Meet the world's seventh richest DJ... and he's still just 24 - it's Zedd
What’s On teams up with Hype to meet DJ Zedd, aka Anton Zaslavski, who plays at Zero Gravity in Dubai in September. Get ticket info for DJ Zedd in Dubai.
He’s toured with Skrillex, he’s produced Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, he’s won a Grammy Award for his track Clarity and he sits in Forbes magazine’s latest DJ Rich List at No.7. All by the age of 24. Before Zedd’s Middle East debut this weekend, Hype discovers what all the fuss is about…
It’s fair to say that Zedd, aka Anton Zaslavski, was a somewhat precocious child. Born in Germany to two classical musicians, Zedd’s enduring passion from day one was composition. “When I was six or seven years old, I started writing my own music, and recording on a keyboard and on video camera, and it just became normal for me,” he recalls. “Every day I tried to make a song, and when my parents came back from work I would present them with the song and that became my daily thing.”
At 12, Zedd joined his then 15-year-old brother and they formed a band with Zedd as drummer. The band enjoyed modest success, touring nationally and eventually finding a label, thanks to the duo’s extensive music education. Soon, Zedd and his brother began producing rock bands and a future seemed set – until in 2009 Zedd stumbled across the Justice album. “When I heard Justice, it was like ‘wow’,” he recalls. “The first album I ever bought was Discovery by Daft Punk, and I fell in love with it. But after Daft Punk there was just rock music and that alone. Then, I heard Justice…”
The then 20-year-old realised that his exploration of music had been missing a chapter. “It just triggered something in me. This electronic world was like, ‘Lock this door – everything is new.’ I had no clue how to make a fat kick-drum or snare drum or bass sound like they did – but that was fun because there was so much to learn.”
It didn’t take Zedd long. Within a year – and as an unknown, unsigned producer – he’d won two Beatport remix contests with his reworks of Moussaka Clarke & Fisher’s Love Key and Fatboy Slim’s Weapon Of Choice. Curiosity quickly turned to attention when Zedd decided to drop a line to Skrillex.
“I saw a link to a Skrillex track that Deadmau5 posted on Facebook, and I thought the song I was then working on was extremely similar. I also thought I was ahead with that song and doing something new, so I messaged Skrillex on MySpace, never thinking I’d get a reply.”
And how did that conversation go? “It was short. And very effective. I wrote ‘Hey dude, I’m a musician and I think 99 per cent of the dance scene is complete s**t, but you’re awesome and you will like my music’ and just sent a link. That was it. And he replied a few minutes later and said, ‘Oh dude, the song is awesome. I have a show in one hour, is there any way you can send me the song?’ So I sent him it, and the next day he asked if I wanted to remix him and I was like, ‘Yeah, of course!’ I started remixing the first song, then I did Scary Monsters And Nice Sprites [which would reach No.2 on the Beatport electro charts] and later Breaking A Sweat, and then he took me on tour. Now we have the same agent, the same management, the same production team – we’re all just like one family.”
The pace of Zedd’s transition from local rocker to mysterious remixer to Skrillex’s protégé was only fully apparent when he played his first live gig. “The first time somebody asked me to play a show was in Germany and I said, ‘Well, how would you like me to play? Like, what do I do?’ I had all these songs done but I had no idea how to play. The promoters just said, ‘Well, now you’re a DJ, get a programme, get a controller,’ so the first show I actually DJed, I just had a laptop and DJed with the mouse. A few months later Skrillex took me on a huge tour of the US so I started learning to DJ, with Skrillex, while on the road.”
Clearly something was clicking, though: later in 2011 Interscope Records, a subsidiary of Universal Music, got in touch, and Zedd, having been producing electronic music for under two years, was asked to produce remixes and ultimately Lady Gaga’s Artpop album, as well as a track for Justin Bieber.
“With Gaga I’d done remixes before and I told the A&R that my dream would be to make a song for her one day, because I love her voice. Then it came to the point that she asked me to produce her record, and I just didn’t care what people might think,” he says. The same went for Justin Bieber: “I had a track already made, and one day Bieber’s A&R visited me in the studio and said, ‘That’s perfect for Justin, we have to try it out.’ I actually had a female vocalist in mind, but I thought, why not? So we went into the studio and he sang it and I was completely convinced. I love Beauty And The Beat with him on it, and if no one knew it was Justin Bieber, even more people would probably like it. I just decided to not care about credibility or image or whatever. I like the song, I love him on the song, so that’s a done deal for me.”
However, Zedd does have strong views on the concept of artist integrity: in fact, his philosophy hasn’t changed since he was trying to nail that C sharp in front of the Handycam aged eight. “There’s only one factor I care about: whether something feels natural to me, or if it feels forced or not right. There have been a lot of times when people wanted me to perform on big TV shows and said, ‘You’re gonna stand there and you’re gonna [pretend to] DJ and they’re gonna play it back,’ and I was like, ‘Why? I can do that live.’ When it’s not real, it’s just not right.”
He feels so strongly about it that, when invited to appear on US talk show The Late Show With David Letterman, Zedd agreed, and then proceeded to perform a track as a full orchestral version. “I didn’t want to just press play and perform a song live,” he says. “I rearranged it and put a full orchestral version in there – I wanted to show there was a way to play this song completely acoustically, with an orchestra and live piano, and just show that beyond those beats there’s actually a ‘soul of music’ in there.”
Zero Gravity, Skydive Dubai Drop Zone, Al Mina Al Seyahi, Dubai, Friday, September 5, 8pm to 3am, Dhs180 in advance, Dhs220 on the door. Taxi: Skydive Dubai. Tel: (050) 8861129. platinumlist.ae