Odesza Plays Up the Physical Aspects of Performing Electronic Music

Photo by Tonje Thilesen
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Odesza was propelled to big-font status on the Coachella Music Festival 2018 lineup poster — and earned Grammy nominations — thanks to the success of the two-man band's third album, A Moment Apart. The record's highly cinematic, widescreen sound lends itself to the chill-bass duo's immersive and highly synchronized live sets, which combine the sheer spectacle of EDM with more theatrical flourishes.

Speaking with New Times from Los Angeles, Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight — known as Catacombkid and BeachesBeaches — discuss their approach to high-profile gigs such as Odesza's sure-to-be-massive set at Ultra Music Festival this Friday.

Knight and Mills have continually added new elements to their stage shows over the past few years, such as the six-member drum line they took on tour last year.

"It's getting to that point where, if you add any more, is it actually adding to the show? Moving forward, it's about finding the stuff that really works, accentuating the moments that are really powerful rather than adding more people to the production," Knight says. "Paring down and really refining what we have already is what we've been trying to do throughout this tour schedule. We're tweaking stuff we know is working and bringing the best live show we can."

That isn't to say Odesza has stopped innovating. They're still using new technological tools as they emerge and looking for choice moments to incorporate performance artists — they're just choosing those moments more tactfully.

"We take a lot of time, trying a thousand versions of every section of the set until it all flows together and all the individual moments make sense," Mills says. "Not everything needs fire."

In contrast to the stereotypical superstar DJ pressing the space bar and fiddling with knobs on a 100-foot-tall video screen, Odesza's sets emphasize physical performances. That's largely a product of the duo's roots in the Pacific Northwest, where one can't walk down the street without tripping over an indie band.

Odesza Plays Up the Physical Aspects of Performing Electronic Music (2)EXPAND
Photo by Julian Bajsel

"We're from Seattle, Washington, and we grew up with a lot of singer-songwriters performing onstage with a lot of musicians," Knight says. "That always felt missing from our own performances, so we've been building on that slowly and introducing different players, but making sure that it actually makes sense with the music."

Concentrating on refining their stage show is also a coping mechanism — a distraction from their new, disorienting reality: They were making beats in their bedrooms until just a few years ago, and now they're playing the biggest stages in the world.

"It's very surreal," Mills says. "It doesn't really make a ton of sense. The only way we handle it is by keeping our heads down and trying to make the sets better."

For fans eagerly awaiting the followup to A Moment Apart, Knight and Mills have some early ideas, but they've focused so much on touring recently that they haven't begun working on new material.

"We can't wait to get back into writing mode," Knight says, "but it'll probably be a bit before we can really sit down and lock it in."

Odesza. 10 p.m. Friday, March 29, on the Live Arena Stage at Ultra Music Festival, Historic Virginia Key Beach Park, 4020 Virginia Beach Dr., Miami; 305-960-4600; virginiakeybeachpark.net. Tickets cost $399.95 to $1,499.95 via ultramusicfestival.com.

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