After the EDM star died aged 28 last year, his family decided that his album Tim should be completed. How did the chosen collaborators handle such a sensitive task?
Last summer, a carefully chosen group of producers was given a challenging task to complete Tim, the third album by the late Swedish DJ and producer Avicii, AKA Tim Bergling. Released this week, the album was roughly two-thirds finished when Bergling killed himself on 20 April 2018 aged 28.
His was the defining voice of EDM, the bombastic, Technicolor dance music that has dominated the charts in this decade. His 2013 song Wake Me Up, with soul singer Aloe Blacc, spent 26 weeks at No 1 on the US Billboard dance singles chart and was for a time the most-streamed song in Spotify history. Bergling became one of the worlds highest-paid DJs and collaborated with Madonna, Coldplay and Nile Rogers, who called him one of the greatest natural melody writers Ive ever worked with.
As Berglings fame intensified, so did his problems. After being hospitalised in 2014, he was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis caused by excessive drinking. He later had surgery to remove his gallbladder, was prescribed drugs (including the addictive opioid Percocet) for physical pain, depression and anxiety, yet continued his gruelling schedule.
By 2016, hed had enough. He fired his manager and retired from touring. I know I am blessed to be able to travel all around the world, he said at the time, but I have too little left for the life of a real person behind the artist. In 2017, he released a documentary, Avicii: True Stories. In the final scene, Nina Simones Feeling Good blares out as Bergling sunbathes on a tropical beach. It was during this period that he began working on Tim.
Previous posthumous records, such as Aaliyahs I Care 4 U, Eazy-Es Str8 Off tha Streetz of Muthaphukkin Compton and Joy Divisions Closer, have served as more than just albums; they are memorials to their creators. And the task of finishing the work of a person who dies in shocking circumstances presents obvious difficulties especially when the creator was a producer, not a vocalist: how can you honour their sonic intentions?
In the centre of Stockholm are Kinglet Studios, run by Carl Falk, and, a few streets away, Studio Gottefar, occupied by Vincent Pontare and Salem Al Fakir, AKA the duo Vargas and Lagola. These producers, who considered Bergling both a collaborator and a good friend, completed six songs on Tim. It is the most nakedly pop-sounding of all of his albums, edging away from the buzzsaw riffs typical of EDM towards gentler melodies with romantic rather than hedonistic lyrics.
Sitting at his desk in Kinglet, Falk has ordered meatballs for lunch (What a cliche, he says. I never normally do this). He co-wrote One Directions What Makes You Beautiful and Nicki Minajs Starships, which he modestly calls his poor attempt to do a Swedish House Mafia song. It was Berglings father, Klas, who approached him to complete the album. I remember it being not awkward, but definitely strange, he says softly. Like he was a messenger of Tims … I have a proposal for you, but Im still his dad.
The Bergling family have been working to create a legacy for their son. This year, Klas gave a keynote speech at Ibizas biggest dance music conference, the International Music Summit, about mental health in the industry, and the family launched the Tim Bergling Foundation, using Berglings immense personal wealth to work with charities dedicated to suicide prevention and mental health issues. The album is part of this legacy all net proceeds will go the foundation but despite the positives, it has still been an emotional process for those charged with finishing the songs.
When Falk met Bergling in 2010, he was struck by his innocent approach to a genre rife with cynicism. With these [EDM] guys, you never know if theyre actually the people behind the music, he says. But you could tell instantly with him. They met up at Kinglet, played around on the guitar and piano, and Falk was sold. I would think: Hes so full of ideas, how does he ever finish a song? Bergling would spend hours on a simple melody, and was stubborn. If you wanted to change something hed done, youd better have the best argument as to why. But he also learned to trust me.