Steve Angello: Life Before the Big Leagues [Part 1]

Ever since breaking through together with Axel “Axwell” Hedfors and Sebastian Ingrosso as Swedish House Mafia, Steve Angello has been in the media’s spotlight everywhere around the world. The Swede has been a controversial figure on the music scene for the past couple of years, but it is not often that an artist of his magnitude allow for fans to get an insight on his private life. Now, however, in an interview with Swedish Journalist Kristoffer Triumf for the podcast “Värvet“, Steve speaks openly about his life, before and after SHM.

Today, the superstar producer lives a rather comfortable life in Los Angeles together with his wife and kids. His upbringing in Ulriksdal outside of Stockholm was, however, something quite different. Steve spent most of his youth together with his mother and his younger brother outside of Stockholm. After his parents divorced, he spent parts of his life in Athens, Greece, where his father lived and worked. Today he remembers this as a dark period in his life. Below is the transcribed interview Steve had with Kristoffer Triumf:

My father died in 1996. He was shot on an open Street in Athens… I was there when it happened. He worked a lot in the Athens nighlife, running clubs and such… And well.. Things were like they were back then. Very different from how things work in Sweden.

But wait, you were with him?



Yeah… I guess I had to grow up quite fast after that. It was tough. I was 14 at the time, and it took a while until my mother found out since my fathers family wanted to keep it private. I was a bit of an outcast with my father’s new wife and family. I was young, and it all happened so fast, I didn’t quite understand what had happened… I just sat there for days with no answers from anyone. After four days I finally got hold of my mother and she came down. It was a chaotic period. The funeral was two days later.

Steve felt that as a teen he had to grow up faster than most kids. With his father gone he was forced to pull up his sleeves and start earning money and become a man. He tells that he was very close to his father, and after his death he fell down into a spiral of criminal activity. Vandalism, stealing cars and such. He describes it as “some sort of revolt”.

The turnaround in his life came when he turned to music. Even though his family worried that it would not bring him a good enough income. In his mid-teens he knew what he wanted to do, and how to do it. What had happened in Greece was something that he just wanted to forget.

I started to break most contacts I had down there [in Greece] a few years ago, mostly because it all reminds me of my family, and I don’t have any good memories from down there. When my grandmother passed away I left it all, she was the last link I had to Greece. It was not really on purpose or anything, it just happened… It was such a dark period in my life and I do not want anything reminding me about it. Music has been a way out of all that.

Music was something so cool. You see, when you start making music, it becomes like some kind of meditation. Everything else in your life becomes so small in comparison so it is easy to just stop caring about it. Music was wonderful really. It was something new and unexplored. Nobody knew what we were doing at the time.

I have heard that in the beginning, you were mainly into hip-hop?

Yeah it was a lot of hip-hop, beats, breaks, garage… And then came Dance Music. Daft Punk… The first album, ‘Homework’, in 97. The whole French electronic disco house movement. France was incredible… It was so cool and when I first heard it… I mean, I was doing sample based hip-hop, and here comes something completely different, faster, cooler…. But still sample based. And no rappers! At the time that was a huge problem for us since we didn’t have any rappers around us, so when this instrumental wave with vocoded voices came in I understood what I had to do if you know what I mean.

Steve goes on by further discussing his upbringing and his adolescence. How he had a difficult time in school, and difficulties when trying to break through as a DJ in the Swedish capital. He also reflects upon his interests at the time, how he got started making hip-hop beats and how this interest evolved into making dance music.

The main goal was to be able to live off of my music. But this big vision did not come about until a couple of years later. I mean, in the beginning you are more like ‘I want to make music’, but you are also like ‘I want to be able to eat, and I need a place to live’. In the early years I would do all kinds of remixes just to get money for the basic things in life… And I would do stuff for free just to get my foot in… Same things with gigs, I took gigs everywhere. Then I started to make some cash of of it. It was me and Sebbe (Sebastian Ingrosso), and we had to hustle our way into the clubs. Lie about our age, get to know guards and stuff. People didn’t really like us at the times since we were rough kids from the bad parts of town… We were very energetic and pushy. We were always like. ‘We wanna play! We wanna play!”. After months of nagging about it outside the club they finally let us in… And they would let us play for like half an hour.

I went abroad quite early. I set my goals outside of Sweden because we didn’t really get any good response here.. People were like “Oh, so you make dance music… That is…Fun… I guess”. So I put up international goals instead. I was 17-18 years old I think…

And at this age you were out of school right?

To be honest, I hardly went to school in my youth. I regret it today because I believe that we all need some form of education, not just to be able to say that you are educated, but to grow up and be prepared for your professional life. I mean, school helps you to work on you discipline. That training is more important than pure mathematical training. Today you will count anything on your phone calculator anyway, but school gives you that discipline. So I do regret it as it could have helped me, but at the same time, had I not dropped out, perhaps I would not have been where I am today… I have been lucky.

So high school was out of the question?

I went for like a day or something. I said hi to everyone and then I left to never come back.

Did you have a day job?

No, I was playing hockey during the days… and making music. Then there was the teen stuff. Smoking weed. I tried to start smoking cigarettes. I would be like ‘Now I smoke’, and I would smoke a pack.. And then I would just puke because it was so disgusting. The day after I started with Snus (a Scandinavian tobacco/nicotine product that is absorbed by your blood when you place it under your lip) instead. A lot of curiosity. I hardly drank though.

Why is that?

I looked down on drunks. We had a lot of alcohol consumption in my family and a generation back we had some alcoholism… So I found it disgusting. It was never appealing to me. When my friends were like “lets get drunk”… I was more into doing music. I did drink later, but not in my teens.

How did you make music?

Most of us used Cubase and Logic (3,7 – 4.5). It was all sample based for me. I was not schooled in any instrument so I had to learn on my own. I just jumped in the game. In the beginning it was all samplings, but eventually I started to put in my own piano work. We did hard dance music. And all of a sudden it just blew up.

to be continued …