SXSW Interview: Christian Larson (Director) & Amy Thomson (Manager: Swedish House Mafia) – ‘Leave The World Behind’

Leave the World Behind‘ is a music documentary following the breakup of Swedish House Mafia and their subsequent One Last Tour. The largest electronic tour in history, selling over 1 million tickets in one week. Director Christian Larson captures the band in a unique fly on the wall manner as they call it quits and seek closure by going on the tour they had always dreamed of. With breathtaking live moments, huge laughs and dark lows, the band start to unravel why they came to the decision to end the biggest achievement of their lives to date to save their friendship. The film maps out three of the biggest stars in a scene which has gripped youth the world over and the psychology of the band.

Swedish House Mafia has sold over 1.7 million albums worldwide with their biggest selling single, “Don’t You Worry Child,” receiving over 160 million views on VEVO/YouTube and selling nearly 6 million singles worldwide reaching the #1 iTunes spot in 45 countries across the world including the UK. The group were also the first electronic dance music act to headline the world-renowned Madison Square Garden in New York City. Tickets for the show sold out in less than 9 minutes.

Anticipating the film’s screening at the 2014 SXSW Music, Film & Interactive Conference as part of the 24 Beats Per Second program, we interviewed ‘Leave the World Behind‘ Director Christian Larson, as well as Swedish House Mafia Manager Amy Thomson.  The film plays Austin’s Paramount Theatre on Wednesday, March 12, 2014 with a WORLDWIDE release to follow

Find More Information on ‘Leave the World Behind’ at SXSW and BeyondHERE

What was your first introduction to electronic music?
Christian Larson: I came from hip hop.  When I was about 20 years old I started listening to electronic music and 4×4 beats, which merged into house music.  The constant beat that made you groove was great.  I knew I had to go to Ibiza to experience the real deal.  No one from Sweden was going at the time.  It was even hard to get a flight.  There are still no direct flights.  I dragged my girlfriend and experienced Pacha for the first time.  That was the first time I saw a DJ being praised in that way.



I have been into electronic music and the culture surrounding it for nearly 20 years and, for me, there are two things that draw me. First, it is a multi-dimensional sensory experience; Second, from a more practical point of view, it is more satisfying to experience live as DJs perform multi hour sets.  They are journeys.
CL: It plays on all your senses.  In Sweden there was a big R&B wave at that time.  You really could not hear too much house music. Then, on the island, I heard about these Swedish blokes.  Steve Angello, Axwell and Sebastian Ingrosso would be playing venues like the Amnesia terrace solo, but I never had a chance to see them.  I knew nothing about them except that they were Swedish.  Later that year we met.  Sweden is a small country so we met through mutual friends at an afterparty.

How did you want to construct this narrative, especially as you knew it would end with such a finite point?
CL:  There were a few challenges with this project.  First of all, we knew this would be the movie about the band.  How do you capture the success and all the good sides, when you know it will end with a split?  Also, I wanted it to follow the tour chronologically.  In addition, I did not want it to be an EDM documentary where everything is fantastic.  My experience of this genre, music, band and people is not all-hands-in-the-air fun.  It is filled with emotions and feelings, so I wanted to include that.  My goal was to make a film that had all these sides to it, one that was a journey along the tour and also one with 3 acts. I wanted it to be a human story.

I enjoyed the slower moments where you brought the camera inside their personal lives, as well as behind the dynamic of the guys. 

Obviously the stops on the tour are huge arena style productions.  How did you approach the visual and audio schematic of these shows?
CL:  Again, I wanted it to be the most honest experience of these type of gigs.  Coming into the live element of the film, I wanted to make the viewer feel like they were there.  By doing that an editing technique was developed where we would show wide shots depicting the scale of the event and closeups to capture the emotion.

As far as sound and image goes, we shot a lot of footage at a lot of angles.  For sound, we had a large surround sound mic capture, but I also felt it was important to get the sound from each of the filmed moments of the tour.  We took live sound everywhere. When we cut it we used a lot of this to make you feel you are in the crowd with many things happening around you.  There are rapid movements, strobes, people screaming.  I wanted to transfer this feeling.

Sebastian Ingrosso

Sebastian Ingrosso

I noticed this juxtaposition between the crisp audio and the sounds of being on the floor.  I remember attending the Ultra Music Festival for the first time and I would hold my phone up trying to convey the atmosphere of the event to my friends on the other end of the line.  What ended up coming through was a much more, shall we say, unpolished sound.

Another interesting aspect of this film is the incorporation of animation. What was your approach to this aspect of the film?
CL:  The idea was to showcase how the guys personalities have always been the same as when they were young.  I worked with a design studio called Shynola.  I had this idea to make the animation feel retro since all of the guys came out of the Commodore 64 world.  We  gave it this 8-bit, pixelated look.  I also wanted it to be light because that is how I think of the guys. Amy has stories of when she met them for the first time and how they were so goofy so I wanted the animation to have a humorous element to it.

Personally, what was a favorite stop on the tour?
CL: My favorite stop was India.  None of us had any idea how the crowd would react…

…This was in Bangalore?
CL: Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai.

Amy Thomson: We landed for the first time in Mumbai and the gig was cancelled because a local politician had died.  We saw first hand how the state went into mourning, the gig gets cancelled and there is no uproar.  If this happened in the UK or US, your twitter feed would melt with people asking for refunds.  We went to Delhi for a phenomenal show.  Then we went back to Bangalore and this time a Hurricane had hit the plane so that show was pushed back another day.  Again, no one cared and we just raved the next day.

CL: It was my favorite situation because it felt so different from all the other gigs.  Axwell mentioned how it felt like the people had been starving for this music.  Everyone felt so alive!  The crowd gave everything.  There is a girl in the film who just never stops screaming. It felt like she had been waiting for that bassline to drop for years!  This experience did something to the guys.  I saw their reaction and it struck a note with them.

AT:  The whole adventure of India was stunning. From landing to Christan hanging out of the car.  It looked like Christian was carrying the car over the bridge to Mumbai. We went to the local fish market; then you go down to where the BollyWood Stars live and there is a kissing court, which is a bunch of couples sitting and kissing under a tree.  Then we went to Delhi and got chased around town by gangsters, which ended up with us staying at this amazing hotel, soaking in the culture.  The whole culture is so vibrant and colorful.  There is nowhere like it!


Steve Angello

Christian, how is the construction of a music video different from a documentary?
CL: It is very different because you have a feature length narrative arc to consider.  It is tough. The format of a feature documentary is hard because you do not write a script; you cannot decide where your plot points are going to be.

Where does the Swedish House Mafia’s place fall as ambassadors of Swedish culture?  For example, there was a moment where the guys lit up the Empire State Building with the colors of the Swedish flag.  I am not sure this had been done before.
AT:  They won the Music Export Prize, which is a huge honor from the government.  The Prince of Sweden has attended their shows.

CL:  I think they represent something very modern about Swedish culture. They stand for innovation, drive and musical talent.  I am very proud to say we have a lot of musical talent coming from Sweden and not just for electronic music.  Sweden has a rich history of music from Abba to Robyn and Max Martin, who has had a top hit for the past decade.  Swedish House Mafia found their genre and took it to the world.  The support they have from Sweden is Universal.  At first this was a narrow genre of music but then everyone grabbed onto it.

Do you have a favorite track from the band?
CL:  I dig back into the old stuff and found Mode Hookers from Steve and Seb.

AT:  Steve & Seb “555” is my favorite, I think.  Or Steve’s “Alpha Baguera“.  There still is nothing like “Save the World” at the end of a show.  What is so great about the bands choruses are in any language people can sing it.  It is the universal language of rave.
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