Women in Music 2016

ODESZA Disrupts Dance Music with Lush, Post-Dubstep Beats

Marybeth Coghill
Odesza

Before Odesza's Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight were topping Billboard's Dance/Electronic Albums chart and headlining nearly sold-out, back-to-back world tours, the two Seattle beatmakers were just another unsigned band dealing with the hardships of the road -- and extreme fandom -- themselves.

"When we were touring ourselves, there was one girl who was absolutely insane," Mills tells Billboard over the phone. "She said she was going to sing on our tracks, and when I told her she couldn't, she started crying and threw her drink at the merch table. The security guards didn't care. They were like, 'We didn't see her do anything.' She even tried to get onstage." And she's not the only one: One interviewer said his sister was so nervous she could barely speak to Odesza upon meeting them, and according to Knight, "young females" make up the majority of their audiences.

Though Mills and Knight look like your average 20-somethings in hoodies and bootcut jeans who watch Boardwalk Empire and play FIFA 15 on their Xbox (which they do, in their touring Spitzer van), they're also leading the charge in a broadly appealing new wave of electronic music known by some as "beatsy" or post-dubstep that's also been championed by producers like Porter Robinson and Pretty Lights. "It's something you don't have to be on drugs to listen to," says Knight. With melodic grooves undulating in waves instead of hammering down with a ribcage-crushing drop, songs like "Sun Models" featuring singer Madelyn Grant have tallied over 3 million plays on Soundcloud.

Mills and Knight came together in college at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., from different backgrounds. After a high school primer's worth of Nas, Gorillaz and A Tribe Called Quest, Mills met Knight, who had been digging into Animal Collective and M83, through a mutual college friend. "When we were just starting out," says Mills, "we had machines synced up. One was the master and one was the slave, so someone would add a drum layer, and we'd go back and forth adding layers on top of what we were working on. That's how the jamming began."

Though the two keep a pretty consistent schedule, working 9 to 5 together before separating for the night, which seems to be where their inspiration truly comes from, if their NO.SLEEP mixes are any indication. These mixes grew from a playlist they put together for Jiberish, a Denver-based clothing and lifestyle store, and have evolved into a series of tastefully curated episodes putting together everything from Australian production duo Flight Facilities to New York-via-U.K. producer Bonobo, and other artists of their ilk. "It's something for fans and friends to see what we've been listening to lately," says Mills. 

Odesza's fans can also get a taste from their debut LP, In Return, which arrived Sept. 8 via Ninja Tune imprint Counter Records. "They’re my favorite label," says Knight. "I grew up listening to some bands off their roster that really influenced me, so to have them give us the seal of approval was huge." Now that they're signed to a label and have a full team working for them, adds Mills, "When we’re sleeping, other people are working, especially since they're in the U.K. It feels like you get a whole other perspective, and other people to bounce ideas off of."

Though the two don't really have time to write new songs while they're on the road right now, Odesza makes sure to remix their old material along with the new. "We chase 'em around just a tad to keep people interested," Mills says. But they might not be giving themselves enough credit, at least when it comes to their tour rider, which includes whiskey, beers, and a vegetable and fruit tray. "We're just boring-ass white people," he adds.