‘Leave The World Behind’: Why Swedish House Mafia called it quits
“They should call this tour ‘One Last Complaint’,” Sebastian Ingrosso vents midway through Leave The World Behind. “We’re complaining all the time, even though everything is perfect. We’re looking for things to complain about! It’s messed up.”
The scene is a backstage dressing room in yet another stadium, somewhere in the blur of Swedish House Mafia’s farewell tour. From the couch, Steve Angello eyes his DJ partner warily. All he’d asked is for someone to open a window.
Leave The World Behind opens with words delivered by Abraham Lincoln in 1858, “A house divided against itself stand.” Over the next 95 minutes, we find out just how that adage applies to a trio of millionaire DJs who no longer see eye-to-eye.
If you’ve had the Leave The World Behind trailer on repeat, you’ll already know this isn’t just a feature-length hype reel of pyrotechnics and ecstatic fans. (Although it’s definitely got that.) It’s also the story of three long-time friends, each with their own aspirations and insecurities, who’ve lost how to make it work. It’s this human dynamic, more so than the sweeping shots of crowds we’ve seen in any number of festival after-movies, that elevates Leave The World Behind from an ad to a trip worth taking.
The last time we saw the Swedish House Mafia on-screen was in 2010’s tour documentary Take One. Back then, at least a third of the 40-minute running time was dedicated to the DJs acting like divas. A quote from The Times newspaper used to promote the movie – “Spinal Tap for the acid house generation” – may not have been meant as a compliment.
In Take One, we see an Ingrosso meltdown at not getting his own car to drive to Ultra, Axwell trying the line “Wanna party?” on girls in every direction, and several clashes with promoters. The DJs party like rock stars, with the potbellies to prove it. (As Angello put it to inthemix, “Honestly, we live a fucked-up life. It has not been the healthiest.”)
Four years on, Leave The World Behind introduces us to a very different Swedish House Mafia. Instead of chasing the next high, they hang out alone in plush hotel rooms and FaceTime their kids. Early on, we hear how they’ve dialled back the hell-raising lifestyle, and it makes for a more pensive, measured trio on camera. Cigarettes are the only real vice left. After one exhilarating show captured in the film, Ingrosso tells Axwell he couldn’t resist having a shot of vodka to celebrate. The surprise in his own voice suggests the group’s rider is now more green tea than Grey Goose.
Take One’s director Christian Larson returns with a more ambitious vision on Leave The World Behind. The film tracks from the announcement of Swedish House Mafia’s last-ever tour through to the Ultra Music Festival finale, punctuated by flashbacks to the group’s early days. Larson’s experience making music videos has equipped him for the bombast of this assignment, but he revels in the quieter moments too. Some of the film’s standout scenes focus on each DJ’s family life, and how having wives and kids at home intersects with long stretches spent on the road.
For a documentary about three superstar DJs playing stadium anthems, Leave The World Behind isn’t shy of melancholy. Without the warm buzz of free-flowing vodka, the guys step off stage dazed and depleted. Larson knows when to let his camera linger. After one arena show, Ingrosso sings to his daughter on FaceTime, while his tour mates sit on a couch, intently focused on their phones. “Great crowd,” Axwell says absent-mindedly. “Yes,” Angello deadpans, leaving a dull silence hanging. The elation is over.
Our whirlwind ride through Swedish House Mafia’s final tour begins in Stockholm in November 2012. “My shrink just told me, ‘Try to avoid stress and take it easy over the next few days,’” Ingrosso quips as they drive to the first of three sold-out shows at the Friends Arena. No such luck. If you’ve come to Leave The World Behind to watch three guys under stress, the pay-off is about an hour in.
We see in flashback what went wrong when the group rented a house in Sydney, Australia to make Don’t You Worry Child, and the tension simmers from there. As ‘One Last Tour’ reaches its final leg, Larson’s visual style takes a dark turn. While the DJs seethe and unravel, the concert scenes get more chaotic too. By the time Steve Angello is walking straight from the stage to a waiting car, it’s clear these creative differences run deep.
Despite its raw moments, Leave The World Behind has no definitive answers on why the group called it quits. “Remember when I said two years ago, we should focus on Swedish House Mafia 100-percent?” Axwell says to Ingrosso in one of the tour’s interchangeable five-star hotels. “I don’t remember if we were on drugs or not. We should’ve focused on SHM and given up on our own stuff.”
A word that keeps occurring is ‘commitment’: no member was willing to go all-in to make it work. (It’s notable, though, that Ingrosso and Axwell quickly formed the Departures partnership and continue to make music together.) Swedish House Mafia could never be exclusive. As well as their own DJ schedules, Axwell has Axtone to oversee, Angello believes strongly in his role as a mentor of the Size Records family, and Ingrosso leads Refune, with protégés like Alesso and Otto Knows.
Amy Thomson, the trio’s manager and self-coined “chairwoman”, has some of the clearest reasoning in Leave The World Behind. “I think even if we said sorry, I don’t think it would fix it,” she says. “I think we all want to be happy more than we want to be in Swedish House Mafia.”
While Leave The World Behind is undoubtedly an artist-sanctioned product, its sharp edges are commendable. As the tour reaches its final weeks, though, we see the tension release. A scene just before the trio is called to the stage at Ultra Music Festival is one of the film’s best. As Axwell says of life after Swedish House Mafia, “Gracefully, we will have a friendship.” As the credits roll on Leave The World Behind, you’ll want to believe it.