Isabelle Rezazadeh’s father was, reasonably enough, worried. It was 2013, and teenage Isabelle was out of high school, living with her parents on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls and partying a lot, ditching her waitressing shifts at the Hard Rock Cafe to go to music festivals with her friends. When home, she stayed in the basement, reading -- self-help books, essays on psychology, the dictionary. “My dad literally thought I was going to end up being, like, a basement rat that didn’t leave the room,” she says.
Those fears only escalated later that year, when Rezazadeh spent all of her waitressing money to fly to Los Angeles for electronic music festival Day of the Dead. Deadmau5 was headlining, and watching his set, a vision of her future suddenly crystallized. Two years later, deadmau5 returned to the event and Rezazadeh watched him again -- this time as electronic music producer REZZ, listed seven lines below the headliner.
In the last four years, REZZ has propelled herself to the top of both festival lineups and the electronic scene at large without any major hits, radio play or outsize social media following. Using body-rattling bass, trippy visuals and her signature light-up glasses, she offers her fans a communal sonic and physical experience. And those fans are obsessed, turning out for multiple sets, getting tattoos of her face and assembling on the 18,000-plus-member “Cult of REZZ” Facebook page, where the rules include “no negativity” and “If you post your own music it must be a remix of one of her songs.” While her releases have had some chart success -- last August, Certain Kind of Magic peaked at No. 12 on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Albums list -- they haven’t delivered any breakout hits, but REZZ hasn’t needed them. Her singular sound and cult following have proved magic enough.
To get to this level, REZZ first had to go back down to the basement. There, she taught herself music production and started uploading her ominous, simultaneously throttling and sleekly nuanced tracks -- inspired by bands like Bring Me the Horizon, My Chemical Romance and Marilyn Manson -- to SoundCloud. “I would literally post my music in the most random Facebook groups, even groups irrelevant to music,” she says. “It’d be like ‘the peace and love community,’ and I’d be like, ‘Check out my song!’”
That self-promotion paid off. Skrillex DM’d to say he liked her stuff, leading to a 2015 release on his label, OWSLA. Attlas, an artist on deadmau5’ mau5trap imprint, also heard her work and passed it to his label manager -- who has since released all of REZZ’s work (a pair of EPs and two albums). She’s now going indie, planning to release her next EP through Kobalt’s label-services division, AWAL.
Speaking on the phone from her Toronto home, REZZ is effusive despite the fact that she’s still recovering from a nasty flu that, just days ago, had her using an IV for nutrients. (Reluctant to cancel a pair of shows, she delivered her sets while sitting on a stool.) The 23-year-old speaks fluent millennial, peppering her sentences with “likes” and “literally” while enthusiastically discussing everything from her futuristic branding (“Obsessed with it!”), to Billie Eilish (“I just love her!”). This same exuberance won over her future management team when she met them through a Facebook group for Toronto producers. At their first meeting, she said she wanted to be big, on the level of her all-time favorite artists -- and that she was confident she could fill a certain void in the scene.
“There wasn’t a headlining woman producer at the top at that time,” she says. “I could really see that. I was obviously aware there were women in the music industry, but I wanted to be massive. I wanted it to be normal for me to be headlining a festival and to not even have it be a conversation.”
Her 2018 Certain Kind of Magic tour sold out shows across the United States and was just one part of a packed schedule including performances at Austin City Limits, Lollapalooza, Coachella, Electric Daisy Carnival, Tomorrowland, Movement, Electric Forest and a sellout at Red Rocks in Colorado (which, naturally, she called “REZZ Rocks”; it returns this September). In April, she’ll headline Australia’s five-city Touch Bass festival. In June, she headlines Toronto’s Bud Light Dreams festival alongside Zedd.
“Zedd is this pop-producing person, and I’m some girl who never made a hit,” says REZZ. “I just make weird tunes and have attracted this very passionate fan base, and now I’m headlining festivals on the level of people like him. That’s exactly what I wanted.”
There are other trappings of success she’s enjoying, too: a new house and a shiny black Audi she sometimes drives aimlessly around her neighborhood on the outskirts of Toronto. Then there’s that most elusive of rewards: parental approval. They’re “like, obnoxiously supportive. My dad actually said to my mom recently, ‘My biggest regret in my life is doubting Isabelle.’”
Changing the Equation: “If some promoter tried to say something sexist, my management would destroy them. But I get stoked regardless of who’s becoming successful. The people pushing boundaries, women or men, are making the dance music community and business bigger.”
This article originally appeared in the March 30 issue of Billboard.