Concert Review: ODESZA’s Dynamic DJs Sell Out SoCal

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{This article was originally published in The Poly Post.}

The presence of electronic dance music, or EDM, has erupted into mainstream recognition becoming particularly popular with the club-aged college crowd. But DJs are no longer limited to club dance floors and raves.

EDM acts now headline their own concerts at various venues. DJ Carnage recently headlined BroncoFusion 2016 in the event’s first year charging admission.

EDM act ODESZA, comprised of Harrison Mills (stage name CatacombKid) and Clayton Knight (stage name BeachesBeaches), headlined a sold-out show at The Observatory, a venue that hosts musical acts of all genres, on Dec. 29 to close out a successful year for the Seattle DJs.

The duo quickly set themselves apart from standard club DJs as they took the stage with not just their standard production equipment and sound boards, but instrumental accompaniment in the form of floor tom drum sets, as well as three additional instrumentalists.

ODESZA eased the crowd into their set, opening with their song, “Koto,” from their self-released debut album, “Summer’s Gone,” and then transitioning into their popular hit, “How Did I Get Here,” paired with a digital screen backdrop of candle lanterns to complete the aesthetic.

While some DJs choose to bombard the audience with a relentless stream of music by mixing one song into the next for the entire set, ODESZA knew where to create breaks in the set list in order to provide a sort of palette cleanser and create suspense before moving into the next mix.

They effectively demonstrated this by closing out the music and engaging the audience before playing their charting single, “All We Need,” which inspired the audience to sing along with the vocals provided by Shy Girls.

Three additional musicians, including a guitarist, a trombonist and a trumpeter, also accompanied the DJ duo on select songs. While a sound pad can emulate just about any tone, the use of the live instruments helped provide a more dynamic and full sound.

The horns were dominantly featured in such songs as ODESZA’s remix of “Saola” by Beat Connection. They were layered over the synth line to highlight and add dimension to the otherwise artificial sounding tone.

The pair placed a strategic break to give the audience a breather before launching into a more frenetic, high-energy mix. This movement kicked off with their single, “Sun Models,” before transitioning into an interlude featuring an instrumental breakdown with a commanding guitar solo played over pounding four-on-the-floor beats.

While The Observatory does not allow an open dance floor like ODESZA’s demographic might be used to at a club or rave, the intimacy of the venue meant everyone in attendance from the pit to the balcony could feel the beat of the bassline in their chests.

The tiered floor set-up of the venue also meant that there was not a bad seat in the house as far as a view of the stage. This was important as the light show and visual production, a major factor for EDM performances, were just as thought out and choreographed as the song list.

A stage-spanning digital screen served as a visual backdrop with sequences of imagery such as cityscapes, animation, shadowy neon silhouettes and abstract geometric figures that changed seamlessly with each transition of the music, creating a visual progression to match the sonic movement.

The combination of the screen with additional lighting effects, provided by lasers and moving light fixtures, all synced with the music and created a kinetic atmosphere that reached beyond the perfectly framed stage and captivated the audience.

However, the energetic production calmed without sacrificing enthusiasm as the stage lights cut and the audience was asked to illuminate the venue with their cellphone lights as the DJ duo initiated the gentle intro of their remix of Hayden James’s “Something About You.”

The progression built as they transitioned into their highest charting hit, “Say My Name,” making for a climactic moment before the pair exited the stage, awaiting an encore.

After a few moments of the crowd chanting and cheering for ODESZA’s encore performance, the two DJs emerged from backstage along with their three accompanying musicians.

Overcome with enthusiasm, Mills exclaimed, “You are one of the rowdiest crowds we’ve had in a long time and that is amazing.”

They closed the night with their synth-throbbing remix of “Make Me Feel Better” by Alex Adair as the audience relentlessly jumped and bounced to the beat.

One of the greatest performance challenges for EDM artists is to create a sense of sonic movement, without the evident progression of lyrical versus and choruses, to keep the set from sounding like a flat-line loop of bass beats and sound effects.

ODESZA achieved this sense of development in their set list by creating dynamic transitioning interludes and varying tonal textures that made for a compelling experience even for those averse to most EDM music.

ODESZA has recently debuted three new tracks and has started accumulating performance dates for 2017.

[Feature photo courtesy of Christina Craig/The Observatory]

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