A journeyman, an innovator, a success story still being penned—the life and times of legendary Swedish producer Axwell are never a dull subject. Bred in Stockholm’s budding underground circuit and kicking off his career back in the ’00s, few could have anticipated Axel “Axwell” Hedfors’ road to stardom and the sheer impact it would have upon global house music. While balancing DJing, producing, his Axtone imprint, and conceptual shows alongside Swedish House Mafia, his journey has been intense, peppered with groundbreaking landmarks throughout. But with so much mileage gained and so much new talent scoped under his watchful eye, the road ahead remains an exciting one. Beatport News caught up with Hedfors from his studio in Stockholm to talk the functionality of modern music, his long-serving career, and life after the game-changing trio.
Your career has seen a considerable shift in the very core of electronic music. How do you feel about the current state of the industry and its creative stamina?
It is a sensitive question, but I think the genre is moving so fast that music is turning into a McDonald’s-like product. As artists and DJs, we really have to watch ourselves. The modern industry means you have to be everywhere to be relevant, which is exciting but at the same time can be detrimental to the process of making music. Putting down the required work in between shows is a constant creative challenge, especially if you are trying to make something that truly shows the world you are pushing forward. The music has to stay both interesting and relevant, and that balance is exactly my game plan. You have to dare to take time off from the shows to experiment and make the music properly.
To your mind, are these multiple genre boundaries and brackets the necessary evil that manage popular sound and convention, or should they be approached with considerable caution?
I think you both can and should do whatever you want. There is the option to mix and match freely, but the thing is that dance music has moved towards being a functional genre over the years. Everyone wants to make crazy dancefloor music that makes people go crazy. I get that, but at the same time it has become too systematic and created a genre that is functional to the demand for it. That is great, but it isn’t the only option. To my mind there are two types of music: functional music and music. Ideally, you need to be able to do both. With the “music” side, it should be whatever sound or instrumentation your heart desires. The world needs functionality sometimes, but it doesn’t have to override the bigger picture of music.
“Center of the Universe” has been a long time coming—five years, if we aren’t mistaken? Talk us through the concept behind the double-edged single and what you feel your Remodes bring to the table.
“Center of the Universe” was an old track to start with, so I immediately wanted to change what I had started five years before. I do this a lot with my releases because it feels liberating to show another interpretation of your own work. I come from a strong remixing background, so it always felt very natural to me. That is why all my tracks come with a remodel. The Remode for this track was essential to me. It had that progressive feel to it with a lot of house influences scattered throughout, and therefore I felt like it could stand the test of both club and arena shows. There has been a lot of big festival and arena shows of late, so it was interesting to find the middle-ground that catered for both aspects.
What do you believe has driven your development as an artist?
As I got better at producing music, it seemed like I got much better at listening to what I was making. As a result, I managed to refine my music to be just the best elements they could possibly be. For me, a hit requires both strong melodies and huge sounds—you still had to be able to distinguish what made it so good among all the energy and commotion. That melodic background from my childhood was essential to the bigger picture. Music had to make you feel something—emotionless just wasn’t any good to me. My ethos remains that if you aim for feeling, the music speaks for itself.
Talk us through your initial vision for Axtone and how that element of your career has developed since its inception.
Axtone has developed a lot when you consider that it was once just an outlet for my own music, but when the opportunity came to finally dabble with new artists and remixes, I couldn’t say no. The development has definitely been a slow and organic process, but at the same time that has allowed us to have a steady flow of releases. My belief is that every release must count and carry a great sense of meaning and belonging. As a result, I would rather release a few really memorable and strong tracks per year than just blast out 50 that didn’t enrich people in one way or another. I guess my main aim has been to carry house music that is actually worth something, not just another empty mark on a certain chart of genre. We have now also ventured into management, which has been another nice organic development and has allowed us to create a family that is musically and professionally united.
A lot of fans are still talking about those IDs you have taunted us with in your sets since as far back as 2008. Is it fair to say there is a lot of material to expect from you from here onwards?
I won’t lie; I am just as concerned about unreleased tracks and IDs as the fans are. They have certainly been piling up over the years, but I am excited to be able to catch my breath finally after such a huge whirlwind journey. It was a real challenge to maintain SHM, Axtone, and myself simultaneously—in fact, at times it felt impossible. Since we called it quits as Swedish House Mafia, my priority has remained getting to know myself in the studio again. To have the time to reflect on your own personal journey and musical identity again feels strange at first, but the process has been very liberating in its own strange way.
No snapshot of your career would be complete without noting the immense footsteps made by Swedish House Mafia. How do you feel about that chapter in your career, having formally put it to bed this year?
When I first emerged in this industry, my goals often felt unrealistic. Making music for a living was as far as I could ever comprehend this going and I never imagined anything to the extent of what we saw through that project. I feel like we worked hard for it to happen, so to be here now and still be making music is a huge deal and a very proud aspect of my career. Swedish House Mafia was not necessarily planned. We found a way to combine pop and house music without wanting to and certainly walked away from it with some unforgettable memories and a feeling of “Fuck yes, we made it happen.”
You have never shied away from bringing new talents and producers to the table. Are their any other artists on the horizon you are keen to unite with?
It would have been Coldplay, but I felt like our remix said it all on that front. For me, the exciting prospect is finding those unknown artists around the corner. John [Martin] was literally a few minutes down the road from me in Stockholm and yet I was none the wiser for long as to his talent and the way our musical ambitions would gel. I am looking for the next John Martin—those amazing talents that aren’t yet on the radar that more than deserve to be.
What do you consider to me the most challenging aspect of being a modern artist in as high demand as yourself?
Every track is a challenge. To move forward whilst sounding relevant is a big task and that balance between musicality and function is crucial to my love for music. That emotional feeling and melody does not just naturally happen alongside the banging club sound—it takes a lot of work. In terms of lessons, nobody looks after your career more than yourself. It is a very generic life [lesson], but I would also say that your best time is now. It’s very basic, but also very relevant to anyone and everyone. Nobody wants to look back and realize you didn’t do it the way you wanted.
How is the road ahead looking for you and can we expect much in terms of new material given the busy summer schedule ahead of you?
It feels so good to be where I am today. I have recently been finishing a lot of music here in Stockholm before I set off for the summer touring schedule, which is looking to be a lot of fun for me. We have mine and Sebastian’s Departures residency at Ushuaia [in Ibiza] and of course my sign-off show in Stockholm for Where’s The Party by Carlsberg, so it has come together nicely for me with everything in between. My main problem is that there are only 24 hours in the day, so I am constantly battling that element to get the best from myself without maxing myself out completely. There are some great tracks to come from the label and myself, though, so it seems to be working considerably well.