a great bloody time. But we grew up. I could make all of this look like chaos if I wanted to, but these days I choose my own battles,” he says.
“I stopped drinking three years ago. Before that I was just doing it out of habit, in volume. But you can’t maintain that. My night wasn’t over until 7am and the wheels would fall off.” There’s a glint in his eye when he tells us this. He knows it’s what we want to hear. He’s teasing us, dangling the delicious carrot of decadence in front of us.
But he won’t let us take a bite. “Being on tour with me now is like being on tour with Jesus.” It’s a disappointing realisation on our behalf. Not because we want him to get messed up, but because it’s part of the mystique. It’s the debauched behaviour that you want from a celebrity DJ. Later on, we read that, at one point, Steve was drinking whole bottles of Jägermeister during his sets, which, when you’re performing 200 shows a year, is a hell of a lot of booze. Does he miss it?
“It was great,” he sighs, “but it was what it was. The party had to stop, it became too big and too much.”
Is this what ultimately broke the group? “I’ll always be a brother to them but it’s not like it used to be, we rarely talk now other than emails. It’s like going through a divorce where you don’t want to speak to your ex-wife at all, unless you’ve got kids. And we don’t have kids.”
It’s clear that Swedish House Mafia is something of a three-headed elephant in the room (or private jet); a milestone that Angello is appreciative of but not necessarily one that he wants to be his legacy or the focus of every interview.
The future dance music megastar first tried his hand at DJing at the tender age of 12, eventually becoming a respected scratch DJ in and around Stockholm. Exploration of the club scene led him towards house music, alongside best friend Sebastian Ingrosso, and the pair quickly adopted the genre into their sets. A chance meeting with another local DJ and producer, Axwell, saw the three of them trading ideas and forming Swedish House Mafia – releasing early track Get Dumb in 2007.
Three years later, they signed to major label, Polydor, and promptly exploded like the Hadron Collider, culminating in a platinum-selling album (Until Now) and an American tour that sold out in minutes. Then, at the height of their power, they called it off.
These days, he’s fine operating by himself. He has a persona that at times carries an almost excessive level of self-belief. Referring to himself as a “tastemaker that makes people happy” and – in a roundabout sort of way – comparing himself to the son of God (see above), the constant prestige of a jet or a helicopter, it’s a larger than life aura that’s key to his success and leads you to believe that he has nothing to prove.
He’s also a workaholic. Tonight, after checking into the swanky Belgravia hotel in London, he’ll methodically go over his most recent set, answer emails, Twitter messages and then make phone calls with the Swedish and LA offices of his label, Size, before going to sleep at around 8am.
When we meet him the next day, he’s already been out to buy socks. In contrast to our first meeting, we’re greeted like old friends. This strikes us as bizarre after last night where it felt like we were kept at arm’s length, staying in separate hotels, travelling in different cars. Is there an element of the diva to him?
“That’s how it is, when you live like this,” he offers when we broach the subject. “I’ve been doing this for the last 15 years. It gets to a point where you need consistency; imagine going home every day and you have no idea where your shit is. It gets to you after a while.”
This is true. The never-ending carousel of Steve’s life (we’ve barely sat down since meeting him) is enough to make anybody dizzy and a little angsty. “You’ve never been in helicopter?” he asks as the car we’re in cruises through south London. “You’re going to love this. I remember the first time I did it, it’s my favourite way to travel.”
Twenty minutes later, we’re watching the ground vanish beneath us. Steve is clearly pleased that for us this is something of a treat. “Everything looks so pleasant,” he muses, “this is my downtime to think. I won’t even get my phone out up here.” We don’t point out that he’s been clutching his iPhone the entire time. He goes silent, lost in thought and then suddenly sits up. “I don’t understand why nobody advertises on the roofs of these buildings, you’d go viral straight away.” And like, that he’s back into business mode (although he may be overlooking the fact that most people don’t travel to work by helicopter).
We land at Milton Keynes' Bowl to a sea of fans shouting and taking pictures. In comparison to T in the Park, EDC is a pure dance festival. For Angello, this should be his element but something feels different as we mill around backstage. He lights another cigarette, ignoring the no smoking sign above him. It turns out he’s stressed about the fact that he’s playing in broad daylight.
“It means I’m going to lose half of my show. I prefer the dark, that’s when you can create an experience.”
His set explodes regardless and in our eyes it’s every bit as loud and energetic as before, perhaps in part due to the crowd of gurning revellers with no idea what time of day it is. But occasionally he’ll glance towards us standing in the wings and you can tell he’s not feeling it.
Leaving the stage he’s obviously annoyed and we’re informed by his team that somebody was shining a laser pen in his eyes for the duration of the set, a growing problem at festival gigs. There’s little time for pleasantries to relax once it’s over and we’re quickly back into a helicopter. Steve says little about the show other than that it was different and there’s work to do later.
And then for the third time in 24 hours, we touch back down to Earth. He embraces us and shakes our hand. Then he’s gone.
We came to party, to live it up like rock stars, but we ended up being given sound business advice and eating a lot of high-quality sandwiches. No clubs were pleasured sexually (we didn’t even get to third base with a cloak room).
Steve Angello gets shit done, and will quite likely continue to do so until he or his equipment burn out through sheer exhaustion. He’s lived a life more hedonistic, more extravagant and at times debauched than any of us will – but that’s not what separates him from his DJing contemporaries. What makes him stand out is an unflagging work rate and a desire to be the best. That’s why nobody else can touch him, in his own words: “They’re not even in the same race. It’s very hard to race against people that aren’t running.”
This interview originally appeared in FHM’s October 2014 issue. Photography by Tom Barnes
Chapter one of Steve Angello’s debut album Wild Youth is out now. Chapter two will follow on 22 January