Steve Angello tells us about his favorite DJ gear and techniques

The globally renowned Swedish artist discusses his hybrid style he's developed, which blends DJing with live performance.

“One sec,” said Steve Angello as he answered my video call. “I gotta turn down the Christmas music.” Steve was back home in a snowy Stockholm and was seemingly in a festive mood. When I later went over our conversation, I noticed that he’d used the word “fun” 21 times. However, I don’t think this was just the Christmas spirit talking. When it comes to DJing, it seems that “fun” is a guiding principle for Steve, with everything from the way he mixes, to the events he chooses to play, and the music he selects needing to evoke a deep sense of pleasure in him. 

Steve was appreciative of the fact that he gets to shape his career in this way, but at this point we can say that he’s earned it. He started DJing at the age of 12, cutting his teeth as a scratch and hip-hop DJ, before building a reputation as a prolific producer of club-ready house and techno in the early 2000s. 

Steve’s music flirted with the mainstream around this time, gaining chart success with the Bronski Beat remix “Tell Me Why.” But from 2008 onwards, with the formation of Swedish House Mafia alongside his friends Axwell and Sebastian Ingrosso, things really began to ramp up. As three independently successful artists with an ear for pop hooks, the group was ideally placed to ride the massive emergent wave of EDM in the US and beyond. They became a headline act at some of the world’s biggest festivals, and won Grammy awards for “Save The World” and “Don’t You Worry Child.”   

All of this experience in the studio and in the DJ booth have led Steve to a hybrid style that blends DJing with live performance. He breaks apart tracks—mostly his and Swedish House Mafia’s, as well as from his long-running label, Size—into components and recombines them through improvised performances using the tools of a DJ. We talked about all of this in-depth, as well as the enormous equipment setup at Swedish House Mafia shows, and Steve’s advice for aspiring DJs. 

You tend to use four CDJs, a V10 mixer and the SP16 sampler. Why did you settle on this configuration?

I’ve been lucky enough to have been DJing since the vinyl days. I transformed from playing on four turntables and a mixer. I came into the first CDJs and then from there on, I’ve just been always moving with Pioneer, and always with bigger setups. The reason why I use the V10 is because I need extra channels. So it was a super natural evolution. I can run a line mixer on the side if I have, like, multiple analogue synths. And then I just plug that straight into one channel on the V10. I’ve always been a fan of the bigger mixers.

It’s interesting to hear that you were playing with four turntables.

Because when I started I was more like, big breaks and beats, a hip-hop, scratch performance DJ. It was more a performance thing. And then I got into electronic music when I was about 15. I adapted the scratching and technical parts of the breaks and the acapellas and vocal snippets and chops into electronic music. It was an evolution for me to play the music on CDJs one and four, and then use the three and the two for performance stuff, keeping it close to the mixer.

So is this still the way that you would perform now?

When I play extended sets and it’s more like a warehouse or techno situation, I would play all four CDJs of music. When I play a festival, I will do CDJs two and three for music and I will do CDJs one and four for acapellas and sound effects.

What draws you to performing this way?

I think it’s the producer at heart. You have a hi-hat loop going on the left CDJ, you bring in the drums on the right, and then I can mess around with an acapella and come in with the second song, you know? It’s more like building blocks. You find Hot Cues and loops, and then build your set and evolve through big breakdowns—transform and transition. I’ve done sets with six CDJs. It’s just that performance-producer ego—you want to have fun. When you do so many shows you want to feed yourself, to have fun and not just do a programmed thing. Even on the main stages. 

It sounds like your DJ sets sit pretty close to live performance.

That would be fair, for sure. I think once you’ve done the live performance stuff, you get used to having freedom. Also when I started doing that, in like 2016 or 17, it expanded my brain a little bit. I now can’t just use two songs and mix back and forth—it takes the fun out of it for me.

What led to the shift in 2016?

I did a festival run and added a live setup. And after I did those shows, I was like, there’s so much more to this, you know?

What are the key differences between how you mix now versus back in the day?

I still think it’s the same type and style because I pulled that with me from the vinyl days. I think it’s just more like a performance thing. I like to loop. I like live bootlegging. I like edits. I just love the vibe of it.

I feel like I have two personalities. I love the dark little rooms, I love the club. That’s how we grew up and that’s always gonna be there. Then coming to those big stages, obviously there are more nerves and bigger crowds but I work so much on the music that I play. 90% is my own stuff or Swedish House Mafia or my label. So if you’re comfortable with the music it feels very natural to play around with it. It’s not like I come to a festival and grab the Beatport top 10 and then I perform. I go into edits, remove a stem if it’s gonna conflict with a vocal. I can do whatever. I prepare a lot. 

I can switch keys on synths and songs. I can go in and take the chords from another song. Every show it’s like 80% edited songs. I might go in and remove a snippet of a vocal because I want to fit in another vocal. That’s the benefit of rekordbox, it’s really easy to organize, it’s really easy for me to follow what I’m doing. I’ll be on a plane and I’m like, “I want to play this bassline with this song.” I go in and remove the bassline from the song, bounce it, put it into rekordbox.

Me and Solomon did a seven-hour back-to-back this summer in Ibiza. And I couldn’t obviously edit seven hours of music, that would take me a month. So in that situation it will be different, you would just do it on the fly. But when I do big festivals I can have all the freedom because I’ve made all the music.

Every time I perform people are like, “Oh, we need this song. We need this edit.” But they’re all exclusive to those shows, you know?

What makes up the other 20% of what you play?

It’s mostly edits I get from random people of my old songs that I haven’t thought about playing. Or somebody made a good bootleg of something. A classic that I haven’t heard in a while. Demos for the label. It can be anything. I love to try new stuff out all the time. So every show has new music, obviously. I want to have that freedom of doing whatever I feel like.

What role do Hot Cues and loops play for you? It seems like they’re a key part of what you do.

Yeah, especially with snippets and stuff. When I’m on a plane, instead going into an acapella and removing the verse or so on, I love to use the Hot Cues because it’s an easy way for me to set the starting points of everything, especially instrumentals. I can have loop functions like, “OK on this piece here I want to repeat these bars eight times because I want to bring in this acapella, it works really well on the verse.” It’s like a producer messing with a drum machine.

Do you ever feel that some of these live combinations of sounds, these experiments, don’t work so well?

Sometimes I feel like the vibe is a little off and then I will just loop it up and move on, you know? I don’t use sync so sometimes I miss a beat. Sometimes I’m fumbling a little bit and you’re like, shit, what do I do then? But I don’t really get nervous performing, so I just mess around with it and just have fun.

Given the way you perform, I’m surprised you don’t use sync.

It failed me a couple of times. OK, I don’t know if it was me messing up or… I’m so used to being hands on with the tempo, the slowing down and speeding up. I’m so used to the touch and feel [of mixing] that sometimes when I start doing that with the sync, things go out of sync, you know?

What are the features of the V10 that you find yourself using most regularly?

The send and returns when I use the FX box and stuff. The extra channels are key for me to bring drum machines or whatever I feel like bringing in. Obviously the isolator on the master output is important. Because you also have the filters, you can kind of double up. It’s like two filters, basically. I can low-cut out and play around with the isolators. I think it sounds great. I push it quite a lot. And it’s never really failed.

Effects are something that I love, I’ve always been a fan of the bigger mixers, so I just feel like I have more control with the bigger knobs. It feels safe.

Are you a DJ who’s always been drawn towards using effects?

When we were young we had to get stomp boxes from guitar stores. Then when it evolved and we got the first FX box that was massive for us, because then we could add acapellas, reverbs, delays and have fun with that. When the mixers evolved to include effects it helped us a lot because we do a lot of live bootlegging and editing. Acapellas are usually dry and boring, so we wanted to bring in reverbs, do effects—especially on loops—with the filters. You can really build big transitions. You create an atmosphere, right? So it’s like what I would have done if I made a song in Logic, but being able to do it on-the-fly, which is important for me.

On the V10, the EQ on the effects is important because as a producer you have the ears to sense when things are clashing. So I always bring the reverb only on the mids… it’s like a really nice complement to actually be able to remove the lows and the highs sometimes.

How about the SP16, what do you tend to use it for?

Drum rolls, samples, snippets, effects. You can do kick drums in buildups that instead of triggering the CDJ on the “one beat” I can actually trigger the kick drum to go faster and harder. You have the filter there, so you can ride it like if you’re running on a snare roll. It’s like an extension… rather than always relying on the CDJs to trigger the cues.

I would go into songs and take out the drum roll and put it into the drum machine. So I can easily create a catalog of my own snippets.

I understand that you sync to ShowKontrol, the live events software?

Yeah, the performance part, like the lights and visuals and stuff are obviously really important. Our shows are very programmed in the sense of how they look. We programme blocks. So I would say, “This is 15 minutes of like, I’m flying away, it’s dark, I want it to be all red and white strobes.” We will trigger ShowKontrol to pick up on a drum pattern, and that will trigger a strobe behind me, because it adds to it. It’s so seamless, it just adds to the feel of the performance. It highlights what you’re doing without putting a camera and a spotlight on you.

So you’re working with your lighting techs, saying, “This is the first chapter of the show, this is the mood I want to create. And then this is the second chapter…”

And I send songs to them. This is the intro. This is this song, this is that song. And they programme each and every song. So they have it in previews and then if I go off script that’s fine because every song is programmed.

It sounds like when you do reach the stage of playing these enormous shows there are a different set of requirements, like the considerations are broader.

Yeah, I mean, you go into every show and it’s a different situation. Different times, different types of festivals, different crowds. So you gotta do stuff on the fly all the time. But from a production standpoint, we are kind of spoiled with having these massive headline tours, where we do our own tickets. So we have a big truck rolling with us, we have our teams.

But then you come to festivals where you’re not allowed to touch visuals and lights, so you gotta just adapt to it. You can’t rely on one thing or the other. You just gotta make sure the music is on point. Even if I come into Tomorrowland, where they run the show, we would have a very close collaboration with them on what I want it to feel like. So we would still send them songs that I want to play. “These are the looks I want to reach. These are the colors.” So we’re very, very much involved in all those things as well. After years of doing this you want to be involved more because otherwise you feel like robots just flying and playing.

Do you enjoy working on all of these different aspects of shows?

I love it.

I ask because I imagine that for some DJs, who like you have a background of DJing in its simplest form, it could be too much to think about.

We started out really early, and we slowly grew into this role. It took 20 years. When you’re not just thrown into it, it’s different. We grew up with it. We grew up with the evolution of technology. We grew up with the evolution of the fans, slowly getting into these things. So then it’s not as overwhelming as it would be if you just get thrown in the mix today. I have a lot of young artists that I work with and they’re like, “Shit, I’m gonna perform at this festival, what do I do?” I still get that because it’s a big responsibility. It’s on you, you know? So the pressure is immense for some of these young guys.

You mentioned the full tour, the full Swedish House Mafia experience. What does that look like from a technical standpoint?

It’s crazy. So we would run the V10 as the base. Look up the Teenage Engineering Mother Of All Decks.


So it’s pretty advanced. The cool thing is, the CDJs and the V10 are the main parts and we would also run an iPad and we would run some stems. Like my setup, you have all these extra spices. We would run drum machines, same situation, but on a bigger scale.

That’s what we did that on the last tour. And then on the new one, we recorded all those parts and snippets into stems, and we would programme those things on the fly. We would sync everything on a laptop that’s hidden on the side of the table with an iPad. So the native stuff would run off an iPad and that would sync to a laptop that would sink to the CDJs.

Are there still areas that you would like to explore? Areas of this performance style that you would like to focus more on?

I’ve tried everything, you know? And for me personally I’m not convinced on the whole live thing. I did a show at Creamfields in 2017 when I was running DAWs for a full live situation. But I was so focused on not messing up that I forgot to have fun. Yeah, you know, because it was. I was so in-tune with the technical stuff that I walked off stage and asked, “How was it?” because I couldn’t even tell.

So I love the craft of DJing as the base of my shows. I feel like that type of performance makes all the sense in the world in a DJ environment. And the freedom: I can bring my USB to 100-person room and I can rock it and have fun with it, you know?

Are there any words of advice you’d offer to DJs and performers when it comes to trying to stand out on the technical side of things?

I don’t know if it’s a setup thing. I think it’s more like, just stand out, as you are, you know? I think it’s a personal thing. If you’re a live performer, I get it, you have your setup, and that’s unique, and all respect to it.

But I remember watching the Daft Punk live setup, with the Moogs and everything, and a good friend of mine, who I’m not gonna mention by name, set up their live setup, and [the gear] was for spice, you know? It wasn’t running everything. So I think it’s more about the flavor of the show. Thinking about just being unique, and your musical journey and tastes, rather than just adding gear.

I think any DJ in the world should be able to play off CDJs and a mixer. I think it’s the way you play on this, the songs you choose, and the edits you do, and your mixes, I think that’s what it is at the end of the day.

The gear is more for the comfort and freedom feeling as a performer, if you’re used to certain gear. So just find the essence in the music, I think that’s the key. And then think about your performance onstage and how much fun you’re having, because the crowd is gonna read you, and if you’re too locked into the gear… At the end of the day, people go out clubbing, and so you want to have fun and you really have to be in tune with the crowd.

Text: Ryan Keeling