Big-name mentor: If there were a Jay-Z of the EDM world, it would be dubstep maestro Skrillex. Like Jay-Z made Rihanna into a superstar, Skrillex guided Zedd to the spotlight. In 2010, Zedd sent a half-hearted message on MySpace to Skrillex, inviting him to listen to his music. "It was very random, he must have been checking his MySpace messages right then, because mine was at the top of the queue," says Zedd, 23. "He listened to a remix of This Year and he played it that night at his show." Skrillex took Zedd under his wing, releasing Zedd's music on his label OWSLA and inviting the up-and-coming DJ to tour with him in 2011. He bested his mentor when, one week after its Oct. 9 release, his Interscope debut album Clarity sold over 11,500 copies. The album also topped the iTunes dance chart and single Spectrum held the No. 1 spot on EDM site Beatport. It also doesn't hurt to have collaborations with Ellie Goulding, Matthew Koma and Ryan Tedder.
Classical beginnings: Before he became Skrillex's protégé, Zedd was a piano prodigy. Born Anton Zaslavski in Kaiserslautern, Germany, he learned to play piano at age four. "My parents are both classically trained and then I had a piano teacher until I was 10 or 11," he says. "We listened to all the German guys like Beethoven. We listened to jazz, George Benson was on a lot."
A sharp turn: When he was 12, he decided to be a drummer, playing in a band called Dioramic with his brother. "We were a metal band," he says. "At first we were more of a rock band like Muse, then our music just got harder and harder, there was a lot of screaming." In 2009, he discovered French electro-house duo Justice. "I was recording with Dioramic and saw this Justice CD (Cross) sitting on a table," he says. "I never liked EDM before that, but that album, there was something to it. EDM was all new and exciting to me, a whole new world."
Dedication: His parents weren't pleased that he didn't follow in their footsteps. "Dioramic toured for nine years, never making any money, just hoping to break even," he says. "So my parents weren't expecting Zedd to take off, either. No one was."
Finally famous: Zedd, which is a riff of the European pronunciation of 'Z' (zed), remembers the first time he realized he'd made it. "I'd flown to Los Angeles to play (the Beyond Wonderland festival in 2011). It took forever to get through customs. By the time I got to the stage, there were only 10 minutes left in my set," he says. "I looked out at the crowd and saw thousands of people there. At home, I never played a crowd larger than 150 people, and then here were thousands." Since then, he's opened for Lady Gaga on her Born This Way Ball tour and has performed at Coachella, Ultra Music Festival, Lollapalooza and Electric Zoo. He also teamed up with fellow electro-house sensation and close friend Porter Robinson, playing back-to-back on their Poseidon tour.
Staying rooted: His classical training is still the foundation of all his compositions. Instead of writing music on the computer, he always begins sitting at the piano. "I work out a melody first, then add everything else, that's the workflow that works best for me," he says.
Up next: Now he's looking forward to giving someone else a chance. "Skrillex believed in me, I want to find someone to give a break to," he says. "That one message made all the difference."