The smash electronic music duo is fulfilling a career dream: curating their own festival

In many ways, ODESZA stands as a shining example for independent electronic musicians. The duo of Harrison Mills (left) and Clayton Knight (right) own and operate their own studio and run their own record label (Foreign Family Collective). Their meticulously crafted recordings have been nominated for three GRAMMY Awards. And most recently, they’ve curated their own electronic music festival, SUNDARA, to be held in Riviera Maya, Mexico, March 13-16, 2019. ODESZA will headline SUNDARA, playing alongside Rüfüs Du Sol, RL Grime, Bob Moses, Alison Wonderland, Jai Wolf, and more.

Getting to this level, as independent artists on their own terms, has taken a load of hard work. But ODESZA’s efforts have yielded rich rewards: a huge fan base, top-selling records, and the satisfaction of working on their own terms. Clayton Knight tells us what to expect at SUNDARA, and offers a couple of career tips.

How did the SUNDARA festival come together, and what do you hope to create with it?

Harrison and I have been talking about doing a festival for a long time, but this actually came out of nowhere, and we never imagined doing it somewhere like this. CID [event producers and promoters] came to us, and the stars aligned for it to happen in a beautiful location. It’s a dream come true for us to have a curated lineup with some of our close friends as well as artists we’re huge fans of, in an all-inclusive setting. It’s going to be very intimate. People will be hanging around, doing yoga—kind of its own little world for those three days. The musicians we’re going to be working with are part of a close community.

How did you choose the artists?

Of course, we’re trying to keep things in a somewhat similar vein to our project—leaning toward electronic music. When we envisioned this beach environment, we thought of Rüfüs Du Sol right off the bat, because that’s just the perfect energy for the setting; same with Bob Moses and Alison Wonderland. It’s mainly electronic musicians we know well and have a relationship with, and we’re big fans of what all of these people do.

We also kept in mind that all of the music should make sense together, as opposed to hugely different genres that don’t fit. We want the fans who understand and appreciate our project to really connect with it. We also wanted to create something that we'd personally love to experience.

You and Harrison have worked on your own terms from the beginning. Why has it been so important to you to keep close control of your careers?

From the beginning, we have been pursuing our own path, but we never had it that easy. We never had a big radio success or a single that shot us into the stratosphere. We’ve been grinding from the very beginning.

We spent a lot of time on the road, a lot of time in the studio, a lot of time hustling to get this thing off the ground, including a lot of time away from family. I think that gets overlooked. And the reason for all that hard work was, we wanted to be in control of our music and the path we would take. We curate everything from the top down, from branding to what the poster looks like, not to mention everything that goes on in the project musically.

We have incredible support systems, from management to the friends who do our live visuals and audio. We have trust on every level, and that has helped us keep it all in the family. All along, we’ve kept focused on one holistic vision that’s really strong, trusting that if we failed, at least we tried.

Do you have any advice for musicians in the trenches?

One big thing is, if you’re a producer, know the tools. Do the research, and spend the time and energy to surround yourself with the information you need to be successful in that setting. Get comfortable with the tools you’re using, and the creative side will come more easily.

Another thing is — and Harrison and I talk about this a lot — stay true to your path. Don’t follow any trend. Stay focused on your vision and your goal, and people will see what you’re about. It’s also pretty transparent if you’re always just hopping on the next train.

What do you have planned to play at SUNDARA, and beyond?

Right now we’re building a custom live set for this festival, and that’s taking our time and creativity. We’re also going to be doing two DJ sets. We have a couple other live dates scheduled for 2019, and after that we’ll be back in the studio, in writing mode. We’re looking forward to all of it.