Since pioneering the tropical house genre in the early 2010s, Kygo has created his own unquestionable legacy in music. Mid-way through a residency in Vegas and riding the wave of his recent rework of Whitney Houston’s “Higher Love”, the Norwegian DJ and Producer tells Rosie Byers all about his prodigious rise and what he wants to be remembered for.
There’s something about Kygo’s music that triggers memory. Perhaps it’s the inescapably catchy nature of his melodies that latch on to a time or a feeling, or maybe it’s the way he arranges electronic sounds to convey emotion and spark connection. Method aside, a browse through the Norwegian DJ and producer’s discography feels like a nostalgia-fuelled trip back in time.
It started with a handful of viral releases in late 2013 – saccharine remixes of Passenger’s “Let Her Go”, Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” and Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire” – which somehow made one of the coldest winters in decades feel like summer, and now mark the time that ‘tropical house’ kick-started on SoundCloud. The following December, Kygo’s first original single “Firestone” cemented his own distinctive identity as an artist, ushering in the new year with a whole new era of electronic music. His debut, 15-track album Cloud Nine (featuring the likes of John Legend and Tom Odell) soundtracked everything from pre-drinks to long car drives and study sessions for millions throughout 2016, as did 2017’s “Stargazing” EP and follow-up album Kids in Love. Right now, it’s his rework of Whitney Houston’s “Higher Love” that’s permeating the heady heatwave of 2019.
“That might be one of the coolest emails I’ve ever gotten,” he smiles, when I ask how one orchestrates such a rare and significant collaboration. It’s late July when we speak, and the track has just topped the Official Trending Chart – poised to become Houston’s first top ten single for a decade. “I just remember getting it in my inbox, and I didn’t really understand how it was possible for me to get this opportunity. Obviously Whitney’s one of the most legendary artists of all time, and one of the best vocalists of all time. For me to get to actually work around that vocal was… It was just very special to me.”
Inevitably, such a project was framed by unparalleled levels of pressure – both to enhance Houston’s vocals with the best production possible, and to honour her own vision for the song. But whether he’s collaborating with another artist or remixing their music, it’s this delicate task of balancing another sound with his own that Kygo does better than anyone. “Especially with such a big song, I don’t want to release anything I’m not super happy about,” he affirms sincerely: “But I was, and her estate loved it. I wasn’t that scared because I felt like these are the people that knew her best and knew what she wanted to do with her music. That was definitely big, to get that approval from them. It meant a lot.”
(LEFT) Coat and trousers by Bottega Veneta, jumper by Sagittaire A, boots by Louis Vuitton
(RIGHT) Jumper by BOSS. Kygo is wearing Kygo Life Noise Cancelling Headphones.
Coat and trousers by Bottega Veneta, jumper by Sagittaire A, boots by Louis Vuitton
Jumper by BOSS. Kygo is wearing Kygo Life Noise Cancelling Headphones.
Born Kyrre Gørvell-Dahll in Singapore, Kygo’s musical background began with playing the piano, laying the foundations for his melody-focused mixes today. Having grown up composing his first songs on the keys, it’s this familiarity with chord progressions that later resonated listening to Swedish DJ Avicii, when his college life collided with the EDM boom of the early 2010s. “That’s when I really, really started getting into that sound,” he explains, highlighting Avicii’s high-energy remix of Tim Berg’s “Seek Bromance” as one of the first tracks that stood out from the plethora of electronic music circling online at the time. “He had something different from all the others. The melodies were kind of simple, but they were genius, catchy. And I found they sounded like some of the melodies that I was composing on the piano at the time; it was kind of in the same lane. He really inspired me to learn myself how to actually produce a song.”
So Kygo taught himself how to use electronic music software, experimenting with tracks for up to five hours a day whilst studying for a degree in Business and Finance. “I started out making very Avicii-inspired music,” he continues: “Like, I’d try to sound like Avicii. Then, after a while, there were so many people doing exactly that…”
With thousands of other bedroom producers crowding the genre with their own SoundCloud mixes, he tells me cutting through the noise seemed impossible – that is, until he branched away from trying to imitate those who were gaining traction and established his own niche.
Bringing the tempo of his tracks down and working in soaring flutes, steel drums and marimbas, Kygo pioneered a mellow, pop-deep house hybrid that was later coined ‘tropical house’. Taking off around the same time as streaming platforms, the genre had dominated charts by 2015, which also happens to be the year Kygo became the fastest artist to hit one billion streams on Spotify. Still, he seems cautious to self-identify with creating the sound, noting that whilst “it’d be cool for people to give me credit for that,” more than anything, he wants to avoid being boxed in – a sentiment that’s clearly reflected in his more eclectic output in recent years.
It’s refreshing to hear an undeniably influential artist speak on their achievements without a hint of ego, and the 27-year-old still seems genuinely grateful and even a little overwhelmed for the opportunities he’s been afforded lately. Besides reworking Houston’s “Higher Love”, Kygo cites Coachella 2018 as a career highlight, where he played the main stage just before one of his musical heroes, The Weeknd. “We’re talking about it… hopefully it’s going to happen,” he adds, on the possibility of a collaboration on the horizon.
For those who need bringing up to speed, Kygo was joined by OneRepublic frontman and renowned producer Ryan Tedder on stage for his first set at the festival, who performed their track “Stranger Things” and his 2007 hit “Apologize” (“which was like, one of my favourite songs when I was in high school…”) The following weekend, he called on Ariana Grande to live debut her own track “no tears left to cry” alongside him, and later honoured Avicii with a show-closing tribute.
(LEFT) Top and trousers by Acne Studios, boots by Louis Vuitton
(RIGHT) Coat and trousers by Bottega Veneta, jumper by Sagittaire A, boots by Louis Vuitton
Top and trousers by Acne Studios, boots by Louis Vuitton
Coat and trousers by Bottega Veneta, jumper by Sagittaire A, boots by Louis Vuitton
In light of the DJ’s recent passing, as well a number of other prominent artists speaking publically on mental health recently, you’d be forgiven for wondering how Kygo navigates the demanding lifestyle tied to success in the industry. “Even though I play at a nightclub and everybody around me is drinking, I’m there to do a job. Every day that I play, I can’t look at it as a party,” he says on keeping a strict divide between his work and personal life, explaining that the balance is best achieved by not touring too much and keeping active in the gym. Ironically, he’s finding his current residency in Vegas a helpful framework to maintain that balance, as it only requires routine travel back and forth from LA.
Alongside the residency and a string of new releases this summer – including Pokémon: Detective Pikachu soundtrack “Carry On” with Rita Ora – Kygo’s been focusing his efforts on his own company Kygo Life. Offering everything from headphones to wireless earphones and speakers, the venture utilises his extensive experience working with and analysing different sound systems (as well as those Business and Finance college modules). “I’ve always used different types of headphones and had my comments about how they could sound better, basically,” he explains, emphasising his role in shaping their visual aesthetic too: “We wanted to keep them very clean and elegant. The new ones, which we’ve just released – the noise cancelling headphones – I think they’re definitely the nicest looking headphones out there. So I’m really happy about the design right now!”
Nearly ten years on from first discovering electronic music and paving his own path in the industry, Kygo’s still operating with the experimental, entrepreneurial and entirely independent approach that guided his SoundCloud rise. With new music constantly in the works and his business ventures blossoming, his legacy is set to expand and escalate in increasingly diverse ways. But while he can appreciate the kudos that comes with a Vegas residency or collaborating with the greats, it’s this on-going commitment to making the world a little brighter through music that drives his agenda moving forward. “Hopefully my music can bring a smile to a lot of people’s faces, and hopefully they’ll remember my songs when I’m done,” he underlines earnestly in agreement. “As you said, you can hear just two seconds of a song and suddenly you’re thinking about college or the great night out you had with your friends like five years ago. That’s the amazing power of music.”
(LEFT) Jacket and trousers by Ralph Lauren, hooded sweatshirt by Louis Vuitton
Jacket and trousers by Ralph Lauren, hooded sweatshirt by Louis Vuitton