Norwegian DJ Kygo Is On the Verge of Becoming Dance Music's Next Superstar
With a huge label deal, sellout tours, a signature sound and co-signs from Diplo and Coldplay, Kygo is primed to become the next EDM superstar.
The world is full of bedroom producers who dream of being the next Avicii. So how did a 23-year-old DJ from Norway find himself in the middle of a bidding war between every major label, along with interest from industry heavyweights Lyor Cohen and Scooter Braun?
To start, Kygo (real name: Kyrre Gorvell-Dahll) has all the ingredients for EDM superstardom: Frat-boy good looks with surfer style; co-signs from Diplo, Coldplay and Ed Sheeran; a sold-out summer tour that included three shows in New York City and three in Los Angeles. But what makes him stand out from the other DJ hopefuls is his signature sound: an infectious brand of slowed-down electronica called tropical house that’s primed for beach parties and summer festivals.
In July, that sound scored one of the biggest record deals of the year: a one-album deal with Ultra Records and Sony International that lands him with RCA in the U.S. and Simon Cowell’s Syco Entertainment in the U.K. Terms were not disclosed, but insiders say it’s broadly similar to those secured by Deadmau5, Skrillex and Benny Benassi.
The signing was competitive but swift. Within two months of uploading a few remixes to Soundcloud, Kygo was steered by his manager -- a 21-year-old former blogger from Miami named Myles Shear -- through a bidding war ensued that included all of the major labels as well as 300’s Lyor Cohen and School Boy’s Scooter Braun. Sony won out largely because of its muscle in major EDM markets like Brazil and Northern Europe.
“It was intense,” says Sony International EVP Adam Granite. “We offered him a global stage for his global sound.”
It helped that Kygo doesn’t turn his nose up at pop-charting DJs; Avicii is his idol. “I was, and am, a superfan,” Kygo tells Billboard. “His melodies are simple but crazy catchy, and structured like pop songs. I knew I wanted that.”
He takes catchy songs such as Marvin Gaye’s "Sexual Healing" and slows them down to around 100 beats-per-minute (standard house is recorded at 128) and adds in world instruments such as steel drums and synthesized flutes. It’s a golden formula. Of his 24 songs on Soundcloud, only two have less than one million plays, and at press time, his remix of Ed Sheeran’s "I See Fire" had 43 million plays on Soundcloud and YouTube combined. Kygo said that although he doesn't mind the term tropical house, he doesn't want to be beholden to it. "I want my music to be strong enough to reach beyond that," he said. "Coldplay doesn't have to stay within a certain genre, they just go where they go."
Ultra Records founder Patrick Moxey credits many of Kygo’s successes thus far to Shear, who has steered his client into benchmark syncs and dynamite festival bookings. When Avicii pulled out of TomorrowWorld due to health issues, Shear maneuvered Kygo as a fill-in. His team passed on The Hunger Games and the DJ-doc We Are Your Friends, but several sources tell Billboard that Kygo may have a spot on the forthcoming Entourage soundtrack, though the film’s tracklist has not been finalized. Shear is in talks with Mad Decent Block Party promoter Adam Gill about launching a tropical series in 2015, and dance music icon Pete Tong about a BBC radio show dedicated to the sound. And of course, there's already buzz about a potential tropical label. "Myles is part of the package," Moxey says. "I was determined to work with both of them."
Despite his credentials, Kygo’s debut album, which is due out just before April’s Coachella festival, will not be billed as EDM. Granite says he’ll be rolled out as a "global pop artist," accessible enough to draw in the “cool college kids as well as frat boys,” Moxey adds.
And not least, Kygo’s sound is popular with a key demographic often ignored by harder-hitting DJs: females.
"Talk about a demographic brands are looking to reach?" Moxey says. "Kygo gets the girls."
A version of this article first appeared in the Nov. 1 issue of Billboard.