On 24th June 2012, Steve Angelo, Axwell, and Sebastien Ingrosso – known collectively as Swedish House Mafia – announced that their next tour would be their last. They ended the online statement with a fittingly simple sign off, “We came. We raved. We loved.”
The fall out from that announcement was on a scale comparable to the death of a head of state or a religious leader. Cries rang out across the globe – from Miami to Mumbai – from the millions of fans who had fallen in love with a world of dance music that held Swedish House Mafia as its talisman and figurehead. But who were these three men who in only four years had risen from local Stockholm club DJs to the stratospheric heights of House superstardom? Who were they, that with one web post they could send the world of international dance music into a tailspin? And why, after such a brief and promising career, had they suddenly decided to head in different directions? These are the questions posed by Christian Larson in his latest documentary for the group, Leave The World Behind.
The film picks up from around the time of that stunning announcement and follows the trio on their 50-date final tour. There is an undeniable allure to following an iconic trio of superstars on what they know will be their last world tour, as they come to terms with what their careers have meant to them. It is an honest portrayal of three very normal men, thrust into the intense vacuum of superstardom, and now struggling to find their way out. Their decision to split comes across as rushed and ill conceived. When questioned on the matter, they seem panicked. And as they pause before Larson’s camera during brief moments of calm and solitude throughout the tour, they never seem any closer to an answer that satisfies them.
All credit to Larson, then, for moulding this complex and stuttering narrative into a film with thrust and power. In amongst the jumbled cacophony of private jets, backstage passes, long hours on the road, lonely hotel rooms, and rushed calls home, Larson carefully plots an emotional through line that makes us feel as if we’re part of the story. We witness the highs and lows, the rush of excitement as the stage is built, the giddiness at arriving in far flung lands; but then we see the exhaustion, the petty arguments, the beleaguered apathy. Our subjects can’t explain for themselves why they’re breaking up, but the picture Larson paints certainly sheds some light.
Importantly, Larson doesn’t allow his search for answers to blind him from the equally pressing need to celebrate the power that SHM’s music had, and will continue to have, on the legions of fans who showed up in their thousands to say goodbye. The sweaty rapture, dripped in neon, of these epic final shows is palpable every time Larson’s camera steps out into the crowd to enjoy Swedish House Mafia at their most brilliant. The director’s background in music videos comes to the fore: blending up-close crowd footage with the astounding stage show in all its pyrotechnic, LED-emblazoned glory; weaving in vast wide shots of crowds, and intimate close-ups of the three men as they twist and contort around one another to reach various knobs, buttons and switches in their DJ booth. (It’s an almost comic image, this mind-blowing stage show holding thousands of people in a stupor, yet at the centre of it all… three grown men crammed into a booth pushing buttons like the Wizard of Oz.)
The film is certainly a visual delight, and does a better job than any film this critic has seen of reflecting how it feels to be at an electronic dance event of that size. But it is also an aural delight: original tracks and remixes are blended with real event recordings to give brief flashes of the sheer, almost aggressive power of their live performances. The film, as with the performances it depicts, is a complete and very welcome assault on the senses.
Perhaps fittingly, the tour does not culminate back where it all began, in some dusty old venue in Sweden’s chilly coastal capital, but at the Electronic Dance Conference in Miami. A final shot towards the end of the film shows Angelo, Axwell, and Ingrosso blasting away from that sun-steeped emerald city in a rented speedboat. Heading for the Gulf horizon. Lost at sea. Lost in the world. Three grown men with no idea what happens next.