zedd_edm_1_new.jpgZedd wears a suit by Z Zegna, shirt by Dolce and Gabbana, tie by Hugo Boss, belt by Emporio Armani and shoes by Max Verre.

In the current pantheon of EDM DJs, producers, and performers, few artists are moved -- let alone personally prepared -- to arrange their songs for the piano with a classical string accompaniment. For Zedd -- otherwise known as Anton Zaslavski, a 24-year-old German EDM purveyor and classically trained musician -- stripping down one of his bass-driven behemoths to its simplest elements seems downright natural. His US television debut on the Late Show with David Letterman in 2013 was an opportunity for the producer to perform his day-glo house rattling breakthrough hit "Clarity" unplugged. The performance had Zaslavski quietly sitting behind a piano while a string section swelled and a stadium-sized chorus got belted out by UK synth pop chanteuse Foxes. None of this is incidental. Zaslavski thinks EDM's reputation of being big, dumb, and loud overshadows the craftsmanship needed to make to make really good electronic pop music. He never really thought -- or cared -- about trying to give millennials on molly a good time; it was simply the side effect of his passions.

"I think most people don't even understand how important songwriting is in the world of EDM," Zaslavski says. "When 'Clarity' finally came out, and it took about half a year to get big, it worked not because it had the sickest drops or the biggest kick drums. It worked because of the music, the melody, the lyrics, and the emotion was undeniable."

The Letterman performance, along with the subsequent release of the acoustic version of "Clarity," was a telling moment for the baby faced German, who has always thought of himself as a songwriter first and EDM drop conjuring guru second. After playing in rock bands for most of his high school years, and growing up with classical musicians as parents, he was drawn to making electronic music in 2009 through the effervescent musicality of the pristinely arranged and gorgeously produced techno of Daft Punk's Discovery and Justice's . When it came time to write solo music, he became most drawn to the songwriting potential in electronic dance music.

zeddsunglasses.jpg
Zedd wears a jacket by Thom Browne, pants by Z Zegna, Belt by Emporio Armani, shoes by Max Verre and sunglasses by Ray-Ban.

"I never wanted to DJ. I never wanted to become a DJ. I never thought I would become a DJ," Zaslavski says. "The core of my music is the music: the chords and the melody, not the sound. When you focus on the sound, as an electronic artist, you limit yourself severely from the beginning."

Whether he wanted to or not, Zaslavski caught the EDM wave at the right time, gaining notoriety through winning Beatport remix contests -- competitions that weren't available to electronic musicians just a few years prior -- and catching the eye of Skrillex, who quickly signed him to his record label OWLSA. Soon, he found himself remixing tracks for big artists, like on the deluxe version of Lady Gaga's mammoth 2011 album Born This Way, and snagging an offer to release his debut album through Interscope in 2012. Clarity has been the record he's ridden ever since, with one single after another -- "Shave it Up," "Spectrum," "Stay the Night," and, of course, the album's titular track -- blowing up on dance charts across the world and quickly lumping him in with house music savant contemporaries like Deadmau5, David Guetta, and Tiësto. High profile production gigs for Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga followed.

But as much as he's found success in the EDM space, to Zaslavski, the genre's popularity is both an opportunity and a house of cards, destined to crumble after trying to replicate the visceral pleasures of the drop over and over again.

"If you go to festivals like Coachella, the electronic tents are always packed, and the energy is always insane," Zaslavski says. "DJs and producers figured out what works for the crowd, what gets them pumped what gets them jumping, so everyone started doing the exact same thing, because it was proven to get the crowd going crazy. Then you have every DJ at every stage is playing the exact same music because they now it's going to get them the same exact reaction."

zedd_edm_2.jpgZedd wears a suit by Z Zegna, shirt by Dolce and Gabbana, tie by Hugo Boss, belt by Emporio Armani and shoes by Max Verre.

He adds with a sigh, "the current state of EDM is very dangerous. It's in a comfort zone music should never be in...The formula is so pervasive -- the snare on the floor, the exact same sample -- kids don't even understand if you move away from it."

Zaslavski knows the future of EDM lies in the potential for the genre to move beyond its fist pumping nadir and toward better songwriting, better melodies, and a more musically-oriented sonic wave. He cites Avicii, Calvin Harris, and DJ Snake of "Turn Down For What" fame as artists who are gaining acclaim and popularity while eschewing the typical EDM script, and he wants to encourage the next generation of DJs and producers to take the genre in radical new directions.

"I hope people are going to be pushing away from the formula. Young DJs, artists, and producers feel like they have to make this tried and true sound, because they are worried people won't react or give you attention," said Zaslavski. "I think music should always come from the artist's heart, rather than basing it off what a lot of people have decided to like."

Styled by Art Conn

Grooming by Traci Barrett for The Rex Agency using Davines

Stylist's Assistants: Artemis Jafari, Samantha Czubiak and Myda Noriega

Photo assistant: Pedro Zalba / Shot at Quixote Studios in L.A.


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