The Day The DJ Died: What Avicii Left Us

by Veselin Nanov | 5/2/18 2:20am

by Mia Zhang Nacke / The Dartmouth

Swedish D.J. Avicii passed away on Apr. 20 at age 28. Since then, most of the media coverage has focused on speculations about the cause of his death and the toxic nature of electronic dance music culture. I will refrain from dissecting these topics because I believe that the fact of Avicii’s passing is more thought-provoking than the circumstances that surround it. The rest is bordering on gossip that does little to honor the memory of an artist who was generous to his audience and fully dedicated to the melodic and uplifting music many of us came to know him through.

I first stumbled across Avicii’s debut album “True” when I was 16. At the time I had just seen “Stand by Me,” and the aesthetic of the video accompanying “Hey Brother” gave me the same sweet taste of American boyhood that I had watching the movie. Throughout the next couple of years, Avicii’s songs featured consistently on my playlists and increasingly on the radio in my hometown in Bulgaria. At the same time, the D.J. was garnering international acclaim, touring the most prominent music festivals around the globe and attracting massive audiences that swung hypnotically to the beats of hits such as “Levels.” So when I got news of Avicii’s passing, I was shocked like most of his fans. However, I was not in mourning and I certainly did not intend to write a piece on him.

People die every day, and the passing of a gifted young musician is just as unfortunate as the death of any young person with dreams and promise. However, as I realized while going through multiple tributes to Avicii’s work, the D.J.’s legacy has an impact beyond the musical world. It communicates a message of universal human siblinghood and empathy to a young and vibrant generation that celebrates its youth on the dance floor. It also has the ability to resolve the inequality and aggression that manifest in multiple global crises today. In order to fully understand the impact of Avicii’s music, we must look closely at the D.J.’s legacy.

It is possible to hear echoes of “Hey Brother”’s message in the news around the world the day Avicii died. The D.J. co-wrote the song with a team of other Swedish musicians.

“Hey brother! There’s an endless road to rediscover”

Early in the morning on Apr. 21 — Apr. 20 in the Western Hemisphere — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declared that North Korea would suspend nuclear weapon and long-range missile tests. This was a step towards the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and improvements in the relationship between the North and the South. For the first time, the two countries also opened a direct hotline between their top leaders’ offices. The crisis on the Korean peninsula had begun to seem endless last year when Kim launched a series of nuclear tests that raised tensions in the region and caused global unease. Kim’s announcement gave the international community hope that the last 50 years were a process whereby the two countries moved down an uncertain road to the rediscovery of political stability rather than mutual destruction. These early hopes were reaffirmed a week later when the leaders of North and South Korea announced that they plan to collaborate on denuclearization and expressed their readiness to formally end the Korean War.

A recent episode of “The Daily” podcast from Apr. 30 featured the story of an American-Korean woman trying to trace down her grandfather in North Korea. The story exposes the tragedy of the many families that were separated by the war. It also shows that 50 years of separation have left deep scars. If families get the chance to be reunited by the improvement in the North and South’s relationship, there is a long, multi-generational road that still lies ahead in mending those scars and rediscovering filial bonds.

“Do you still believe in one another?”

Thousands of students across the U.S. gave a definitively positive answer when they marched the streets together in protest against gun violence on Apr. 24, four days after the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting. Yet the question itself is as pressing as ever. It was two seniors at Columbine that committed a massacre costing the lives of 12 of their classmates and a teacher. On Feb. 14 this year, not a stranger but a former student murdered 15 of his classmates and two adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In short, the victims of gun violence at educational institutions are terrifyingly young, but so are the perpetrators. Indeed, the survivors of the Stoneman Douglas shooting claim that they are part of the “mass shooting generation.” But they are also part of a generation that has the momentum to persuade government officials to enact more strict gun control regulations. By coming together in protest, American youths are making a good use of this momentum. They are also sending a clear message. For every shooter out there, there are hundreds of non-violent protesters who care deeply not only for their personal safety but also for that of others. Those protesters value each other’s lives as much as they believe in one another’s power to eradicate gun violence. They are on the side of their generation that represents humanity of the kind Avicii evokes through his song.

“Do you still believe in love? I wonder”

The belief in love between people of different tribes, ethnicities and faiths wanes more every time the conflict between Palestine and Israel costs another life. On Friday, Apr. 20, during protests alongside the Gaza strip, four Palestinians were fatally shot by Israeli snipers. Israel’s and Egypt’s 11-year barricaide of the barren region produced many protests like the one from Friday. At first, the plan, which was called the Great Return March, was to have a six-week peaceful sit-in. According to Israel, the demonstrations quickly turned into a scene of deathly strife between Israel’s army and Palestine’s Hamas and other extremist factions. The deaths on Friday brought the total number of fatalities in the Great Return March protest to 37. Many in the international community have voiced their support for Palestine. The support movement was reinforced when Natalie Portman, an Oscar-winning actress of Jewish descent, declined an invitation to attend a ceremony in Israel meant to celebrate her achievements. Yet, expressions of solidarity like these haven’t convinced the Israeli government to change its policies towards Palestine. At this point, it seems like the international community is washing its hands off with public demonstrations of support for Palestine. That further reinforces disbelief in a love for humanity that would push not only individuals, but also societies, to take difficult yet much-needed action to stop the loss of human life.

“Oh brother, I will hear you call!”

Saturday afternoon on the day after Avicii died was sunny. I basked in the rare warmth of early New Hampshire spring. I heard music as I was flipping lazily through one of my textbooks. The distant sound of “Hey Brother” approached as a stranger on a longboard played it as a homage to the musician through his portable speaker. Then, surrounded by blossoming spring, I first recognized Avicii’s music as an urgent calling for amity amid a society that destroys itself one murder at a time, that seems to have lost track of the beauty that comes with preserving life. Yet, as in nature, all things go in cycles, and life and peace will return with the effort of people who embody the life-reaffirming music of performers such as Avicii.