The Guy Behind the Guy

The biggest EDM player you’ve probably never heard of

Not only did Ash Pournouri discover and help cultivate Tim Bergling into the global phenomenon better known as DJ/producer Avicii, but he’s also regarded as one of the greatest managers and producers in the biz. Vegas Seven caught up with Pournouri in Sweden just as he was jetting off for the launch of Avicii’s Ibiza residency at Ushuaïa. Here we get his take on the industry, “raising” Avicii, his new duo Cazzette and what’s to come. Avicii is slated to play Marquee Nightclub on Aug. 31, Marquee Dayclub on Sept. 1 and XS on Sept. 14.

What’s the creation story of your role in the music industry?

I started out as a promoter, and was always in the scene, earning extra money bartending. I became a restaurant manager, taking care of the music and learned how to DJ. I discovered house music and was excited; it created feelings I didn’t know existed, and I wanted to educate myself [about] why house isn’t what everybody listens to. So I educated club promoters and my peers, investing my own money to bring in 500 people to a club in Stockholm on a Sunday. The whole time I was struggling hard. The scene was bubbling, but not at the level of today. We got good buzz, and in 2007 I opened my own club.

And the jump to managing?

I wanted to help someone in this space become bigger than they are and produce. Originally my hope was to produce myself and I was going to start as a DJ, but never got serious about it. My girl was pregnant and going to have my first kid so I didn’t have time to produce myself, but I could maybe produce with someone with all these ideas I had.

How did you meet Tim Bergling?

After my kid was born, I found this kid Avicii from Sweden. I didn’t know his age, but I really loved his melodic comprehension, and could sense a talent that was rough and unfinished. We met for coffee and said we should do a remix together and see where that takes us. I explained my vision, which he didn’t 100 percent share at the time. He was still in school when we started working together, and didn’t know anything about the business. I told him, ‘I’ll teach you how to DJ, you focus on music and I’ll help guide you.’ It was very unplanned and natural how the partnership came about, and I look at it as my baby, though he is the brand.

Some people say you’re the unsung half of Avicii.

I don’t want to take anything away from my artist. They’re his fans. We are a super-tight team, and I am involved to a greater extent than any other manager. He is the face, and I want to keep it that way because that’s where the magic is. He’s a kid from nowhere, and is taking over the world!

Do you help produce?

Yes, I’ve been a producer since Day One. We fought over creative direction in beginning, but are now in sync. Sometimes I give ideas; sometimes he comes with a finished track. Avicii is my kid with his own characters, morals and thought process. Tim has been affected by me, but Tim is the main producer.

Tell me about your marketing strategy.

When we started out, my first focus was the U.S. When you live in Sweden, you have a lot of Swedish artists who are happy being big in Sweden. Sweden is a small country and you can count on one hand the artists that broke internationally. The U.S. is the place where you go to make it. If you make it there, then you make it everywhere …

You guys are one of the few who play for more than one nightlife group in town – Wynn, Tao Group and Angel Management Group. How did you swing that?

It’s political, but I use creative negotiation and relationships to do the best for my artists, even if it’s not conventional. I don’t know how long it’s going to last, but so far everyone’s been happy even though it may not be ideal as everyone wants Avicii for themselves. We have no residencies anywhere except for Ibiza and there it’s because it’s the culture of the island and it’s our residency—every week, one place you own.

Avicii is getting a lot of buzz about his new production show. What makes it so special?

It’s a tour we’ve been working on for over a year. We’ve been offered all this money to play, and Tim would DJ, but nothing else. It’s not performing. Obviously he can take the crowd on a journey for two hours, and it takes skill to make sets unique, but we need to offer something back to fans. We took direction from rock concerts, arena productions and pop stars like Kanye and Jay-Z. We made it a real show, and asked what we can do to bring it to another level like nothing anyone has seen. I came up with the concept of this head[-shaped DJ booth] element, where Tim moves into the crowd. He’s elevated, and the energy offers something unique. The technical experience is groundbreaking, and we’re excited to take it to as many places around world as possible.

So it’s kind of like a suped-up version of the Deadmau5 cube?

I didn’t look at anyone else. We looked at the rock and pop scene and drew inspiration. [Deadmau5] had a gimmick with the mouse head from Day 1, and his show is an extension from what he already had. Nobody has spent the time or money we have.

Tim is not your only artist. Can you talk a bit about Cazzette?

They’re my only other project, and a duo. Their productions are very different, and it’s the same thing I saw in Tim. They’re young guys, inexperienced, and when I found them I immediately wanted to create. Tim’s my first baby and I’m never going let that go, but now it’s time to take on a new project and create a brand with a lot of interesting sounds. They still haven’t released a single track, but have played main stages at Ultra, EDC and Creamfields. Tim didn’t get to do this till his third year, and they got this in their first six months of their existence!

What’s with all the recent criticism by some about DJs as “button pushers”?

They don’t know what they are talking about. Don’t they push fucking buttons? What else are you going to push? I take pride that my artists never play pre-recorded sets; they read the crowd and take them on a journey then and there. They do not press play and stand there for two hours. They interact. I don’t see the criticism. It’s like saying pianists are key pushers.