Last week we were invited along to attend the London premiere of Leave the World Behind - a documentary charting the final tour of dance music supergroup Swedish House Mafia.
Arriving at Leicester Square to find the Odeon swarming with guests, press and confused tourists whilst a procession of Swedish House Mafia hits blasted out into the night, you could be forgiven for thinking you were queuing for an Ibizan club night, rather than a London film premiere.
On entering the building the scene was even more surprising; a merchandise stand with staff frantically handing out SHM posters and goodie bags, flashing lights, snaking bar queues and when we go into the screen, we find around 200 people screaming, jumping, fist-pumping and singing along as “Don’t You Worry Child” booms out of the surround sound. It’s not long before a group of fans are jumping up and down on the stage in front of the screen. I can honestly say it was the first (and probably last) time I’d ever seen a rave in a cinema. When the music died out and the lights dimmed, the rave subsided and everyone returned to their seats as the film started.
The film opens with a spectacular aerial shot of the trio gliding across a bay on a speed boat, the music drops, the cinema audience cheers and the tone is set for the next 97 minutes – this film will be as big and bright and loud as a weekend at Creamfields.
The movie follows the trio of Sebastian Ingrosso, Axwell and Steve Angello as they travel the world, playing the biggest stadiums, on their “One Last Tour”. After shocking their legions of fans with a breakup announcement in 2012, the band embarked on the year-long tour, ostensibly to end the project on a high, but also as a final thank you to their dedicated global fanbase.
The film is directed by music video visionary, Christian Larson, and so it’s no surprise that it has the feel of a music video to end all music videos. Huge crowd shots, mesmerizing performance footage and fly-on-the-wall backstage antics merge to seamlessly recreate the massive excitement surrounding the tour. The inspired use of low res cartoons to retell the early days of the band, from Ingrosso and Angello bonding over a shared love of Daft Punk’s Homework, to their first gigs as a trio, manages to expertly capture the group’s humble – an almost accidental – beginnings.
It’s not all smiles and parties, however, fans of the group will be looking to this film for some closure on what is still a largely unexplained fallout between the Swedes. But for those asking why three men at the top of their game – managing to sell out Madison Square Gardens in 9 minutes – would suddenly throw in the towel, this film offers little in the way of explanation. While Larson interviews each artist individually about the split, he is not a journalist, and it shows, with the reluctant Swedes offering only fleeting hints at what may or may not have occurred between them.
Indeed the backstage group scenes are more telling than the individual interviews, with lingering shots of the three waiting to go on stage in deafening silence, with nothing left to say to each other, engrossed in their phones, their food or the view from the window, looking anywhere but at each other. Reading between the lines, it’s clear that the dynamic between the three is no longer – or perhaps has never been – equal. Axwell probably offers the most of his own feelings on the split saying “if we had fully committed to this, we could have got it right” and expressing his fear that the band could fall into “where are they now?” territory.
If Axwell seems the most reluctant to split, Angello seems the most keen, not through words spoken, but from his self-imposed exclusion from the band. In many shots he is both physically and emotionally distant from his band mates. Flashback footage from 2011 shows the three renting a house in Australia to finish “Don’t You Worry Child”. While Axwell and Ingrosso are glued to their computers, Angello is off getting a tattoo (much to the other’s annoyance).
Ingrosso, who at first glance is the most enthusiastic of the group, also comes across as the most torn. He hints at a disappointment in himself for his earlier party boy lifestyle and that his recent strives towards clean living were as much for his band as for himself. It’s sad then that just as he got his personal life on track, his band fell apart. When questioned on the breakup, whilst clearly not totally happy that things have gone the way they have, he seems determined that if this is what is required to keep their friendship intact, then he is behind it.
But while hardcore fans may be disappointed by the lack of answers, they surely can’t bear a grudge, as this film is perhaps the best example of Swedish House Mafia and the scene they helped create that anyone could hope for. At its core, the film is about three friends riding the crest of a wave of success they neither expected nor asked for. As a viewer, the true enjoyment in the film lies in abandoning any lingering questions and choosing to ride the wave with them, enjoying all the spectacle and euphoria that the biggest EDM act in the world bring to every show they play.
21 Mar 2014