Dark Star: REZZ Is Moving On Up
In the percolating world of electronic-dance music, a young artist can make the jump from learning the ins and outs of bedroom-studio production to playing fist-pumping festival-size sets at a speed that would have been unthinkable in the pre-Internet era.
Take Isabelle Rezazadeh, better known as REZZ, for instance: Less than two years ago, she was making tracks on her laptop in her Niagara Falls, Ontario, home and uploading them to SoundCloud; today, she’s one of the scene’s nascent superstars.
She’s made that leap with a self-assured poise that’s rare among up-and-coming producers. But what makes REZZ’s story stand out is that she’s managed to make her mark despite, or perhaps because of, a brash style that’s far from the pain-by-numbers music made by many of her peers. She’s been perfecting her singular sound—one that’s dark, tough, and mesmerizingly paced, generally hovering around a creepy-crawly 100-BPM range—since the days of those early SoundCloud uploads, and she’s been perfecting it ever since. She’s enlisted some heavy hitters to aid in that effort: Her debut EP, Insurrection, came in July 2015 via Nest, the label arm of the Skrillex-associated Next HQ website, and subsequent work has been released on the deadmau5-helmed mau5trap label.
REZZ unveiled the six-track Something Wrong Here, released on mau5trap, this past October—and it’s perhaps her strongest, most fully realized work yet. The march-step stomp of “Selector” recalls the sound of mid-’90s, way-before-stardom Daft Punk; the spiraling synths of “Cryptic” are punctuated by pummeling, dancehall-laced rhythms; “Paranoid,” accompanied by a hallucinatory zombie-rave video, is a tension-filled woofer-ripper; the EP’s sole vocal track, “Melancholy” is an EBM-tinged stormer, with vocalist Laura Brehm’s sweet, slightly breathy vocals floating above a throbbing bass.
REZZ has grown ever more sure of herself at gigs, too—wearing her trademark hypno-goggles, she works the crowd like an old pro. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the she’s has only been at this for a couple of years, but when DJ Times reaches her by phone, the 21-year-old producer is as giddily enthusiastic about her success as you’d expect someone in her position to be. Yet there’s an air of confidence as well.
“When I make music, I don’t make it to be mediocre,” REZZ says. “I want to make music that I love.”
DJ Times: What’s your pre-music-career background?
REZZ: I’m Persian-Ukrainian. My mom was raised in the Ukraine and my dad was raised in Iran. My dad used to travel the world a bit when he was younger, and he met my mom when he went to the Ukraine. He actually learned Russian so he could speak with her. Both my sister and I were born in the Ukraine, and then we moved to Canada at a very young age.
DJ Times: You were an athlete as a kid, right?
REZZ: I did a lot of track and field in elementary school. It was a very big part of my life when I was a kid. My favorite events were long jump, and the 100-, 400-meter and 800-meter runs—anything more than that and I would basically just die. And I did a lot of other sports, too, but I was really, really good at basketball. I once made 30 free throws in a row! It was kind of insane. People actually thought I was going to be become big in basketball. I enjoyed doing it and I was good at it… but practice was really early, and sleep was more important to me than practice. That made me realize I wasn’t passionate enough about it to really do it.
DJ Times: But music was a whole different story, obviously.
REZZ: When I found music, nothing else was important anymore. I didn’t care about sleep, and at that time I didn’t even care about food.
DJ Times: That’s serious!
REZZ: Yeah! Especially if I was trying to finish a song, I would forget to take care of basic human necessities. I grew up as a very social person, but I stopped going out with friends. I basically dropped everything for music; I wouldn’t let myself have any distractions. I had found my passion. Nothing had ever felt that way before.
DJ Times: How did you first discover that passion? Had you had any musical training as a kid?
REZZ: No, I had never taken music up at all. I had only done stuff like music class in elementary school. But I can remember this one situation when we all had to sit in a circle, and we all had drumsticks. Somebody would have to do a drumbeat, and the next person would have to copy that drumbeat as exactly as they could. That was when I noticed that I was really good at rhythm, and maybe above-average at keeping a beat. I never thought would really mean anything, though.
DJ Times: And when did it finally start to mean something?
REZZ: That was years later, when I was 18 and first had Ableton on my computer. Fooling around with that, that’s when I thought to myself, “OK, I really enjoy this. I enjoy the process.”
DJ Times: It’s a long way from that to putting out EPs on Nest and mau5trap, though. How did it go from making music for fun to actually releasing that music?
REZZ: It happened because of the Internet, basically. I was releasing a lot of music for free on my SoundCloud page, and a lot of blogs were picking up on it. Those blogs surprisingly attract a lot of people who are in the industry. One of the guys at Nest HQ found me, and then Skrillex ended up following me and said, “We have to do something with you.” So we made a three-track EP and released it on Nest.
DJ Times: And then?
REZZ: Shortly after that, ATTLAS from mau5trap heard my music, and he sent it over to Chris [Johnson, general Manager at mau5trap], who loved it. And just like with Skrillex, he said “We have to do something with you”—and so we released “Serenity.” Then that first real EP for mau5trap, The Silence Is Deafening, did really well for me. It attracted a lot of new people to my music. And there were a few bits and pieces, remixes and revisions—and now, the Something Wrong Here EP.
DJ Times: You make it sound easy!
REZZ: Things just happened, but it was a lot of work, and you just have to keep working. I made a lot of noise really fast, but I’m still making music constantly and trying to figure out how to get it out there, to get more exposure. And once you do that, you’d be surprised who will hear that music. Once you put stuff on the Internet, and if it’s really cool and unique, you’ll get some recognition. But you have to continue to prove yourself. Like, I’ve made literally hundreds of songs, a lot of which I still haven’t released. And I continue to make songs, all the time.
DJ Times: That’s one way to do it nowadays—just constantly keep yourself in the public’s mind.
REZZ: Yeah, but it depends on who you are. There are artists who haven’t released in years who can still remain relevant—a good example would be Gesaffelstein. He hasn’t put anything out lately, but to me, he’s already an icon. He doesn’t need to release all the time, because what he’s already done with his music and his brand and his image makes him timeless.
DJ Times: A lot of people have actually compared you to Gesaffelstein.
REZZ: I don’t know how he feels about that! It’s good for me because he’s really rad, and I can hear the similarities, like with the kick-snare patterns at 100 BPM, but I think we are inspired by different visions. My sound is heavier and bassier, and maybe a little bit more hard-hitting.
DJ Times: But I’m sure you wouldn’t mind reaching his iconic status.
REZZ: Well, I would never say that I want to become an icon. [laughs] But a lot of the people who I idolize are on that level, and I respect them for getting there.
DJ Times: Trent Reznor seems to the latest point of reference that people seem to fall back on when talking about your music.
REZZ: There’s been a lot of that lately. And I’m even more flattered by that. I really love Nine Inch Nails. That whole vibe is really incredible, and to be compared to somebody like that is huge.
DJ Times: Speaking of icons, it was deadmau5 who inspired you to produce in the first place, right?
REZZ: Oh, yeah. Everything comes down to deadmau5. The funny thing is, the first time I went to see him, I didn’t think he was anything that crazy. The second and third time, he started to grow on me. And when it hit me, I was like, “This is the best thing I’ve ever seen!” Then I started watching his live streams and whatever he had, and I just thought, “Yes, I’m definitely going to start making music.”
DJ Times: You mentioned Something Wrong Here earlier. How’s the reaction been?
REZZ: The feedback has been great. It really seems to be satisfying my existing fan base, and also bringing new people to my sound.
DJ Times: That’s always a tough balance, to attract new fans while satisfying your old ones.
REZZ: Yes, it is. But when we were putting this EP together, I was thinking that there were two tracks on it that my existing fan base would absolutely love, “Purple Gusher” and “Selector.” And I was totally right—sure enough, those two are the fan favorites. And the new fans like “Melancholy,” which is softer side of me, or maybe one of the other tracks. I think the idea was to make sure all the tracks were different from each other, yet still have that consistent REZZ type of vibe or sound that I’ve had throughout my production career. I think the EP accomplished that—and, by now, I’m onto the next thing, of course.
DJ Times: How do you describe the REZZ sound? Do you have a name for it?
REZZ: I’m still trying to figure that out, to be honest. I don’t really have a name for it. But I know how to describe it.
DJ Times: Go for it.
REZZ: Spacey, slow-paced, heavy, dark, creepy, peculiar—alien music, maybe? But I definitely wouldn’t call it “techno,” even though so many other people have called it techno.
DJ Times: They might be people who don’t actually know what techno is.
REZZ: Exactly. A couple of years ago, I might have made a couple of techy tracks, but I don’t make techno, and it’s definitely not the direction I’m heading.
DJ Times: Did you always have the REZZ sound, or was it something you had to develop?
REZZ: It’s funny, but my very first track ever sounded like a cheap kiddie version of what I’m making now. [laughs] I think I’ve had this vision all along, and I’m always getting better and learning how to do it. But when I started, I was just learning how to do it—how to get that vision out.
DJ Times: What is it about low–BPM music that appeals to you?
REZZ: I don’t know. I just really like that vibe. I can remember a long time ago seeing Pretty Lights open for Skrillex. We were in the back of the crowd, behind everyone, and we were all just vibing and doing all these crazy movements—actual full-blown dancing, not just jumping up and down. It was more dynamic than that, and it inspired me so much. You can do so much more within the space of those slow beats. Chill, head-bobbing music is what defines me.
DJ Times: And the music’s dark tone was always there as well?
REZZ: Yeah, straight away.
DJ Times: It’s funny, because you don’t seem like a very dark person.
REZZ: I know—I’m really not! Just the sound that comes naturally to me, and I’m not sure why.
DJ Times: Even the words to your songs that have vocals are pretty morose. The first three lines to “Melancholy,” for instance, are: “All these thoughts are running through my head/I can’t control it, they are taking me down with them/Wish I knew why I am haunted.” Do you write the lyrics?
REZZ: No, Laura [Brehm, the track’s singer] wrote the lyrics. She sent me the vocals, and then I based the music on the vocals.
DJ Times: Do you foresee releasing more vocal tracks in the future?
REZZ: Well, I have actually done four vocal tracks already. There’s my remix of that Marilyn Manson track ["This Is the New Shit”]; there’s my remix of Kill the Noise’s “Without A Trace,” which has an amazing vocal on it; and there’s the two originals, “Melancholy” and “Lost” from The Silence Is Deafening, with Delaney Jane. I’ve also remixed a Metric track that has vocals, which is unreleased. So there have been a few already, but to answer your question—definitely. The only problem is that I am really picky about vocalists. There has to be a certain sound to the vocals. But you can expect to hear more vocals—it’s part of my evolution as a producer.
DJ Times: You have a pretty simple home-studio set-up, right?
REZZ: Yeah, it’s just a MacBook and Sol Republic headphones. I have studio monitors, but I hardly ever use them.
DJ Times: And you still are mainly using Ableton Live, right?
REZZ: I use pretty much everything Ableton has to offer, and then some software synths—[N[Native Instruments’]assive, [P[Propellerhead’s]alance, [X[Xfer Records’]erum—and a few other random things, like iZotope [O[Ozone 7]or mastering. I’ve kept it pretty simple so far. I do want to branch out and experiment at some point—but right now, I like what I use.
DJ Times: Do you ever get the urge to mess around with hardware?
REZZ: I’ve messed around with a bit of hardware, and it’s definitely fun. But it’s very time-consuming and involves a lot of patience. In the future, I’ll probably have a bunch of hardware, though.
DJ Times: Just before speaking with you, I was rewatching that crazy “Paranoid” clip. Is that your first video?
REZZ: It is—and it’s pretty sweet, I think!
DJ Times: How much did you have to do with the creation of the video?
REZZ: I had everything to do with that video! The whole concept was my idea. When I make a track, I’ll name the track—and then as soon as I name it, everything else starts to come together. I’ll start to imagine visuals for the track, a music video for the track… basically, I’ll think of all these different angles that could go along with that specific track.
DJ Times: You seem to be gigging constantly. Are you essentially DJing when you play out?
REZZ: I’m basically DJing on CDJs, nothing too special. But the more I continue to find myself as an artist, and the more experience I get, I think that I’ll start to branch out into doing something live. I have no idea what that will be yet—but even deadmau5 is trying to get me to do it. He tweeted something about me once, saying something like, “So far, she just DJs,” implying that he thinks I’ll be doing something more in the future.