A certain fatigue had set in for the multiplatinum-selling electronic dance music act Swedish House Mafia in 2012. By the three members' own estimate, they had partied hard five days a week for six years straight, consuming mass quantities of booze and chemical stimulation, living the hedonistic life associated with superstar DJs while traveling the globe to deliver their four-on-the-floor dance delirium to packed arenas.
But just as EDM was becoming an increasingly mainstream concern — with the group selling out Madison Square Garden in nine-minutes flat and its smash single "Don't You Worry Child" moving millions of copies to top pop charts around the world — Swedish House Mafia made a controversial decision: to call it quits at the peak of the group's success.
The concert documentary "Leave the World Behind," which premieres Wednesday at the South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas, chronicles the collision of interpersonal politics, money matters and block-rocking beats that came to define three Stockholm natives' final year together.
Steve Angello, Axel "Axwell" Hedfors and Sebastian Ingrosso left a lot of money on the proverbial table, choosing to break up after a five-year run in order to keep their friendships intact and their artistry unsullied by the bottom line.
"We felt, if we can't be 100% dedicated and have 100% pure energy for the music, we can't do it anymore," Ingrosso told The Times. "We said, 'Maybe we should call it a day.'"
Directed by Swedish House Mafia's creative director, Christian Larson, the documentary follows group members as they embark on their 2012 swan song: their "One Last Tour," 53 shows in 26 countries that sold 1 million tickets. Like any good rockumentary, the movie captures oceans of concertgoers in ecstatic reverie, the blur of travel — sold-out stadium madness from Mumbai to the Milton Keynes National Bowl in England, from Capetown, South Africa, to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival — while also, almost incidentally, chronicling the rise of EDM as a dominant force.
"For us, it's pretty weird when we see the film," Ingrosso said. "It's like seeing a wedding movie. Maybe a divorce movie! This is about three guys, who came from nothing in Sweden, who had a dream of DJing. Then the tsunami of electronic dance music shot over the entire world."
Larson started out filming YouTube tour videos for Swedish House Mafia before graduating to directing clips for hits, including "One" (featuring Pharrell Williams). The director had filmed a previous tour piece about the trio in 2011 called "Take One" and had become such a key part of the entourage, Larson's camera-wielding presence had become an expected component of going on the road.
"It's like having your uncle film Christmas," said Amy Thomson, Swedish House Mafia's manager, who also produced "Leave the World Behind." "For us, it was never about people being able to understand the breakup: 'You did this,' 'You did that.' To have a world tour, sell a million tickets, turn on the lights at the Empire State Building in the colors of the Swedish flag? You know what? We'll self-fund the film. That way, you know all the funny memories will be somewhere on tape."
Larson landed a $1.2-million shooting budget and was only given one specific instruction by the group.
"They said, 'We don't want a film crew. Just you and your camera,'" Larson, 28, recalled by phone from London. "I think they felt they needed me there. It was a lot of trust and for me, a big challenge. I was carrying around a crazy shoulder rig. I shot it and did sound myself, mixing it live with my left hand behind my back."
What began as a victory lap for Swedish House Mafia, however, turned into an exercise in introspection over the course of filming. "Leave the World Behind" vividly illustrates the self-doubt that necessarily accompanies dismantling a powerful band-as-brand that was operating, as Ingrosso puts it, "on a Michael Jackson level" in terms of money, fame and unbridled fan outpouring at the time.
"It feels like we have been given the keys to the golden city," Axwell says in one scene filmed aboard a private jet. "And we're just throwing it away."
Adds Angello in another scene: "It's just become this big machine. A monster."
Drafting on the international renown of the South by Southwest music festival, where up-and-comers perform with platinum-sanctified pop acts amid beer-y Texan bonhomie, the populist-leaning SXSW film fest seems like a natural venue in which to premiere "Leave the World Behind."
From there, the film's producers have organized sold-out "premium screenings" in such cities as L.A. (the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood on Thursday), New York, Amsterdam and Sydney, Australia, before rolling out theatrically across Europe, Australia and Asia. In April, "Leave the World Behind" will become available for download via iTunes.
Just don't expect the members of Swedish House Mafia to show up at the premiere at Austin's Paramount Theatre.
"We feel very positive about the movie," Ingrosso said. "But none of us will be there. It's gonna be weird if the first time we are back together is to premiere our breakup movie!"