Anton Zaslavski is one of the most in-demand DJ-producers in the world — and at the moment, he's experiencing all of the highs and lows that entails.
The Russian-born, Germany-based artist known as Zedd has crashed the pop world in the past year with a pair of soaring smash singles, Clarity with Foxes and Spectrum with Matthew Koma. He was Lady Gaga's opening act until the singer canceled her tour due to a hip injury this year, and he reportedly contributed to her forthcoming album ARTPOP. And his new Moment of Clarity Tour, which hits the Ritz Ybor on Saturday, is one of the hottest EDM tickets in the country, selling out dates coast to coast.
But since launching on Aug. 28, the tour has already hit a couple of tragic snags. At the opening date in Boston, one fan died and two more were hospitalized, reportedly from an overdose of MDMA, the powerful strain of ecstasy known as Molly. And last weekend, Zedd was scheduled to play the main stage at New York's Electric Zoo festival before two more fans overdosed on MDMA, prompting organizers to cancel the event's final day.
Earlier this week, Zedd, 24, called tbt* from Charleston, S.C., to discuss his music and tour. We were warned in advance that the Boston incident, which police are investigating, was off-limits (so was Lady Gaga, for some reason), but he did speak generally about safety and responsibility at EDM concerts and festivals. Here are excerpts.
I understand you had a birthday this week. Congratulations! How'd you celebrate?
I ate at PF Chang's, and I chilled on the tour bus. We were on the way from New York to Atlanta, and we couldn't do it in a day. You can only drive a certain amount of miles, so we stopped in the middle of nowhere to celebrate my birthday by doing nothing. It was amazing.
You just dropped a tease of Stay the Night with Hayley Williams, which comes out next week. Are you playing that track in concert?
I have not yet. Now that the preview's up, I will start playing it. I have not made the extended mix yet, which is what I'm going to do after this interview. If I can get this done before the show, I'll do it tonight; if not, as soon as it's finished, I'll do it.
What do you look for in a vocal collaborator?
What I look for in a voice is for it to be unique. I don't really care if a singer sings well. Really, it's about emotion, or being able to sing the lyrics and actually mean it. A lot of singers sing good notes but forget about what words they use. Hayley Williams is a perfect example of someone that is just perfect at translating those lyrics, and on top of that she's an incredible singer.
Hayley, Matthew Koma and Foxes all have high, soaring, and I would say somewhat fragile voices. Do you see any connective tissue among those three singers?
You're actually the first person to point this out. I do think that they all have very unique voices. And depending on the kind of song I make — I don't think Hayley would be the right singer to sing Spectrum, for example, the same way I don't think Matthew Koma would have been the right person to sing Stay the Night. I always have a type of voice in my head, which I try to explain to my managers to get ideas of who could fit. And Hayley was all the way up on my wishlist.
Your performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon was great, where you hopped on the keys and did Clarity as a slow jam with Foxes and the Roots. In your mind, what purpose does that serve, stripping a song down to perform on live TV?
I think it's boring to go up there and play a song as a DJ. A DJ can't just play one song. It's about playing a set, or how you connect songs in those two hours, and where you place them. I always want to do something unique on TV, and in my opinion, stripping down a song to its essential parts, the chords and the melody, shows you what quality a song actually has – especially if it's electronic, where a lot of the times all those parts are very hidden. I usually write my music on a piano, and I really enjoy performing that way, because that actually shows how the music was in my mind before it actually became an electronic song.
Do you miss performing like that?
Sometimes, for sure. I used to be a drummer in a band, and I really loved playing the drums, so I look forward to the right opportunity to do that at some point. Maybe even on TV. Every single live performance I'm doing on TV, I want it to be different and unique.
Do you think it was the right call to cancel the final day of Electric Zoo?
I don't know if it was the right call. It's a very difficult debate. When is it a right thing to cancel a concert? If a place is not safe because it gets overcrowded, I do think it's definitely right to cancel a show, because it's a risk. But if we're talking about people's responsibilities, it's difficult to judge that. It's hard for the people that bought their tickets to understand that a show gets canceled because of someone else's irresponsibility. Some of them are mad at the artists, but there's not much you can do.
Do you have general advice for people about staying safe at festivals or shows?
I don't do drugs, so I would just tell people not to do it. That's the safest way to enjoy music, is to enjoy the music, and use that as your drug and not any other substances. If you take drugs, you're very egotistic, because besides your life, you might ruin a lot of other people's lives — families and friends who will really suffer from what could happen. That's already reason for me not to do anything. But I don't want to tell anyone how to live their life. I think it's important to be informed and, whatever you do, stay safe. That's the only advice I can give people, is to inform themselves before they do something stupid.