Legacy. It is something that musicians are always aware of and care for the more the age. Music left behind is what people will always remember you for. We often look at an artist’s legacy after they have died and that is happening with Avicii, who died on Friday in Oman at the age of 28. A lot has already been written about his impact on dance music, music in general and the struggles he had to cope with fame, but looking forward, how will he be viewed? Dance music has lost luminaries before like Frankie Knuckles, DJ Mehdi, DJ AM and Larry Levan, but this is the first superstar from the modern EDM era who has died. How will he be remembered in the annals of history: just another flash in the pan, or someone who made a profound impact on music like Cobain, Hendrix, Joplin or Morrison?
There is something tragically dubbed The 27 club in rock and roll. It started when some of music’s brightest souls, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison all died at the age of 27 between 1969 and 1971. It started to gain some traction in popular culture when Kurt Cobain died in 1994 and then others like Amy Winehouse in 2011.
Avicii was 28, but the idea remains the same. Will he be remembered the same way?
The idea Avicii might join this club was first proposed to me by a friend and then said again by Markus Schulz. It makes same sense. Dance music hasn’t had someone this impactful die this young and cause this much of an outpouring of support around the world. His music found a way to connect with individuals beyond the stale and boring copycat melodies that would do their very best to emulate him. The global boom we saw in the early 2010s was largely fueled by his music. His early music called upon basic principles of house music and he soon would bridge the seemingly unassailable gap between country and dance music into the smash hit “Wake Me Up.” There was some funk to his records in between those earworm melodies.
He helped inspire a generation of young professionals to start making music, DJ and get into the business. Ask around to many writers, promoters, DJs, publicists and managers between the ages 22 and 30 about Avicii and they will likely say he had a major influence in their interest not only in the genre, but also going into the business.
Artists like Ryan Tedder and Nick Jones, in addition to just about every DJ with a gig over the weekend, memorialized him in live performances, while just about every DJ and other musician paid their respect to the man online. Even the prime minister of Sweden wrote a message in condolences to the producer.
There is one more very important thing that connects them – substance abuse. They all struggled with alcohol and drug addiction in some form. We do not know Avicii’s cause of death yet, but foul play has been ruled out at this point. His rise to fame has been chronicled, going from a young kid making beats and sending them to forums to a festival headliner in just a few years and he was not ready for that life. He could not handle the stress and pressure and turned to alcohol as a way of coping.
In the end, a lot of this depends on how the music he made is perceived by the wider public, today, in one year, ten years and 50 years down the line. Joplin, Cobain, Hendrix, Jones, Morrison and Winehouse all are considered to be some of the best in their field.
Or will he be seen like Biggie or Tupac who aren’t always in those conversations, potentially because rap hasn’t been as widely accepted among the general population yet. They also died from violence, but their talent and impact on rap is undeniable.
Avicii’s brand of EDM may never ben fully accepted among music’s elites. But he inspired and help soundtrack a generation like those others did and that should never be discounted. With his star power and impact on the world, that should elevate his legacy into that conversation.