Miami may have a booming EDM scene, but there’s nothing like having a multiplatinum artist performing right on campus. Zedd will perform Nov. 1 at the University of Miami’s annual homecoming concert, put on by Hurricane Productions. Doors open at 7 p.m.
Twenty songs on Billboard’s charts – four number one hits and 10 top 10 hits. An album that peaked number one on Billboard’s dance/electronic albums chart. One Grammy win and a second Grammy nomination. Two VMAs and a net worth of $35 million. A wildly impressive track record that most people would automatically attribute to an entitled popstar with flashy belongings and a larger-than-life ego.
In actuality, 29-year-old Anton Zaslavski is quite the opposite – a soft-spoken and humble young man with no taste for alcohol, parties, luxury or any sort of playboy status. Zaslavski, otherwise known as Zedd, is a Russian-German producer, songwriter and musician whose rise to stardom has made him no more glamorous than his humble beginnings.
Born in Saratov, Russia and reared in the small, wooded village of Dansenberg, Germany, Zedd had a musical upbringing that began at the age of 4 with the classical genre. His mother was a piano teacher and his father, a school teacher and guitarist. At 12 years old, Zedd became the drummer in his brother’s metalcore band, Dioramic. The role of music throughout Zedd’s childhood is of clear consequence in his discography as an EDM mogul. Rather than finding inspiration in other electronic dance artists, Zedd is influenced by musicians like The Beatles, Queen and Radiohead, all of whom shaped their music out of stylistic necessity, as opposed to flowery embellishments.
The artist honors his roots in classical music even when producing electronic music, maintaining that his process begins with him sitting in front of a piano stringing together notes until something magical and unique emerges. To him, this primary foundation is what feels most natural. His reasoning? “How am I going to make music if I don’t know how to play music?” he said in an interview with Billboard. This characteristic is a major distinction between Zedd, who intentionally calls himself a musician, and other DJs. Despite its popularity, the genre of electronic dance music is oftentimes brushed aside as less artistic, deserving of less praise and devoid of genuine talent. This mentality is largely owed to the over-saturation of DJs in the industry. As technology and equipment improve, production techniques become more accessible to the general population, thus the increase in aspiring DJs. Whereas Baby Boomers used to say, “everyone has a friend who’s a real estate agent,” younger generations now say, “everyone has a friend who is a DJ.”
Not only has Zedd’s musical background set him apart from the hundreds of thousands of disk jockeys who lack instrumental talent, but it also shaped his musical aesthetic, far beyond the nuances of beat drops and synth stabs. When an 11-year-old Zedd first heard the song “One More Time” by Daft Punk, he instantly recognized their attention to musical conventions despite their electronic appeal. He was reminded of this distinct musical quality years later when he came across the French electronic music duo, Justice. This time around, he became obsessed with creating a similar sound.
Through his experimentation, Zedd landed on a musical style that would later be dubbed “complextro.” The style, a subgenre of electronic music, entails piecing together a ton of drastically different sounds and making them connect into a song with a steady groove. In 2011, just as he thought he was onto something new, Zedd discovered “this weird-looking dude doing the same thing, but much better.” That dude? Skrillex. On a whim, Zedd reached out to the DJ over Myspace: “Hey, 99.9% of the EDM scene sucks, you’re the last bit that does not, you’re awesome and you’ll like my music.”
Call it fate or sheer luck, but it just so happened that Skrillex checked his DMs for the first time in months just one minute after Zedd hit send. What started as a long-shot, passive pitch between two talented musicians turned into the dawn of a new day in the realm of electronic dance music. Skrillex took Zedd under his wing, showing him the ropes, mentoring him, producing EDM magic and eventually slotting him as an opening act on his tour, alongside DJ Porter Robinson, who coined the term “complextro” while on the tour.
By 2012, Zedd had produced impressive remixes for Justin Bieber’s “Beauty and a Beat” and Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” Shortly thereafter, he signed to the same label as Gaga, Interscope Records, where he would later help produce her third studio album “Artpop.” Still in 2012, Zedd released the smash hit “Clarity,” which featured vocals from British pop singer Foxes and later appeared on his debut album titled for the single. “Clarity” went 3X platinum in the United States and provided the first real glimpse into the EDM powerhouse that he would become. The single also earned Zedd significant industry recognition at the highest level – a Grammy nomination, turned Grammy win, for Best Dance Recording at the 2013 award show. Up until this point, Zedd – a humble young man from Germany – had no idea just how receptive others were of his music.
Since then, Zedd has stayed true to his hit-making formula, a testament to his meticulous musicianship. The formula entails finding and collaborating with a charismatic singer, usually a female, and then letting her vocals shine. The “finding” part of the equation is actually what takes the most time, as Zedd is very particular about who he works with. No matter who he finds, however, there is always one requirement: to trust in him and his vision. Where it may be hard to have trust in other artists, many musicians have attested to their ease in trusting Zedd’s creativity, largely because of his reputation as a perfectionist.
Irony has it that perfection is often achieved when a song sounds effortlessly done, as many of Zedd’s do. His formula, thoroughness and pure craftsmanship have resulted in serious success, as proven by his megahit collaborations with big-time artists. “Break Free” with Ariana Grande and “I Want You to Know” with Selena Gomez are just two examples.
Zedd’s second album, “True Colors,” peaked at number one on Billboard’s dance/electronic albums chart in 2015. The following year saw Zedd performing at Coachella with a guest appearance by Kesha. After a short hiatus at the behest of studio difficulties, Zedd struck the world with his first release since coming back onto the scene – “Stay” featuring Alessia Cara. The song has a whopping 673 million streams on Spotify alone – over a half billion.
Zedd kicked off 2018 with the release of another hit sensation, “The Middle” featuring Maren Morris & Grey. The song dominated the charts since its release, maintaining its number one position on Billboard’s hot dance/electriconic songs for over 30 weeks.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the piece is the very clear sound of a ticking clock. The ticking clock has become a staple in Zedd’s music, and is a double entendre of sorts. Technically speaking, he has used the clock as a substitution for other percussive elements. On a deeper level, the clock symbolizes the one thing, if not music itself, that is universal to each of us: the passage of time. Regardless of Zedd’s musical evolution or wherever his passion may steer him, the ticking clock remains a constant that allows each of us to resonate with Zedd’s artistry.
words_teddy willson. photo_courtesy blood company.