For Kygo, remixing has become reflex.
“It’s almost the same process every time,” the Norwegian artist says. “I always play piano over the original track. I often stay sitting up all night, and I usually finish it before I go to bed. I get into a zone where I’m really in my own world when I make music.”
That process has paid off to the tune of 10 Hype Machine No. 1 remixes in the past year, catapulting the 22-year-old producer to the top of Billboard’s Uncharted chart, and elevating him from an unknown university student to a sought-after rising star who can count Coldplay and Diplo among his suitors.
Lounging in a London hotel room after his British debut show, Kygo – real name Kyrre Gørvell-Dahll – wears a crisp white shirt and a backwards black cap that recalls his idol Avicii. Since Kygo just released his viral breakthrough remix of Syn Cole’s “Miami 82” on the Swedish superstar’s LE7ELS imprint, one could say he’s just dressing the part.
Hailing from the rainy northern city of Bergen, Kygo began playing piano when he was six years old, taking 10 years of lessons before focusing on his own compositions. After hearing Avicii’s 2010 single “Seek Bromance,” he embarked on a listening binge that inspired his own entry into progressive house production.
“Avicii’s melodies were so simple and cool, and they were actually similar to the melodies I played on piano,” he says. “I thought if I could teach myself how to produce and get those melodies out of my head and into the computer, maybe I could make some cool music too.”
As Kygo’s studio skills grew, so did his dissatisfaction with the stylistic staleness of the progressive house genre. He spent months experimenting with different synthesizer and effects plug-ins, searching for singular sound design to complement his melodies.
“All the songs sounded the same,” he says. “Suddenly, everything was about who had the most badass drop and I got really tired of that. I just wanted to make melodies. I started trying to do my own thing and let the melodies make the genre themselves.”
What emerged was a fresh and accessible sound, built on playful melodies, dreamy downtempo synth leads, and earnest atmospherics, which his legions of Facebook fans sometimes refer to as “tropical house.” Kygo first showcased this style on his remix of Passenger’s “Let Her Go,” which he released as a free download and watched scale the Hype Machine charts several months later, buoyed by blog support.
“I was so happy, because I didn’t think it would happen,” he says. “I’d always hoped to get up there, but I didn’t know how to do it. Suddenly, it was No. 1. That was a big moment for me. It motivated me to make more music.”
Kygo built his Internet fan base by garnering millions of plays on a strong series of unofficial remixes, lending his melodic Midas touch to such divergent songs as Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing,” Ellie Goulding’s “High for This,” and Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire.” But it was his entry into LE7ELS’ “Miami 82” remix contest in February that changed his life overnight.
“Within 24 hours, the label people contacted us and said they wanted to sign it,” Kygo says. “I was smiling all day.”
He was more likely smiling all month. Four days later, Ultra Music Festival used his remix in its official promotional video. In addition to sound tracking a slow-motion backdrop of bouncing bikinis and tanned beach bodies, the song quickly commanded the attention of the dance music world.
Kygo’s sun-soaked vibe soon caught the ear of Diplo, who asked him to do a guest mix for his show on BBC Radio 1Xtra, on which the Mad Decent boss introduced the up-and-comer to his listeners as “100% original.”
As it happens, Diplo wasn’t the only BBC Radio host to help Kygo out. As Kygo exclusively revealed to Billboard, Pete Tong helped him land an official remix of Coldplay’s latest single “Midnight,” which he’ll be premiering on the UK veteran’s radio show next month.
“’Midnight’ is pretty different from the other tracks I’ve remixed, so it was challenging to work with it,” he says. “I tried to make it my own and give it my own style and melody.”
Last week, Kygo announced a nine-date North American tour that kicks off May 29. With summer bookings at Tomorrowland, Feelings Festival, and the Hudson Project looming on the horizon as well, the producer-turned-DJ has been honing his mixing skills in preparation.
“I only touched a DJ controller for the first time last year, but I’m getting better,” he says, laughing. “Most of my songs are really slow compared to ones other artists make, so it’s pretty difficult to find songs in between that I can use to increase the tempo.”
On the production front, Kygo is working on a number of original tracks and muses about making an album. But he’s quick to clarify that he’ll continue remixing tracks that speak to him, as evidenced by this week’s rework of Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s “Shine.” He just has to get through three exams first, grinning sheepishly at the mention of schoolwork.
“Everything’s about music these days.”