It’s 7:30 p.m. on the first night of Ultra Music Festival’s second weekend. And after a 20-minute excursion including a four-block walk amongst festivalgoers, a golf cart ride, and maneuvering past security guards who demanded yet another wristband, headliner Eric Prydz has finally arrived at the main stage.
Martin Solveig, known for being a DJ/producer, is singing a new pop production to close out his set, and Prydz is watching from the side with a puzzled expression. He picks up a Jack Daniels bottle and is about to pour his first drink when the stage manager informs him that his set has inexplicably been moved up. Prydz’s manager insists there must be a mistake, but the schedule has apparently been shuffled at the last minute. (It became apparent later that the extra 10 minutes went to CAZZETTE, a developing artist on Avicii manager Ash Pournouri’s At Night roster.)
So Prydz dashes onto the stage just as its massive screens comes to life with his logo. He begins to play his mix of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” as custom visuals of churches and stained glass sweep across the stage. By the time he closes his set an hour later with his classic track “Allein,” he’s taken the enormous crowd on a musical journey only Eric Prydz can lead. He walks off the stage, gives his girlfriend a hug and a kiss, and shakes hands with other well-wishers and friends around him. He takes out his iPhone to check Twitter, only to find the app won’t work because of the more than 10,000 mentions he has received from fans during his performance. But all this approval isn’t enough to satisfy him. “I can’t believe I forgot to play ‘Everyday,’” he says, referring to one of his most popular tracks.
The mystique-laden Eric Prydz is one of the most beloved and complicated figures in dance music. While often thought of as the fourth member of Swedish House Mafia (he came up with the other three in their native Stockholm), Prydz has a more underground rep.
His mostly instrumental productions are dissected, replayed and coveted by everyone from new EDM fans to old school house heads. Now Prydz is in the midst of a major run at the American market. He headlined last year’s Identity Festival tour, and is signed to SHM’s label Astralwerks, under the same type of 360 deal that supported their unusual career. A summer album is reportedly planned, along with a headlining tour. He recently announced a residency at The Wynn in Las Vegas called Black Dice. If all goes according to plan, 2013 will be the year of Eric Prydz. The only thing that could get in the way? Eric Prydz.
Over the course of this single day, Prydz was the celebrated surprise guest at BBC dance icon Pete Tong’s pool party, and turned in this triumphant set at Ultra. But for the first time in his career, he had to leave his headlining gig at nightclub Space mid-way through his three-hour set, when an anxiety-producing mishap turned into a total meltdown. Prydz also has a deep fear of flying, which is part of what kept him from following his friends to America three years ago to find stardom.
Despite the unfortunate events of this particular evening, the rest of Prydz’s day revealed an artist actively involved with and pursuing his future, with positive feelings about what it might bring him. He says he’s slowly conquering his plane phobia. His longtime girlfriend is expecting their second child, and he’s enjoying his recent move to Los Angeles.
“Every day since I got there I wake up, I hear the birds tweeting, I look out my window, the sun is shining, and I’m instantly happy,” he said. “Me coming from Sweden, I’m used to a month and a half of sunlight a year.”
Prydz started his day at the Surfcomber Hotel for Tong’s party, with his four-person road team and publicist in tow. The skies were overcast, but he played a sunny set for the large group of more casual listeners before ending at 6pm. Despite the time crunch, he still stopped to take a photo with each single fan that asked, hanging around a few extra minutes before escaping to the car out front by cutting through the hotel’s kitchen. The team loaded into a Chevy Suburban to head to Ultra, giving Prydz the chance to test some of his latest productions on the car stereo. “When I want to hear new music,” he said, “I make it myself.”
Over dinner after Ultra (Prydz ate what he calls “energy food”: plain white fish with vegetables, plus a few French fries off the plate next to him), Prydz discussed business matters with his team, including his plans to sell his flat in Sweden, and whether he was interested in a new radio opportunity (he decided he wasn’t).
“What I like about the term ‘EDM’ is that it’s electronic, dance, music — which is exactly what I do,” he said. “It’s music made to dance to, and I make it electronically. So it’s electronic dance music.” But he likens the acronym to a “lifestyle in America” that includes “tops that say ‘Rage’ and glowsticks, or basically the rave culture from 15 years ago in Europe, a little cheesed up.”
Finally around 1am the crew left for Space, a nightclub gig that Prydz looked forward to all day. In fact, even after playing the packed UMF main stage for tens of thousands, he seemed fixated on delivering a proper three-hour “Pryda” set (Pryda is his more underground alias, and the name of his record label) where he had full control on the smaller, more intimate Space Terrace. All seemed well during opening DJ Fehrplay’s set, but at some point very close to his 3am start time the SD cards Prydz uses to DJ went missing.
Prydz said he had been prepping his Miami sets for months, and his SD card was loaded with tunes specifically crafted for the Space show. He became rather frantic when he couldn’t find them, hunching over his laptop behind Fehrplay in the booth, trying to reconstruct a selection of tracks to use.
As part of the ordeal, Prydz proceeded to drink heavily and quickly, becoming visibly intoxicated. He got on the decks nonetheless, but to add insult to injury his hastily prepared backup card corrupted. He ended up playing the same song three different times, and even got on the microphone twice (something he doesn’t usually do), speaking gibberish. He ended up cutting his set short, far before his scheduled 6 a.m. end time, no doubt upsetting many fans who paid over $100 for the event — but mostly, angering himself.
Prydz showed character on Monday with an apologetic Facebook post. “I should have handled it better and avoided the booze,” he wrote, adding that it was “not [his] usual style” and that “it will never happen again.” Aside from the predictable trolls, comments from fans on the post seem to be overwhelmingly positive, with many praising his honesty. And Prydz had redeemed himself the following day in Miami, playing another set at Ultra (under his techno-focused Cirez D moniker) and one at small South Beach club Axis. Regardless of what happened that night at Space, dance music still loves Eric Prydz. The question is whether he can conquer his own insecurities and take his rightful place among the world’s superstar DJs. Time will tell.