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Julianna Braley

Music 1040-802

Spring 2019

Final Project: An Overview of Odesza and the History of Electronic Music

While not easily characterized by one genre of music, Odesza is a two-man group that

has been influencing listeners since around 2012 with their unique style. It is arguable that

Odesza has been so successful and well received because of their ability to incorporate everyday

sounds that the average listener can relate to and create a familiar feeling and aesthetic from

these sounds. In the following, I will be introducing you to who the masterminds are behind

Odesza, their journey as musicians, a history of the electronic music they’ve emerged from, and

how their style is reflected in a couple of their pieces.

Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight, also known as BeachesBeaches and Catacombkid

respectively, first met in their freshman year of college at Western Washington University.

Harrison did not have much of a musical background while Clayton was classically trained in

piano as a child. While they remained close throughout college, they did not start producing

music together until their senior year. This is when they formed Odesza is 2012. After their

graduation in 2012, they released an album later that year in September called “Summer’s

Gone”. They gained most of their popularity through the free music sharing app, SoundCloud.

They picked up popularity so fast that by November of 2012 they performed their first show. By

the release date of their next album, “My Friends Never Die”, a year later in 2013, they had hit 1

million subscribers on SoundCloud.

The two designed their own logo as well. This logo they call the Icosahedron, is meant to

represent their attempt to combine different styles together. In a discussion Harrison and Clay

held on reddit they said, “The Icosahedron represents all the different genres and styles we
Julianna Braley

Music 1040-802

Spring 2019

incorporate into our sound and bring together into a cohesive track/album. This is represented by

these different pieces coming together to build an iconic shape.”

Odesza’s music is officially classified as indie electronica. The way they would describe

their music is as a mix of a little bit of everything blended together through electronic music. In

an interview with Wbur radio Harrison said “I think we try really hard to blend lots of different

genres together, so it’s always kinda been tough for me to try to pinpoint one thing … But I

would say it’s definitely an electronic backbone.” The way they produce their music is by using

MIDI which stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. This software enables them to

easily produce sounds from various instruments and compile these “samples” together. During

live shows they use this technology, in the same Wbur interview Clayton says “we have these

two MIDI controllers that allow us to play various pieces of the song, so they’re what are called

‘stems’, which are just the broken-down elements of a track. So one stem could just be the kick,

one stem could just be the snare, one stem could just be the vocal. So we have control over each

individual piece of every song, so we can loop different pieces, reverse different pieces, layer

them with other songs, so you’ve got this huge palette of different sounds to work with and kinda

mix and match different things.”

This MIDI technology that Odesza uses to produce their music is relatively new. MIDI

technology began to emerge in the 1980’s. However, electronic music in general originated

closer to the 1960’s. Electronic instruments first gained their popularity in the 1960’s when

bands like Pink Floyd and The Beatles began incorporating synthesizers and keyboards into their

music. In the 1970’s electronic music became even more popularized. A West German band

named Kraftwerk specifically played a major role in the history of electronic music. They would
Julianna Braley

Music 1040-802

Spring 2019

blend beats from bands such as Led Zeppelin and combine these sounds with synthesizers.

Giorgio Moroder was also a major influencer that came from this time that experimented with

electronic instruments to create music for major names such as David Bowie.

Like mentioned previously, the 1980’s is when MIDI technology finally emerged which

allowed electronic music to be produced with revolutionary ease. The 1980’s was the time in

which both house and trance music were founded. The 1990’s is labeled the dance music era

because it was a time that electronic music gained a lot of popularity. Because so many more

people now had access to computers, electronic music was now able to be produced in a much

greater volume by many more people. This was also a time that a lot of genres within EDM were

being founded such as trance and ambient styles. From the 2000’s into today, electronic dance

music or EDM has continued to grow and reach more mainstream audiences. The even greater

widespread access to computers, music apps and software, and social media sharing has

contributed to the popularity of EDM music. Many pop artists today incorporate electronic

aspects into their songs and these songs frequently reach the top of popular music charts.

Odesza has said that one of their biggest influences has been “The Beach Boys”. They

were particularly influenced by their album “Pet Sounds” and the experimentation with different

sounds that went into creating that album. They also said that they were influenced by Radiohead

and their ability to “create songs out of experimental sounds and unusual time signatures” as

mentioned in an interview with USA Today. The artist “M83” that uses quite a bit of

synthesizers and “soaring vocal lines” were also on their list of influences along with “The

Gorillaz”, “Tame Impala”, and “A$AP Rocky”. Not only do they feel they were influenced by

previous artists, but they also feel that they have been influenced by the area in which they grew
Julianna Braley

Music 1040-802

Spring 2019

up. In an interview with Wbur Clayton said, “Washington’s been kind of our home for since we

can remember, so kinda the weather in general definitely adds to the energy .... I mean, the

Pacific Northwest is known for its indie music and kinda folk background, and I think a lot of

that seeps into our music here and there.”

Overall, Odesza’s main goal in creating their music is to establish certain feelings within

their listener when they are listening. In the same interview with Wbur Clayton says about their

music, “It’s kind of a euphoric feeling that we like when we listen to music, like those kind of

chills you get when you hear a really good song. We try to get that out of our music as much as

possible. So if it’s not kind of making the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up, it’s not

something we’re gonna be into. We try to push those moments and those kind of euphoric

feelings throughout our music, as well as blending a bunch of different sounds together and

trying to experiment as much as possible.”

One of the unique ways in which they try to distinguish themselves musically and create

an experience for their audience is by bringing their own drum line along with them on tour to

perform live percussion. Harrison says in the interview with Wbur, “We have a horn line, we

have a guitarist, we have a six-person drumline and then we have obviously a light show and

visuals and all these different things. Me and Clay are drumming and twisting knobs and doing

all sorts of stuff.” In their album “A Moment Apart” what they really were going for was

recreating moments. They wanted to create an ambiance that reminds one of experiencing a

memory. Therefore quite a few of their songs are started with sounds we are used to hearing on

an everyday basis such as a slamming car door and other everyday noises. In an interview with

Billboard, Clayton says, “It almost sounds like you’re hearing or imagining being in a memory,”
Julianna Braley

Music 1040-802

Spring 2019

...” Maybe it becomes a personal element to you, or you feel like you’re a part of someone else’s,

which is always an intimate experience.”

Their track “La Ciudad” which comes from this album “A Moment Apart” was inspired

by a night they had out on the town in Cologne, Germany. Clayton said that during that one night

in Germany he and Harrison played a venue in the city. Afterwards they attended an “after

party”. At this after party they went to, there were four different rooms that had different live

acts performing concurrently that night. He said that hearing the blending of these different

styles together is what he incorporated into this song. In this song, we hear a fast-paced beat

along with indistinguishable vocals. The different samples and beats within the song create a

feeling of competing styles.

Their song “Kusanagi” which comes from the earlier album “In Return” released in 2014,

was inspired by the idea of slowing down. The conceived the idea for the song when they were

relaxing at their guitarist, Sean Kusanagi’s, house. He was just playing some chords on the guitar

and Clay and Harrison automatically knew they wanted to create something around those chords.

In an interview with song exploder Harrison says that the chords that inspired the song “felt like

kinda a distant memory and feelings of longing that was sort of something we thought about and

how do we keep emphasizing that feeling”. To create the song, they added child vocals that came

from an old christmas record. By recreating these vocals, they took the sounds and made it, so

the words were no longer distinguishable. Harrison says in the interview they did this “so they’re

not saying words anymore because I think when lyrics are said, you make an instant connection

and that’s where we are going for more of an emotive tone, an atmosphere to immerse yourself

in, instead of a specific meaning.” Some of the other sounds in this song were created by
Julianna Braley

Music 1040-802

Spring 2019

recording the sounds of kids playing on a playground. They also made the beat by recording

themselves dropping random stuff such as rulers on a table.

Overall, Odesza has emerged and created themselves as artists that combine sounds and

melodies found in everyday life to create music that creates relatable feelings within their

listeners. They attribute their ability to create the music they do to the development of

technology along with the creative ideas from artists such as The Beach Boys. They hope to open

people up to the beauty and music that can be heard in our everyday life is we only stop to listen.
Julianna Braley

Music 1040-802

Spring 2019


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Apart'.” Billboard, 8 Sept. 2017, www.billboard.com/articles/news/dance/7957833/odesza-

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Hrishikesh. “‘Kusanagi.’” Episode 75: ODESZA, Song Explorer, 12 May 2018,


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