As the 2023 festival season becomes more fully realized with the unfurling of major lineups over the last two weeks, ODESZA has emerged as the summer’s new powerhouse headliner, with top billing at both Bonnaroo and Governor’s Ball.
The Seattle-based live electronic duo will play the ‘Roo alongside fellow headliners Foo Fighters and Kendrick Lamar and at Governors Ball alongside Lizzo and another Lamar performance. These two shows, both in June, will mark the biggest performances of ODESZA’s career — an achievement that’s been in the works since the duo launched back in 2013.
It was then that the pair — Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight, along with their manager Adam Foley of Redlight and agent Jay Moss at Wasserman — decided that while the guys made music that fell within the electronic realm, they’d be positioned as a live band rather than DJs. (The guys both play live instruments during their performances, with their huge and often ethereal music blending electronic and analog sounds.)
This strategy set them on a trajectory that eschewed the club sets, Vegas residencies and major dance festivals (like EDC Las Vegas and Tomorrowland) frequented by most electronic producers, and instead put them in hard ticket venues. Over time these spaces grew from 300 to 500 to 2,000 to much bigger capacity rooms.
“We had developed a show more akin to a rock band’s in the sense that we’re rolling in with a bunch of trailers and need space to set it up,” says Foley. “It was, ‘Here’s our world,’ versus us stepping into your world.”
The trick worked, with ODESZA becoming a progressively more beloved act in and beyond the electronic scene — and all without radio hits. Instead, the guys fostered an extremely dedicated fanbase by grinding it out on the road with their dazzling, emotionally resonant live shows played at progressively larger venues and electronic-oriented fests like Electric Forest and Lightning In a Bottle, which both include live acts alongside electronic artists. (ODESZA will again headline Electric Forest this June, along with Florida’s Okeechobee in March.)
As their community expanded, so too did the reach of ODESZA’S output, with their 2014 sophomore album In Return hitting No. 42 on the Billboard 200 and 2017’s A Moment Apart reaching No. 3. (Neither delivered a Hot 100 single.) The two-year A Moment Apart Tour grossed $9.1 million and sold 198,000 tickets across 35 shows, according to Billboard Boxscore, ending with a pair of sold out shows at the L.A. State Historic Park, which together sold 40,000 tickets.
“After we did those show,” says Moss, “I was like, ‘We can do [do headlining sets],’ and started having those conversations.”
Moss reached out to major talent buyers including Bonnaroo producer C3 and Governor’s Ball producer Founders Entertainment to “tee up” the idea of ODESZA as major multi-genre music festival headliner, with the idea to “make promoters believe it early on.”
Then COVID hit, and while the live events industry was on hiatus, Mills and Knight were in the studio making their first new album in five years. That LP, The Last Goodbye, was released in July of 2022, with a tour presale three months prior selling 80% of all tickets on the first day — a partial result, Moss says, of pent-up demand for the band given their long absence.
“When that tour went on I was convinced we were a festival headliner,” Moss says.
The Last Goodbye run launched in late July, selling out three nights at Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena before hitting amphitheaters across the U.S. This venue format was selected for its ability to offer the level of production required by the technically ambitious show and to offer tickets at a wider price range than typically available at arenas. Catering to the widest possible audience, Foley says, “allowed for us to get everyone in the room, even if they could only pay $25 for a lawn ticket” — a move that ultimately expanded the band’s fanbase even wider.
But in terms of continuing the conversations with Bonnaroo and Governors Ball, Moss knew he had to prove the band’s hard ticket worth, “as we’re not the kind of act that’s on the radio or a huge pop band with all these number one singles,” he explains. “Our strongest asset was that we’re worth a ton of tickets and that the guys’ show is incredible.”
With The Last Goodbye tour selling 395,000 tickets and grossing $25.6 million over 32 shows between July 29-Sept. 27, 2022, according to Boxscore, Moss knew “the business that we did cemented that we were that headliner level of artist.” Thus, when Foley and Moss locked in the Bonnaroo and Governor’s Ball deals, Mills and Knight were impressed, if not surprised.
“I think they’re still still kind of pinching themselves seeing it,” Moss says, “but at the same time, they’ve earned it. They’ve done the work over the last decade to get here.”