Concert Season

Don't Blame Avicii For His Druggy Tour

The Swedish EM guru's concerts have become a hotbed for overdosing teens, but the performer himself is a role model for the (semi) clean life.

Mike Pont/Getty

An hour before stepping on stage at Boston’s TD Garden Center Wednesday night, electronic music phenom Avicii was so excited he was near speechless. “#TRUETOUR is back!...Hard to put words on how excited I am…” he tweeted. Just a few hours later, the 24-year-old’s joy turned to despair. “Just hearing the awful news abt tonight. Its a terrible thing, I rly hope everyone is ok! My thoughts go to those affected & their families."

Unfortunately for the Swedish DJ, the night’s tragic news—36 people were rushed to the hospital and 50 more treated inside the concert for over-consuming drugs or alcohol—isn’t all that unusual. Four weeks ago in Toronto, 29 concertgoers at one of his shows were hospitalized for allegedly OD’ing on booze. Another 29 were arrested in Scotland last September when an Avicii concert quickly escalated into a “violent, drunken” mess. In the gravest incident to be associated with the DJ, two kids at NY’s Electric Zoo (where he was a headliner) succombed to overdoses on Molly (MDMA).

In the quasi religious world of EDM (electronic dance music), Avicii is on par with God himself. The Stockholm-born 24-year-old, whose real name is Tim Berling, was “plucked from obscurity” by a Swedish music producer who admired his cool demeanor and addictive beats. Now a multi-platinum artist with two Grammy nominations, his concerts draw thousands from all across the globe. Last night’s concert, the kickoff of his TRUE TOUR, will be repeated in almost 30 cities across the world before the summer’s end.

After the most recent Avicii meltdown, an avid finger-pointing game has gone wild on the Web. Tweets blaming Aviccii for the mess are quickly met with contrarians who blame the kids themselves. Suggestions that the TD Garden Center is at fault have been shot down by people like @Tim_Caputo, who think outside alcohol must have been smuggled in considering there was “vomit everywhere” at the one-drink-max venue.

On the surface, the blame game seems trivial, but in the season of music festivals and concerts galore, an examination of what went wrong could be lifesaving. TD Garden, the 17,000-seat home of the Boston Celtics and Bruins, was an early suspect in the culpability game after 19-year-old Mike Santostefano, who watched three young women being carried out on stretchers, told The Boston Globe that “you couldn’t breathe if you were on the floor.” Another attendee, Chanel Andre, told CNN that it was hot inside the arena. Despite a one-drink maximum at the venue, witness painted a picture of hundreds of extremely intoxicated 16-25-year-olds puking inside the stadium. By late afternoon Thursday, the Boston Police had reportedly cited TD Garden for having intoxicated minors on its premises. TD Garden did not respond to requests for comment.

In another corner of the Internet it’s the “young kids,” or the drugs themselves that hold the responsibility. With Tweets defending both the music venue and EDM, hundreds of critics came out on the Internet to shame those in attendance—including the ones hospitalized—for taking things too far.

For all the attempts to condemn the venue, the people, the drugs (oh, and the hip-hop), it’s the star of the show who’s at the center of the fight. But those who condemn the Stockholm-born spinner for the drug-culture at his concerts should take a look at the facts.

Avicii’s big-hearted—sometimes twangy—hits were never meant to be overdose anthems. Despite the intoxicated revelry that is an Avicii live show, his songs make few mentions of alcohol or drugs. A feature in PaperMag last week claims the Swedish music producer who discovered Avicii liked his “edgeless EDM that could be embraced by everyone, not just molly-addled clubbers or Euro-trash island hopping hedonists.” If the Swede’s live shows have become a breeding ground for drug and alcohol abuse, it was never Avicii’s design. “[The fans’] passion for the music is so gratifying, and it’s what drives me to work nonstop,” he told PaperMag. Whether or not they’re dancing with molly doesn’t seem to matter. In an interview with GQ in April of last year, he also shocked the ecstasy-loving EDM world with the confession that he’s never tried the drug. “I mean, I want to take it,” he told the magazine. “But I’m sort of afraid of anything that makes you feel out of control.”

That’s not to say that Avicii is devoid of connections to mind-altering substances. In the same interview with GQ, he details his own trip to the hospital after a daily routine of Champagne, Bloody Mary’s, and wine resulted in an excruciating bout of acute pancreatitis. “I was so nervous,” he told GQ’s Jessica Pressler. “I just got into a habit, because you rely on that encouragement and self-confidence you get from alcohol, and then you get dependent on it.” Since then, Avicii seems to have slowed his habit, or at least tried, saying he no longer consumes alcohol “two days in a row.” For all of Avicii’s caution, it’s unlikely his young fans will give up their drug-infused habits any time soon—a fact that could make the #TRUETOUR a deadly one.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly represented Avicii's age. He is 24.