Review of The Weeknd and Swedish House Mafia at Coachella – an unequal double act | Coachella

OWhen Kanye West dramatically retired from his title Sunday just two weeks ago for no reason, few could have predicted his replacement. A historic rock act, perhaps? An unexpected pop maven? No, it’s a mix between Canada’s brooding prince, The Weeknd, and the Swedish House Mafia, the trio that helped usher in the turbo-straight wave of maximalist EDM of the decade. They last performed at the festival in 2012, going their separate ways soon after. The Weeknd is at the level where he commands the Super Bowl halftime show and, reportedly, West’s $8.5 million appearance fee. He hardly needs those three.

So what happens when they merge?

In addition to sharing a manager, their duo makes sense on paper. Mafia men Steve Angello, Axwell and Sebastian Ingrosso use it to launch Paradise Again, their first album in 15 years of making, with a seemingly darker, more apocalyptic sound – a move to distance themselves from the now-taboo EDM tag, which has become synonymous with whimsical acts like Marshmello. The Weeknd is one of a handful of his great guest rappers and singers like Ty Dolla $ign, ASAP Rocky and a guy called Sting. His own most recent album, Dawn FM, meanwhile, is his most experimental to date and relies heavily on blackish electronic pumps. Together, they promised a three-part show: a bit of boingy-boingy SHM, a thrill of Weeknd nihilism, and a piece of collaborative megamix. They barely had time to do it. For once at Coachella, the stakes seem pretty high.

30 minutes late, the three Swedes finally arrive on stage and gather like bouncers behind a table to check your coats, under a giant halo. “Allow us to reintroduce ourselves,” Axwell shouts, before an onslaught of whirring electro, distorted trance, piano arpeggios and sandstorm visuals lands with the subtlety of a slap. In SHM terms, their set is quite diverse: one song has the punch of Justice and a whiff of the riff from Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name. Another chops vocal house and ’90s breakbeats. Then it’s into the industry-leading rap of their new album, and back to the sexy techno and crunchier takes of their high-energy anthems like One (Your Name) and Don’t You Worry Child. It’s clear they’re looking to recently divorced Daft Punk, whose 2006 pyramid show at Coachella marked a new dawn for electronic music in America. Or at least Axwell and Ingrosso are, as Angello awkwardly bounces alongside them, seemingly not doing much. The new dawn of SHM is re-establishing itself as a dance music powerhouse, which is great, but it still feels like…EDM?

Steve Angello, Axwell and Sebastian Ingrosso of the Swedish House Mafia
Steve Angello, Axwell and Sebastian Ingrosso of the Swedish House Mafia. Photography: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Coachella

After what seems like an eternity, here he is, the Weeknd, ad-libbing to the new SHM-produced track Sacrifice, his diamond voice cutting through the static. SHM always seems to be online behind him, pushing buttons. Then, it’s in his electro-stomper How Do I Make You Love Me, for which the beating drums sound a little soupy. This continues for Can’t Feel My Face, which feels like it’s been “mafia” in a slightly new and distorted version, in keeping with their set. Blinding Lights, however, The Weeknd’s Take On Me, is a promising moment, with SHM having now left the stage. He looks a little lost compared to the Harry Styles and Billie Eilish of previous nights, however, after being parachuted from filming a TV series on late notice to put on a show, with no band, dancers or extra extras, like, say, a striking outfit. It’s kind of like a Swedish House Mafia DJ set with a Weeknd PA.

Still, he’s got the hits: I Can’t Feel My Face, Starboy, I Feel it Coming, it goes on, and the glowsticks stay in the air, while his latest material Dawn FM, which he debuts tonight , sounds great. There’s also a nod to its predecessor, as the Weeknd performs part of West’s track Hurricane, as a bridge to the older song The Hills. It might have made sense to reverse their performances, Weeknd’s sullen pulse turning into SHM’s three-way ejaculation, though the DJs reappear for a final rendition of their collaborative single – and the gem of SHM’s new album. – Moth to a Flame. For a festival that doesn’t seem to take many risks, it was at least something offbeat. But it may not be worth repeating.

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