With his right hand, he cheered his fans on, and with his left, the DJ pumped out beats per minute. Not even two years later, on April 20, , Tim Bergling would go to his room during a vacation in Maskat, Oman, and take his own life. The Swede was just 28 years old. On that Friday, a superstar of the online age died.
Bergling, after all, was Avicii, a prodigy who composed melodies and rhythms on his laptop and then picked out the artists to sing them. He modeled for Ralph Lauren and was featured in ads for Volvo; his songs have been streamed more than 19 billion times on audio and video platforms. They are so mainstream that they're even known by people who don't know who Avicii is.
But Bergling left us. And no one close to him doubted that that is exactly what he wanted to do at that moment in Oman. But why?
It is a question that, when asked of people who were close to him, leads to silence, like pulling the plug on a TV set. His father stares past you into the emptiness, his lips pursed. His best friend shrugs his shoulders and fumbles around with his wristbands. The head of the record label shakes his head. The phone goes silent. But what happens if, in the search for answers that no one can provide, you instead turn the spotlight on the Tim behind Avicii?
What was it like for a young man who had become the embodiment of a generation that edits their photos before posting them on social media? How do you satisfy fans who want you to be their round-the-clock, omnipresent party god? What does his suicide say about our era, when maintaining Facebook profiles seems more important than real-world well-being?
Bergling lived a dream. But what if it wasn't the right one for him?
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Five weeks before the first anniversary of his son's death, Klas Bergling is sitting on the terrace of a hotel in Las Palmas. It's the low season on the Spanish island of Gran Canaria, and elderly tourists in beige cargo pants stroll along the beach promenade. He's 73 and she's They like the island's climate and they wanted to enjoy their retirement here.
Before Tim's death, they used to listen to his music while taking morning walks, Bergling says, the beats helping them to keep a steady pace. Sometimes, they would just start dancing on the beach -- but they can't do so anymore. Bergling wears his gray hair parted, and when he cries, his eyes redden behind the lenses of his black horn-rimmed glasses. But he won't let the tears run down his face in the presence of a stranger. Bergling doesn't claim to be able to explain his son. He knows Tim didn't tell him everything. What son would, anyway? Bergling is a practical man who used to run a wholesale office supply business in Stockholm and didn't even know what House music was before Tim's career.
He took care of the financial side, the bookkeeping, always telling his son Tim to always pay more attention to net income than the gross figures. He would pull out and iron the filthy receipts from his son's jeans because they could be used for tax write-offs. Looking back on his son's childhood and youth, Bergling is unable to find any clues that can help him to better understand why he ended his life. He was a shy boy who spent most of his time at home, sleeping for far too long in his parents' bed.
They would take him along on their trips to Gran Canaria, and photos of their boy on the beach are still hanging in the apartment. Klas Bergling has two adult children from a previous relationship; his wife has a son. They believe that each child must find their own strengths.
They gave Tim a computer and later a moped. His father is a music lover and the apartment was often full of rock and blues, Led Zeppelin, Toto and Ray Charles could be heard frequently. He gave his son a guitar as a present and they would play together, but soon he could no longer keep up with Tim. When Tim got enthusiastic about something, he learned quickly, diving in to become the best. But if he wasn't interested in things, like homework, karate or golf, he didn't try very hard -- and there wasn't much point in trying to motivate him either.
When his parents wanted to punish him, they would restrict him from using his computer. As a teenager, Tim became passionate about "World of Warcraft," a multi-player video game where he played a fighter named "Important. They stayed up whole nights in Tim's room eating pizza and drinking cola. For relaxation, they would watch "Lord of the Rings," "Star Wars" and "Entourage," an American TV series in which a successful actor lives together with his friends in a mansion in Los Angeles.
If he ever made it to L. Of course, Tim told them. They even had him sign his name beneath that promise on a sheet of paper. Bergling hadn't reached adulthood yet when he discovered Fruity Loops, a program that he could use to compose music on his computer. He sampled well-known songs and started posting his remixes on Myspace, at first only generating a few clicks, but soon attracting hundreds.
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The idea that his music could reach the whole world from the bedroom he grew up in fascinated him and he would sit in front of his computer with almost obsessive concentration, laying down tracks, developing melodies and getting advice from online forums. Soon, he decided his DJ name, Tim Berg, wasn't cool enough anymore.
Searching together with friends, he stumbled across the term "Avici" on Wikipedia, which stands for a realm of hell in Buddhism. That name had already been taken on Myspace, so they added an extra "i" to it. When his mother would remind him that he still hadn't graduated from high school yet, Tim would answer that he was going to become a famous DJ. Framed gold and platinum records line the walls of Per Sundin's Stockholm office, all of them awards for the millions of sales and billions in streams Avicii delivered to the Universal Music Group.
Sundin is managing director for Scandinavia and the Baltic States and part of his job is that of discovering trends and signing young artists before they end up with the competition. He hunts for talent that can earn money for Universal in the same way a football scout looks for players. Sundin is bald and has a full beard, his tight-fitting sweater revealing an athletic physique.
A mountain bike is parked next to his desk. He sits down at the conference table where he first met Bergling and describes how the encounter came to fruition during that summer nine years ago. He had no idea just how highly lucrative the artist he had just landed would become. A few weeks before their meeting, Sundin had been invited to an opening party on the island of Ibiza.
Performing after pop star Kylie Minogue, three guys who called themselves the Swedish House Mafia appeared on stage. They didn't have any instruments, only their laptops. Their music -- EDM, or electronic dance music -- sounded like techno, but it's a bit softer and most of the songs contained vocals and a melodic refrain.
Sundin stood on the dancefloor and could see how people were pumping their fists, just as they would at a rock concert. They danced, screamed and just let themselves go. EDM was also performing exceptionally well as a genre on Spotify, which was in the process of revolutionizing the music market. So Sundin invited him for a meeting.
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Bergling's manager Arash Pournouri, a dark-haired Swedish man of Iranian descent, accompanied him to the meeting. He had discovered Bergling's music on the internet, wrote to him on Facebook and promised Tim he would transform Avicii into an international brand. Pournouri had organized EDM parties in Stockholm as a club promoter and believed in the genre's future.
He was certain Bergling could become a superstar with his help.
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Bergling was to develop the Avicii sound in the studio, and it would be up to Pournouri to ensure that Tim's music got to the people. At the conference room table, Pournouri did the talking, while Bergling said little. Sundin bought the rights for two Avicii singles and they made it into the charts. For the next song, "Levels," Pournouri demanded an advance of a half-million euros. He told Sundin that he had other offers, but that wasn't actually true. Either way, "Levels" became a global hit, reaching No. It was Avicii's breakthrough. Pournouri knew that money in the music business is earned primarily through concerts these days.
Pournouri took a bigger cut than the 15 percent that is customary in the business, but the brand, after all, wouldn't even have existed without him.
He scheduled appearances, negotiated fees and took care of the travel arrangements. Before long, Bergling was spending very little time in Stockholm, instead finding himself in places like Las Vegas, Miami, Brazil and Australia. He moved up from clubs to arenas, and soon enough, the newcomer was headlining entire festivals. Bergling would have an assistant carry his headphones and the USB sticks he stored his music on to performances in a gray-blue Louis Vuitton case.
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Tim Bergling, aka "Avicii," performing at the World Club Dome in Frankfurt in He had already been on many stages before he realized he didn't belong there. Avicii connected with his fan community through live performances and social media. Initially, every message and comment on the Avicii Facebook fan page received an answer. Pournouri said he wanted the team to interact with people -- it shouldn't be a one-way conversation.
They posted photos of Avicii together with his dog, Avicii looking thoughtful with a guitar. Fans liked them and they shared them.