STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN — Close to 60,000 people gathered at Stockholm’s Friends Arena on Thursday evening (Dec. 5), for a heartfelt tribute to the life and work of Tim Bergling, the dance music superstar known to global fanbase as Avicii. Tickets for the show sold out in 30 minutes after going on sale in September.
The main event, a more than two-hour-long set of Bergling’s work by a cavalcade of his collaborators and friends backed by a 30-piece live band and a gospel choir, fulfilled what Bergling’s friends say was a long-held dream of the artist to hear his music played by a live orchestra.
Bergling had been quietly pondering a similar concert, before tragically taking his own life in Oman in April of last year.
Not only was Thursday’s tribute concert a striking reminder of Berling’s majestic ability to craft melodies and elegant chords, it was also a way for Bergling’s family to bring up mental health awareness and suicide prevention. All proceeds from the concert will benefit the Tim Bergling Foundation, created after Bergling’s death to advocate for the recognition of suicide as a global health emergency. In a speech during the show, Bergling father Klas received some of the loudest applause of the evening as he spoke, in Swedish, about the efforts the Foundation is making to prevent suicide among young people.
Guests included Aloe Blacc, David Guetta, Kygo, Nicky Romero, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Adam Lambert, Rita Ora, longtime Avcii collaborators Carl Falk, Vargas & Lagola and more. With some twenty artists on and off stage in rapid succession, the concert at times veered close to something of a variety show, with some acts decidedly more memorable than others. Taken together, however, the show was heartfelt, grandiose and highly emotional.
There were plenty of teary eyes in the audence towards the very end of the show, which ended with an extended playing of Bergling’s debut hit, “Levels.” There was also plenty of emotion on stage, from the short thank-you speech held by Bergling’s father, to a heartfelt rendition of “Friend of Mine” performed by two of Bergling’s main song-writing pals, Vincent Pontare and Salem Al-Fakir. Bergling’s childhood friend Lucas Krüger also performed a teary-eyed rendition of “Heart Upon My Sleeve.”
Clear highlights of the night included Aloe Blacc’s “Wake Me Up,” sang in a glistening confetti rain covering the entire arena with 60,000 people singing along. Another was bluegrass vocalist Dan Tyminski’s impassioned delivery of the sorrowful anthem “Hey Brother,” against a magnificent visual backdrop of American wilderness.
The main live-band concert was juxtaposed against a number of scripted and more conventional DJ-sets earlier in the evening, by the likes of David Guetta Kygo, Laidback Luke, Nicky Romero, in what ultimately came off as an effective contrast. While pyrotechnics, trippy techno visuals and high-beat EDM are fun and glossy — and not so dissimilar from the huge and explosive shows Avicii played throughout his career — it’s difficult to shake off the feeling that the stakes are much higher when music is performed by a massive live-band. Bergling’s music heldy up remarkably well in that setting.
For most of us, Berling came to personify EDM, the era of dance music that took root a decade ago, with simple melodies, successive buildups, and notorious drops, that for a brief few years completely dominated charts and festivals.
While his early work was firmly rooted in the conventions of dance music at the time, with classic dance tunes such as “Fade Into Darkness” and “Levels,” there was a rare level of finesse and craftsmanship in his work that made him stand out.
“He was a genius,” David Guetta told Billboard in an interview ahead of the concert. “We influenced each other for sure, but honestly I’m not sure I could teach him much.”
Like many Swedish songwriters before him, Berling put a distinctive Swedish spin on his work, with unexpected musical influences and a strict melody-first approach to composing, something that would give EDM its mass appeal and that contributed to folding the genre firmly into the mainstream.
With his tragic fate in mind, one can’t help but wonder what route his life would have taken had he retired from the stage earlier, to focus his efforts as a behind-the-scenes hitmaker, rather than spending a large chunk of his short career as a reluctant super-DJ, overpowered with stress and angst.
“He hated the logistics around the performing,” Aloe Blacc said in an interview in-between stage appearances on Thursday, recalling a night in Miami in 2013 just before the pair were to reveal the first songs from Bergling’s debut studio album True at the Ultra dance festival.
Blacc remembered Bergling ignoring his entourage and “just sitting there with his laptop,” editing and finishing his set up until the moment he went on stage. “Tim just wanted to work with his music,” Blacc said. “All of that extra stuff was a burden to him.”
We may never know if it was the pressures of fame or something entirely different that drove Bergling to take his own life. He left no note behind, as far as we know. And while there were warning signs, those around Bergling describe his death as a surprise, that he had seemed happy and content at the time.
All we have are vague clues in the melancholy lyrics from his posthumous album Tim.
Guetta, who described his relationship with Berling as one of a close colleague with whom he would often talk to about the struggles of the job, said the news of Bergling’s death served as a wakeup call for the DJ community, himself included.
“His death came as a shock for all of us,” he said. “It made everyone stop and think.“
Already before Bergling’s death, Guetta had begun reflecting on his own habits and well-being. And upon hearing the news about Bergling’s death, Guetta said he immediately called his management to cut down on the number of shows he was doing.
“I consider myself a happy person. But I’ve suffered from anxiety and panic attacks too, always as a result of the pressures of this life,” he said. “As people, we have limits. And we must be careful.”
Even after his death, Avicii’s presence has lingered. Both through the worldwide release of Avicii: True Stories, the 2017 documentary depicting the brutal grind of his busiest touring days, and the release of Tim, his posthumous hit album.
Thursday’s impressive show has us wishing that he will linger with us even longer.