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Swedish House Mafia: Leave The World Behind
I'm going to tread lightly here because I don't want my inbox blowing up from angry electronic music fans, but it's weird watching a celebratory farewell movie about a band who, in the grand scheme of things, is barely a blip on the radar. While, yes, superstars in their own genre and celebrated globally for their various singles, Swedish House Mafia operated in a very small window of time. They released their first single in 2010, never really made a proper album, and basically only toured one other time before their farewell in 2012 and 2013. Even LCD Soundsystem, whose Shut Up and Play the Hits had a similar eulogizing tone, managed to pull off more than that.
But here we are, faced with Leave the World Behind, a document of Swedish House Mafia's fifty-date world tour to lay their musical endeavor to rest. A musical trio who actually formed in 2005, Swedish House Mafia had international dance hits with songs like "One," "Save the World," "Greyhound," and their parting shot, "Don't You Worry Child," which went #1 in three countries and charted on the Billboard Hot 100 at #6 in the U.S. In addition to their work as a group, the three members--Axwell, Steve Angello, and Sebastian Ingrosso--have also worked as DJs and producers in their own right; such they will be doing again now that they have separated.
Leave the World Behind actually opens rather amusingly with a news report about the group splitting that adopts a tone not dissimilar to, say, a news item announcing a zombie apocalypse in a disaster film like World War Z. This is some serious business! The band insists that it's all for the best, they really are just intending to go out on top and there is no bigger story than that, but as Leave the World Behind wears on, so does their brave face wear down. The fractures that really led to the decision start to emerge as the fifty concerts rack up.
That's the most interesting part of Christian Larson's tour film, seeing the public image give over to the private reality. All three guys seem like fairly decent dudes. Axwell is the serious musician, Ingrosso is the clown, and I guess Angello is the enigma. As they share their biography, we learn how far back Ingrosso and Angello really go, and how they all finally managed to bond and create Swedish House Mafia. The history of their rise after that can be a little sketchy, as we start getting a Meeting People is Easy-style narrative showing the repetition of travel, hotel, backstage, performance. It's meant to be a little tedious. It was like that for the band, that's the experience, as the joy of "let's put on a show" evolves into "what? again?!"
The saving grace, then, should be the performance footage that peppers the documentary. Unfortunately, this became the most grueling part. Granted, Swedish House Mafia devotees may see it differently. My knowledge of their music was casual; I couldn't name a song before the film, but could identify a couple as ones I'd heard. House music is what it is: squelchy sounds, big beats, bigger hooks, lots of momentum, with breakdowns and breathers mixed in. As a touring act, Swedish House Mafia put on a massive light show, but otherwise they are just three brown-haired guys in black T-shirts standing on a platform and twiddling some knobs. Larson leads with the explosion of the first big lighting cue, then cuts to the crowd, then to one of the band members jumping in the air while another raises his hands above his head, then the crowd, then the three guys shaking their asses behind their decks, then the crowd, then all three guys jumping, usually in slow motion. Repeat as necessary. It's kind of like staying home on the 4th of July and watching fireworks on TV. Even if you really like fireworks, the experience just isn't the same.
In terms of presentation, Swedish House Mafia goes all in. The guys know how to put on a light show, and the Blu-ray of Leave the World Behind is as bright and dazzling as such a thing would require. Resolution is perfect, with awesome colors and really strong blacks. Detail is phenomenal, be it seeing the band lounging in their hotel rooms or fans getting sweaty in the middle of an amphitheater or taking in the full assault of the group's gargantuan light show. Pristine.
There are 2.0 and 5.1 options on the disc, but the multi-channel DTS-HD/PCM option is really the only way to go. It's the closest you're going to get to hearing what this music sounded like while it was being performed. It's big and it's pumping and it's loud and your neighbors will hate you.
Rent It. Or Recommended. Not highly, though. I think this really comes down to what you think of the band. It's a good enough documentary to enjoy on its own, though it doesn't entirely transcend "slick marketing package" status. More extended musical breaks could have maybe helped, and a little more variety in how the performances were shot and presented. Hell, I'd like a breakdown of what those guys do back there. I think we see them each twist a knob once in the entire movie. Even so, if you love Swedish House Mafia, you'll probably get a lot of what you're looking for out of Leave the World Behind, so how the hell am I going to tell you different?
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.