Anyone who attended Steve Angello‘s set at Coachella this year expecting to hear shiny, big-room hits must have been very caught off guard. Instead of the energetic bounce of “Wasted Love” and a familiar singalong to “Save The World,” fans were greeted by a theatrical religious-tinged performance presented in three parts comprising an album’s worth of never-before-heard material.
Live drummers stormed the stage. Dark, minimal visuals set a solemn and celebratory tones. He even designed a scent called Alter to take his crowd manipulation to a whole new dimension. A Parental Advisory Warning preceded the presentation. There had been no warning.
“I think it’s important as an artist to just constantly beat yourself up. I know that sounds bizarre,” he tells Billboard. “I’ve done this for such a long time and just doing what everybody else does, just playing the safe card, it doesn’t always tickle me. It doesn’t excite me. It doesn’t make me want to go into the studio and create something. It doesn’t make me challenge myself. For me, it was like, I need to make the biggest challenge I can possibly find and then I’ll just fight with that.”
There’s been a change in him and, therefore, a change in his music. That album’s worth of material he debuted at Coachella, it’s slowly being released in brief, teasing bursts. It began with the triumphant, almost psychedelic single “Rejoice” and a two-track EP called Genesis. On Friday (Oct. 13), it evolves into darker moods on the double-sided Inferno EP. With more music on its way, for Angello, this new project is less an album as it is an “installation.”
Speaking from the comfort of his studio in his hometown of Stockholm, Sweden, he explains the setting continues to inspire.
“It starts raining now at this time of year,” he says, “so it’s perfect.”
It was around this time a year ago in 2016 when Angello’s artistic metamorphosis began.
“It wasn’t that I was lost creatively,” he says. “It was bigger than that. I’ve created music my whole life and I’m trying to cut through this noise all the time. I play the biggest shows in the world. I have the most success I could ever possibly have. What’s next for me in life? Is this it? Should I just go and milk it and just make as much money as I can? Do I see it as a business, or do I actually go back to find myself, to become this 15-year-old kid that I was once and just create music for the passion and love I have with music? Or do I keep chasing my tail, try to do the hits one after one, just keep on releasing singles and push to stream?”
He questioned himself in the wake of his last album, Wild Youth. He was pounding his head to a wall, chasing numbers he didn’t care for, his talents twisted twisted by market research, his time spent figuring out when to share some innocuous noise to Instagram to maximize likes, not creative potential.
“They just disappeared into the darkness,” he says. Nobody knew what Kurt Cobain or Roger Waters was up to between releases. No one was keeping tabs on what they ate for lunch or what famous person they met with in some fashionable city. They just disappeared after a tour and when they came back, they brought fresh new concepts that touched people’s lives. So, he deleted social media from his life.
“You’re on there every day, people telling you you’re amazing, they love you, and all of a suddenly you just completely pull the plug,” he says. “It takes a lot, but at the same time, it’s worth it, because I don’t feel like doing what everyone else is doing. I look at music today differently. It’s played such a big part in my whole life, it’s not a business for me. I started making music when I was 12. It saved me from a lot of things.”
His isolation went deeper. He retreated to Stockholm and focused on his family. Every morning, he’d wake at 6 a.m., go through his morning routine and take the kids to school before heading to the studio. On the way there, he’d pass an Orthodox church. One day, he stopped to knock on its door. The priest inside told him the church was closed, but he was welcome to sit in the pews as long as he’d like. He sat there for two hours in total silence, thinking about everything and nothing all at once. He repeated this practice every day.
“It’s nice to just shut off,” he says. “When I was a kid, I used to walk to school 35 or 40 minutes and I’d walk alone. I walked in silence. I miss silence.”
When he wasn’t meditating in the pews, he listened to a lot of inspirational speeches. He stumbled upon a snippet of a sermon from a West Virginia pastor named T.D. Jakes. He was motivating his congregation to change their minds in order to change their lives as a means to prepare for a new year. It was a bolt to Angello’s brain. He reached out to the church for an audio file and they acquiesced.
“Rejoice” was the first song Angello created in this new state of mind. It was the lead single for this new body of work, it begins all his subsequent shows and, once it sees light of day, it will open the full release.
“You’re supposed to create music that motivates people, inspires people and says something,” he says. “The music I grew up on — whether it was hip-hop or punk — everything used to be a revolution. It was a form of speech where you would express yourself culturally and it could be so strong.
“I feel like dance music has completely lost that,” he continues. “In the beginning, we had house music and people used to do records that meant so much. I miss music to express. The only thing I hear now is people making records to make money, which… We could flip burgers, what’s the difference? And the problem is with a lot of artists, because it’s become the norm, so the fans take it for what it is, because that’s what they’re being told.”
He doesn’t want to be like his peers releasing the same record 25 times in a row and his new material is certainly not his old sound. It’s darker, more minimal, especially the tracks from Inferno. “Freedom” is menacing and industrial with a feature from rapper Pusha T, an artist Angello admires for pushing boundaries. It’s the epitome of what the Inferno act represents.
“We’re in this endless battle, regardless of which way we’re looking, the whole world is on fire,” he says. “At the end of the day, most of it is just pointless. It’s just stupidity.”
It’s paired on the EP with “I Know,” a hard, sensual song that pivots halfway through with a synth breakdown that shines a light, as if the listener has come across a bridge to a new land of opportunity, which makes sense, because the third and final act is Paradiso.
Each act ranges from five to eight tracks. It will be a rather large project when it’s all said and done. For promotion, Angello has returned to social media, but he’s writing his own rules. There’s a private Facebook group dedicated to Gensis, but only core fans received an invite. Twitter is the domain of Inferno and Paradiso will unfold on Instagram.
“I’m just fucking around with everything I’m not supposed to touch,” he laughs. “I’m like that as a person. I’m extremely disruptive and damaging. I kind of destroy stuff around me just to disrupt things sometimes. if they’re too easy going, I get uncomfortable.”
Once it’s all out there, he’s bringing the theatrical show on tour. Prepare your souls for the second coming. Steve Angello is risen.
“Once in a while, you got to speak up,” he says. “It’s not only about trying to push that one record and having fun, playing Vegas every week. It’s about creating something. We’re musicians. We’re artists. We’re supposed to disrupt, we’re supposed to be disliked, we’re supposed to be loved. We’re just supposed to create. That’s what we should do.”