How do you celebrate a pop star who died too young and too soon?
It’s a dilemma Ingmarie Halling faced in 2021 when curating the Avicii Experience in Stockholm, a now permanent museum dedicated to popular Swedish DJ Tim “Avicii” Berling, who took his own life in Oman five years ago at the age of 28.
As creative director of Pophouse Entertainment, an arts and events company in Sweden, Halling arrived at the project after curating a hit of her own.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, Abba The Museum is a tourist landmark in Stockholm with three levels of rare memorabilia, instruments, costumes and an audio guide featuring all band members.
Speaking to The National in the lead-up to Avicii’s birthday on Friday, Halling says highlighting Abba’s enduring success was more straightforward than Avicii’s.
“With Abba The Museum, we were working with the band members themselves (guitarist Bjorn Ulvaeus is also co-founder of Pophouse Entertainment) who provided their insights, information and were available to do the audio guide," she says.
"The Avicii Experience was a more tricky [project] because he is no longer with us and you try to find the balance between showing the joy he brought to our lives and the tragedy of his life.
“You can't look at how amazing he was as a composer without dealing with that sad story as well."
Launched in 2022, the Avicii Experience is in The Space Stockholm, an inner-city cultural centre with exhibition and performance stages.
A self-service museum – which Halling describes as “very Swedish” – tickets are bought online ($21.60) with entry accessible through a ticket barcode scanner at the door.
Inside is a relatively tight space bathed in blue neon light.
A large screen plays a welcome video blending Avicii performances and hits with interview footage.
Record sales plaques for the 2010 single Seek Bromance hang from the walls, alongside a range of Grammy Award nomination certificates.
It is the first of nearly a dozen rooms, ranging from large multimedia and VR exhibitions to a reflective corner, exploring various aspects of Avicii’s life.
The space was designed after extensive conversations with Avicii’s parents, Klas Bergling and Anki Liden.
Halling describes them as advisers of the project.
"We came up with an idea where we wanted to have our own take of Avicii's life and experience. We showed them our plans and they all loved it immediately," she says.
"Sometimes you need that distance when you are curating, or it gets confusing as people have different recollections and it all becomes a mishmash of ideas.”
A bedroom DJ
Those discussions recalled Avicii’s teenage years in the affluent suburban district of Ostermalm in east Stockholm.
One exhibit faithfully recreates Avicii’s bedroom.
Japanese calligraphy and childhood photos hang on the walls, the computer screen on a nearby study desk shows scenes from the online game World of Warcraft.
An acoustic guitar lies beside a television, with a PlayStation and Harry Potter DVD on the shelf.
"The bed is a replica, but the room has original items such as those wall pictures and computer games," Halling says.
"Through the production company Blizzard Entertainment, we also got access to Avicii's World of Warcraft games. We did a video of them which we play on the computer screen in the exhibition.
“This all really gives you an understanding of how his life was at home.”
His bedroom was where Avicii uploaded his first song, at the age of 17, a howling repetitive synth loop called, simply, Track One.
Beside the exhibition is a plaque reprinting his accompanying 2017 message on the Online Forum Studio website.
It already hints at Avicii’s ferocious work ethic: “Would be extremely grateful if someone feels inclined to give tips on what I need to improve in future songs as well as if the melody, kicks, etc, etc, suck.”
The joy and the pain
Avicii would go on to discover his own sound with career-defining hits Levels and Wake Me Up.
However, that road to inspiration was soundtracked by several important yet relatively unknown pieces.
Two of which are 2007’s progressive house tracks Walkthrough and A New Hope, created with fellow Swedish producer Philgood.
Never officially released, they now proudly thump out of speakers beside the museum’s recreation of Earfile Studio – complete with original keyboards, mixers and speakers – a pokey basement studio in Ostermalm where Avicii created some of his earliest works.
As we trace his skyrocketing success, the exhibits become louder and flashier.
A section allows us to remix a trio of Avicii hits (Levels, The Nights and Wake Me Up) with buttons muting or adding guitars, drums, synths and vocals.
Near by are sound booths with virtual reality goggles taking us into a Los Angeles studio where singer Aloe Blacc invites us to sing his vocals as part of the global hit Wake Me Up.
"I don't know whether this kind of virtual reality karaoke is available in the world,” Halling says.
“We shot these videos in proper studios in Stockholm and Los Angeles with Avicii's music collaborators. Aloe Blacc was so supportive, and he really loved the concept."
The thrills of composing and performing would eventually lose ground to some of the encroaching drawbacks of success.
The global hits, the incessant touring and Avicii’s anxiety resulted in a frenzied and suffocating lifestyle – an aspect the Avicii Experience channels effectively in a dark and hot room with a large screen showing manic video footage of Avicii concerts, noisy crowds, plane rides and blinding camera flashes.
Halling says it is meant to be disconcerting.
"That room is cramped, stressful and warm because it has no air conditioner," she says.
"In the planning stages people would tell us you need to have an air conditioner so people could breathe fresh air.
“We felt that we needed to somehow make people feel some of the pressure and downsides that come with stardom.”
Avicii’s death is handled delicately.
Instead of focusing on his deteriorating mental health, the Avicii Experience focuses on how he was going through a period of personal transformation.
This included retiring from live performance and embracing nature and self-care.
“During his excursion into the desert, his meditations became more intense and he seemed to be longing for peace and liberation,” reads a note on a sky-blue wall beside a black-and-white picture of Avicii.
“Despite his outward appearance, maybe he wasn’t as well as he seemed.”
A touring exhibition
The experience ends on an uplifting note, however.
In the Concert Room, visitors are invited to stand behind a fully decked DJ stage.
Footage from the Avicii Tribute Concert 2019 film is projected on the walls and roof.
With the Avicii Experience welcoming up to 5,000 visitors a month, Halling says plans are under way to take the show on the road.
"This is definitely part of the future plans. We are working with international companies and sponsors about hosting this exhibition," she says.
"Looking at the international visitors who make the Avicii Experience as part of their plans shows how important an artist he is."
While that global appeal is undeniable, Halling says Swedes will forever view Avicii as that shy local boy who did well.
"Swedes are very much the kind of people that don't really like to make a big fuss out of ourselves. And this is why Abba and Avicii are so huge outside Sweden," she says.
"Swedes love them both, like our many cultural and sports icons, but not too much and not too heavy.”
The Avicii Experience is open daily from 10am to 6pm, closed on Christmas Day; $21.60; Sergelgatan 2, Stockholm, Sweden; aviciiexperience.com