How ODESZA Is Leading EDM to Rock and Alternative Radio

Tonje Thilesen
ODESZA

ODESZA, Sofi Tukker and Mansionair are on the cusp of what may be a new trend in rock radio: electronic crossovers. EDM has made significant inroads at top 40 radio -- and the top of the Billboard Hot 100 -- in recent years, with The Chainsmokers, Zedd and Calvin Harris and more finding chart success with dance-geared tracks. Now, the alternative and triple A (adult alternative) formats are getting into the game, with four songs by electronic acts dotting Billboard’s Alternative airplay chart dated Jan. 20.

ODESZA, whose Grammy-nominated third album, 2017’s A Moment Apart, reached No. 3 on the Billboard 200 last September, boasts two songs on these formats: “Line of Sight,” featuring WYNNE and Mansionair, which peaked at No. 24 on Alternative, and “Across the Room,” featuring Leon Bridges on vocals, which has become a top 10 hit at triple A.

Harrison Mills, one-half of ODESZA, says the pair didn't expect either song’s success on alternative formats, but “we’ve always been big fans of indie-alternative. We’re from the Northwest, where it’s kind of king.” Adds member Clayton Knight: “Electronic music has been around for a while, but now finally in the U.S. it’s seeping into almost everything.” He says radio crossover was never the goal when recording Apart: “If you start making music for platforms, it’s really transparent. It doesn't feel authentic.”

Dance music finding its way onto Alternative isn't exactly new: The Chainsmokers notched a top 20 alternative hit in 2017 with “Something Just Like This,” featuring Coldplay, and Avicii’s “Wake Me Up!” nearly reached the top 10 in 2013. Only now, more artists are joining in.

Recent key players include Australian trio Mansionair, whose own “Astronaut (Something About Your Love)” has ridden its distorted vocal hook to No. 37 on Alternative; Sofi Tukker’s “Best Friend” (featuring NERVO, The Knocks and Alisa Ueno), leading the Alternative charge at No. 18, following its inclusion in an Apple ad; and Francis & The Lights, whose “May I Have This Dance” remix with Chance the Rapper peaked at No. 36 on Alternative.

Phil Kukawinski, program director of alternative WFUZ Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pa., spins all four songs. He says the decision to play the tunes on a historically guitar-driven format was a no-brainer: “The electronic sound has really taken off, and alternative as a format is in a new place,” he says, adding that though some listeners are wary of the shift, “expanding their horizons is the main focus.”

Bridges, already a budding star on triple A with a pair of top 10s on the format in 2015 and 2016 (including the No. 1 “Smooth Sailin’ ”), says he linked with ODESZA to create “a window into what’s next for me on my own project.”

“When you make something that’s tasteful and melodic, people are going to be drawn to it,” he adds. “You just got to do it right.”

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 27 issue of Billboard.