Light and verve

I.

“I don’t think I’m gonna be making electronic music forever, so enjoy it now,” Zedd (Anton Zaslavski) told the press prior to his August 8 Manila gig. It wasn’t a threat but a recognition of the natural course of things. Zedd is a classically trained pianist, whom at age 11 became a drummer in a metal band then later on went to test the EDM waters. He eventually released “Clarity,” a dance album that produced club staples, chart toppers and a Grammy award-winning record.

In his second outing, “True Colors,” Zedd makes a statement on his artistry, showcasing his musical depth. The tracks are even more melodious and diverse that you can take them as pop songs with a touch of electronica rather than melodic EDM, which is characteristic of his previous works.

We still get hints of “Clarity” with the opening tracks Addicted to Memory, I Want You to Know and Beautiful Now, though it goes in completely different directions from there on. Standouts are the rock-infused Transmission, folksy Daisy, indie-pop Illusion and clear-cut rave piece Bumble Bee.

For the third album, Zedd only had this to say: “I honestly don’t know.” But he was generous enough to share that he’d like to compose for films, do more orchestral stuff, and promised us that whatever he creates, it shall pass strict quality assurance. “I would not make music that I did not enjoy. I love making every single song I’ve ever put out,” he remarked. “I would never put my name on something I don’t like. And if it happens that there’s more rock in the next album, then that could be it. But for now I’m having fun to be honest with you.”

So we had to take him seriously when he said enjoy his music now. Sure they’re digitally preserved, but experiencing them in a room among kindred spirits, with Zedd himself behind the decks, orchestrating the party? That’s unrepeatable.

II.

Neverland Manila Presents: Zedd True Colors Tour began with that familiar keyboard riff in Hourglass smoothly leading to Spectrum’s chorus. When our ears were ready to take the full song, the chords drifted to the hook of Beautiful Now, Zedd’s current single. “Pa-pa-pa papa pa-pa-pa papa pa-pa-pa-pa papapa papapapa…,” chanted the glow stick-wielding audience of 12,000 at the Mall of Asia Arena. In front of them were huge LED panels in which hues from the “True Colors” album cover splashed about.

Crowd pleaser that he is, Zedd, on top of playing his hits, gave his remix of music fan favorites like Clean Bandit’s Rather Be, Maroon 5’s Sugar, Magic’s Rude, David Guetta’s Titanium, Coldplay’s Sky Full of Stars, Bastille’s Pompeii and Jessie J’s Bang Bang.

To an outsider, EDM is equal to loud bass plus mindless rhythms. In a careless DJ’s hands, it may be so. But there’s something about it that’s exhilarating. Perhaps it’s the amplified, repetitive beats connecting with our own pulse, waking our senses up. Hearing it for hours, though, is tiring, boring. And this is what separates Zedd from your standard disc jockey: the man knows how we’d like to jump around, latch on to a melody, cry out lyrics we take as divine oaths, and sometimes do all three at once. In Zedd’s hands, EDM is poetry and rave.

A video posted by Razel Estrella (@fishpeep) on


There’s no doubt that he owes this musical instinct to his classical training. “When I started making electronic music, I had no clue about it,” shared Zedd. So he wrote Spectrum entirely on the piano then made it electronic, and it has been a process which he adopted for his two albums. “It’s the easiest way to do it. Writing music on the piano already makes it more organic,” he continued. “Playing all those classical pieces, I kind of learned what is right.”

Sticking to the same writing practice, Zedd simply had to take cues from his surroundings when it came to producing a cohesive album. “After hearing four to five songs, I realized that all I’ve written were kind of different,” he replied when asked about the intention behind “True Colors.” “They have totally different colors and I thought that’d be a great concept — for every song to be some color. When you close your eyes, I want you to feel something in every single song.”

How anyone could keep their eyes closed during a Zedd live performance, I have no idea. One can only be drawn like a fire-hungry moth to the lights blazing throughout the arena. “The visual aspect is just as important for me as the actual music,” said Zedd in the documentary, Moment of Clarity. Unlike the random slivers of light that go on-and-off at nightclubs, the electric lights and graphics in his concert had a language of their own.

At one point, I found myself moving like the dangly neon straws projected on the screens. It was hypnotizing, to say the least. And when he played The Legend of Zelda theme remix accompanied by scrolling pixelated images of a video game character, nostalgic smiles flashed on people’s faces. Zedd might have been working his voodoo on us, but we would gladly submit to it again and again.

Towards the show’s final minutes, Zedd, going full circle, reprised the anthemic Spectrum and climbed the deck stand carrying the Philippine flag. Before saying good-bye for the night (he has always expressed a fondness for playing in the country), he had us dance to True Colors.

III.

“I would love to be remembered as somebody that made a difference in the electronic music scene… someone that had a big influence in its change towards something slightly more musical, more classical” was Zedd’s quick reply to questions of legacy. “There are certain bands that I look up to — Queen, Genesis, Beatles. Even when their sound changes, they’re still legends. They changed rock, they changed their genres.”

Touring the world at 24, making non-EDM listeners pay attention to the genre along the way, may not be a bad start. “I have a whole new respect for dance music, for how it comes together and the artists behind that beat that you’re dancing to,” Hayley Williams of rock band Paramore said as much after working with Zedd on the track, Stay the Night. And if my opinion counts, Anton’s true colors have just made me an even bigger, unapologetic fan of electronic music.

—Originally published in a different version on GIST.PH

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