Near the starting line of the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California, hundreds of young people are funneling into Hard Summer Music Festival. There is a pedestrian traffic jam at a stairwell that leads concertgoers from the stadium seating area onto the racetrack, and tension is building among the ticket holders waiting in the brutal sun.
A pale girl with amber hair and freckles is getting frustrated and decides to start dancing in place. The call-and-response of a slowed-down techno beat’s kick and snare fills the air like two sledgehammers pounding a stake into the ground. The girl perks up when she recognizes the song and turns to her friend to exclaim, “Oh my God. Is that Rezz? That’s Rezz. We love you, Rezz!” Her voice carries only a few feet before the track’s elephantine subfrequencies atomize it into the air.
Of all of the artists playing the dance and hip-hop festival on the last weekend of July, no one quite sounds like Canada’s Rezz. The 21-year-old’s music is eerie and grinding, with a punk-rock demeanor over dance-music sensibilities.
“When you hear a song, you know I made it," she explains. "I want to catch people’s attention, and I don’t want them to forget it, whether they love it or hate it. I just always want them to remember how weird it was and how weird it felt.”
During her Hard set she wears a black ball cap with long side bangs flanking her thin face, a black T-shirt with a mutilated Mona Lisa depicted on the front and LED hypnosis goggles that she eventually removed due to the glaring sun.
“I basically want my whole future and my brand to revolve around hypnosis,” Rezz says. “Completely just pumping the crowd up like they are in a completely new dimension with being hypnotized, like they have no other thoughts at all but the present moment.”
Rezz acquired a firm sense of the feeling she wanted to communicate while watching Deadmau5 perform at Hard’s Day of the Dead festival in 2013. Although her sound came out bearing little resemblance to the house music veteran’s, she became captivated with how particular emotions can be transmitted through music, and immediately set out to find her own way to do it.
“I felt like I was more than just a listener of the music,” remembers Rezz of Deadmau5’s set. “I felt like I was connecting it to it beyond just a regular audience level. I could understand the music. I was hearing every single sound. I was so analytical.”
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Her curiosity and passion were validated when an artist on Deadmau5’s record label, Mau5trap, found her music in the Toronto Rave Community Facebook group. The artist, Attlas, sent it to the label’s manager and a couple months later Rezz signed her first track to Mau5trap’s We Are Friends Vol. 4 compilation album. In January of this year, she released her debut EP on Mau5trap, The Silence Is Deafening, and plans to put out a follow-up this October.
Her notoriety is a story of being at the right place at the right time, but her sustainability as an artist stems from being able to challenge the EDM “hands in the air” status quo and surround herself with an audience of musical rebels.
“I notice a lot of people like the weird stuff [at Hard events],” she says upon reflecting on her Hard Summer performance. “I can tell the crowds are open-minded, especially to things that aren’t so mainstream. Gary [Richards], Destructo, wants people that are new and doing something unique. Clearly the audiences are totally about it.”
Her young career hit an early peak in two short years, when she was invited by Hard to play the Day of the Dead festival in 2015. “Being in L.A. for a festival was so surreal because it was so new to me at the time,” remembers Rezz. “Being born and raised in Niagara Falls, L.A. just seems like such a big city. Such a big, popular city that you just have to see in your life. That’s how I perceived it at the time, and I still do see it like that.”