Irving Azoff Bets Big on Outspoken Swedish House Mafia Manager Amy Thomson

Axwell and Sebastian Ingrosso at Governors Ball
Daniel Zuchnik/FilmMagic

Axwell and Sebastian Ingrosso perform during the 2014 Governors Ball Music Festival at Randall's Island on June 8, 2014 in New York City.  

Former Swedish House Mafia manager brings dance-music savvy to Azoff-Dolan-Burkle team -- but how long can the fever last?

Azoff MSG Entertainment is betting big on dance music. The joint venture among Irving Azoff, Madison Square Garden owner James Dolan and billionaire investor Ron Burkle, reportedly backed by $175 million in funding, has acquired a 50 percent stake in ATM Artists, the management and marketing company run by Amy Thomson, who catapulted Swedish House Mafia into the global spotlight. Financial terms were not disclosed.

The deal sees music industry veterans of touring, ticketing and talent representation shift their gaze to the $6.2 billion electronic music business. Thomson, 39, the candid Brit at the center of the deal, proceeded with caution. “I’ve seen what happens when big money smells opportunity -- it’s awful,” she says. “But I welcome certain clever investors who bring more than just money to the table.”

But are they late to the dance party? Live Nation and SFX have had their buying sprees, the charts are littered with electro-pop hits and festivals like Coachella, Governors Ball and Electric Daisy Carnival have arguably reached a collective mass. Azoff, 66, shrugs off the insinuation: “I’m not doing this to be in the EDM business. I’m looking to be in business with Amy,” he tells Billboard, adding, “She could sell ice to an eskimo. Whatever she wants to do, we’ll do.”

He’s not alone in his fandom. Thomson’s marketing savvy -- under her watch, Swedish House Mafia sold 1 million tickets globally without ever releasing an album -- led to two signings with Def Jam, the DJ duo Axwell & Ingrosso (formerly two-thirds of SHM) and DJ Alesso. (The deals were negotiated by Kenny Meiselas of Grubman Shire & Meiselas.)

Thomson chose the label in part because of her relationship with CEO Steve Bartels, who enlisted her consultation for Kanye West’s Yeezus campaign in 2013. “They think big,” she says. Adds Bartels: “Alesso, Axwell and Ingrosso embody a diversity that could potentially change the genre.” Indeed, offers an insider, “For 2014, these signings are big deals -- with successes like Avicii’s ‘Wake Me Up!,’ labels are just now understanding the value of the music” in addition to the live experience.

So far, so good -- the Sept. 12 SnapChat premiere of Alesso’s single, “Tear the Roof Up,” received 560,000 views in the first 30 minutes. The untraditional release, says Bartels, aligns with the company’s core aim “to have that cool edge that speaks to what Russell [Simmons] and Rick [Rubin] started.”

For her part, Thomson’s background includes a stint booking London’s Ministry of Sound venue, an advisory role to Burkle’s private equity firm Yucaipa and, currently, titles in Las Vegas including music director for Light, the Cirque du Soleil-themed club in the Mandalay Bay hotel that opened in 2013.

Live experiences will be an integral part of the partnership between ATM and Azoff MSG. At least six major DJs will headline Madison Square Garden this fall, culminating in a New Year’s Eve show featuring the Skrillex-Diplo supergroup Jack U. It’s the first time in five years that Phish is not performing that night. (The jam band relocated to Miami.)

How long can this fever last? It’s hard to say, but Thomson stands firm that her artists transcend any fad. “I don’t even think Irving knows what EDM is,” she says. “He’s interested in legends.” 

This article first appeared in the Sept. 27th issue of Billboard.