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Swedish DJs take SoCal: John Dahlbäck makes L.A. debut Saturday, other Swedes follow on the 21st

March 10, 2009 |  1:27 pm

Sweden might be best known in America as the place where stylish and deceptively easy-to-assemble furniture is manufactured. But a handful of DJs from the Scandinavian country are attempting to change the perception -- among music fans, anyway -- about what their country has been producing better than anyone else. (Hint: It's house music.)

Last year, Swedish DJ and producer Axwell turned in one of the most energetic live sets I've seen in years at the Avalon as his countrymen (and women) swarmed the dance floor, where oversized Swedish flags waved  among the house-heads.

This month, the same club on Vine Street hosts no fewer than three spinners from Sweden, including the Swedish House Mafia's Steve Angello & Sebastian Ingrosso. And before the House Mafia hits Hollywood on the 21st, up-and-comer John Dahlbäck twists and tweaks beats at the Avalon this Saturday night in his Los Angeles debut.

Though Sweden's long had a history in the pop world of producing big hits with commanding synth-based hooks, over the last five years or so, a new generation of house-music DJs has left its mark all over Europe and South America (mainstream American music fans, naturally, are the last to get hip to the trend). Eric Prydz, a former member of the Swedish House Mafia, scored a massive club smash (and crossover pop hit, with the tune going to the top of the charts in countries such as England and Germany) in 2004 with "Call on Me." The track still receives play in clubs from Miami to Munich nightly and is based on, of all things, a sample of Steve Winwood's 1982 hit "Valerie." Call it perhaps the most unlikely house hit of the decade -- but it never fails to get bodies on the dance floor every time it's played. 

As we ease into a new decade, it looks as if ascendant DJ and house music producer John Dahlbäck might be the next breakout star out of Stockholm. Tracks such as "Blink" (seen in the video above) and, in particular, "Hustle Up" exemplify the producer's knack for locking down tight grooves and adding just enough unexpected twists to keep fans of intelligent electro-house on their toes. See how Swedish House Mafia members support one another in this clip, which features Ingrosso and Axwell dropping "Hustle Up" during a 2007 appearance.

We fired off a few questions to Dahlbäck by e-mail earlier this week in anticipation of his opening set for Sander Kleinenberg on Saturday at the Avalon. His answers after the jump.

How would you describe your style to Americans who don't yet know you? House? Electro-house?

Sort of electro-house or house but with a nice groove. Lately, I've been changing my sets a bit, trying to get the best groove and funk as possible.

What is it about Sweden that produces such great electronic music?
I still live in Sweden and it's great. I think the main reason why there are so many great producers there is because we are very focused. You can really be yourself and concentrate on the thing you love in Sweden, so I believe all the producers are really going to the studio as if it was their normal job.

Many hip-hop producers are increasingly looking to dance music for inspiration. Have you worked with any rap-music producers or do you plan to this year?

Before I was doing house music, I was doing some kind of hip-hop. It wasn't that successful, but I learned a lot about beats and such. The only kind of hip-hop I'm working with now is with a Swedish rapper called Adam Tensta, who is awesome. It's always been a good idea to blend hip-hop with electronic music.

"Hustle Up" has a very unique sound and flavor. How did you come up with the riff?

I wanted to do something really special, really blend house with trance. The basic track idea was easy to do, but it took a while to arrange it and everything. I'm very happy about this track and the fact that a lot of people are into it as well.

Is "Blink" your biggest hit? The video is fun ... but it seems like it never got played much in the U.S.

I would believe it's my biggest hit so far, yes. The problem with the U.S. is that I never really found a record label for it, since it's kind of too hard for the commercial radio and TV in the States. It was huge in France, they loved that hook, and since we used that Tektonik dance in the video, people started to love the video too.

Who are the best dance-music DJs working today, in your opinion?

Also a tough question. There are a lot of DJs and producers I really respect, like Fedde Le Grand, Rene Amesz, Style of Eye. The situation today is that you can't really get success as a DJ without having the productions behind your back and those producers I mentioned are really trying to create a new sound, which is important today when there are like millions of tracks being released each week.

Where is dance music heading in 2009 and into the next decade? Any new trends or sounds emerging that have you excited?

The whole funk thing is getting back into electronic music. It was too flat and boring for a while, just very straight grooves and such. But now more and more producers are really bringing back that sexy kind of swing to house music, which is awesome.

--Charlie Amter

John Dahlbäck hits the Avalon on Saturday, opening for Sander Kleinenberg at "Avaland."  He also will appear Thursday night in Orange County at ilounge.

Ingrosso and Angello (Swedish House Mafia members) play the Avalon on March 21.