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Zedd pursues a 'Divergent' path with 'Find You'

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In Zedd's latest club number, "Find You," he implores the listener to "turn up your night."

The Russian-born DJ and producer's electro-house number is a quintessential dance club anthem, but there's also something more at work here than just the same old party mantra.

The lyric "turn up your night" also happens to be the slogan of a new Bud Light Platinum campaign.

The song (featuring vocals by Matthew Koma and Miriam Bryant) is the lead single on the "Divergent" soundtrack, and the music video for "Find You" costars bottles of the beer. And just to make sure you didn't miss it, the track was featured in the Super Bowl ad for the beverage costarring Zedd.

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Zedd's club banger/commercial jingle is a rare case where the company didn't wait to pull a song off an artist's already-made album — they partnered ahead of time. The DJ, who is also a classically trained musician, then tailor-made the song to launch the Bud Light Platinum campaign.

"I'd never considered doing a partnership because I feel like you're in a cage that you can't get out of," said Zedd, 24, whose real name is Anton Zaslavski. "And what if you don't like it?"

But what's not to like? Zaslavski's deal bookends a breakout year that saw him go from emerging DJ-producer to hotshot marquee act.

The partnership only boosts his stock, which now includes a Grammy win for dance recording, a lengthy Las Vegas residency and a plum spot at Coachella.

When "Find You" was unveiled in January, it wasn't done through a radio premiere or leaked for music bloggers, it was via a commercial that aired during the Grammys (he won his first Grammy that night too).

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Zaslavski claims the partnership is more about collaboration than corporate shilling.

"I'm a person that's very involved with everything and all of my ideas that I've just thrown out there, they have been really open to," he said, en route to Vegas for a late-night gig. "I just wanted to know what we could do together that I couldn't do by myself."

Whether it's whisking away a fan in a private jet with full VIP treatment to one of his Vegas residency gigs (which he did last month), prepping a limited Record Store Day pressing of "Find You" on vinyl in the same cobalt blue hue of the beer bottle or inserting the campaign slogan into a potential hit, Zaslavski makes it very clear he's in complete control.

"If it sounds good, we'll do it. If it doesn't work, we don't do it. It absolutely made sense in the song, it's actually one of my favorite parts," he assured when pressed about the campaign's shameless tie-in. Or putting it more bluntly, "I would never change my song just to make something fit."

Tyler Simpson, director of marketing for Bud Light extensions, echoed Zaslavski. "When we approached Zedd about working together, it was something that he kind of took and ran with on his own," he said. "It was something that he saw as an opportunity to do on his own. Linking [the song] to our campaign, that was something he led and drove."

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As heavyweights like Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys and Jay Z have proved to varied, often controversial results, endorsement deals are the ultimate co-sign, with major brands flexing as much, if not more, promotional muscle than record labels. Once led by pop stars, rappers and rockers, EDM acts are now jumping into bed with major ad campaigns — a testament to the club genre's crossover in recent years.

"It's a good move for [Zedd] because EDM in general is catching the eye of a lot of brands, but up until very recently there haven't been too many artists that have been the face of that trend," said Andrew Hampp, who covers branding for Billboard magazine. "You're seeing Avicii becoming that, Calvin Harris to a lesser extent, Tiesto has tons of endorsement deals. For Zedd, who is kind of on the second tier of superstar DJs right now, having a major brand like Bud Light Platinum behind him and he's on camera during the Grammys [and] Super Bowl, that's a really big look."

Hampp said going the EDM route will allow the company to "get more bang for their buck." "They tried the super-superstar route last year by having Justin Timberlake and still didn't see an improvement in sales despite that showy launch campaign," he said. "By taking more of a niche route, and frankly going a route that less brands are in, I think there's more reward."

"As much as adding that line to his song could be perceived as selling out, the song is also the lead single to the 'Divergent' soundtrack, so that immediately gives it a life of its own," Hampp continued. "It makes it not seem like a jingle because it lives outside of a commercial."

Pushing EDM

Born in Russia and raised in Kaiserslautern, Germany, Zaslavski began playing the piano and drums at 4. He later started experimenting with electronic music after discovering electronic French duo Justice.

"When I started checking out other electronic music [artists], my first thought was 'Eh, this all …'" he said and laughed. "There's no musicality at all. Most of it was very, very simple but not in a good way."

"So much electronic music sounds the same and … there is something in me that wants to push that musicality forward," he said.

He struck up a friendship with a then-rising Skrillex and signed with his OWSLA records. By 2012 he had already remixed tracks from Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga, produced for Justin Bieber, and his singles "Shave It" and "Slam the Door" were hits. The next year he signed with Interscope and issued his debut album, "Clarity."

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"Clarity" is proof that Zaslavski has ambitions of being more than a four-on-the-floor overlord. Sure, there's sticky synths all over his tunes, but they are often built around lush piano chords, sweeping orchestral scores, ethereal lyrics — which he writes — and grandiose vocals (Ryan Tedder, Paramore's Hayley Williams and Ellie Goulding appear on the album).

The album's title track, which featured British singer Foxes, has been inescapable since it was released in early 2013. It cracked the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 (it was No. 5 on Billboard's year-end dance/electronic chart) and was covered on "Glee," "The X Factor" and "The Voice." The song also scored Zaslavski his first Grammy, winning for dance recording. "'Clarity' doing what it did and everybody in the world knowing the song … that was the first time I knew I had arrived with my music," Zaslavski said.

"He's an actual musician. He plays the drums, piano, everything, and I think you can tell when you listen to his music," said Bryant. "You can always tell when there is music hidden behind the drops and beats and everything. He's a creator and a real artist. I don't see him as a DJ, even though that's what he does for a living."

In January, Zaslavski started a yearlong residency at Wynn Las Vegas, where he will play shows at multiple venues inside the posh resort. And like his partnership with Bud Light Platinum, it's on his terms.

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"I have a very specific taste of production. We've developed my show on a big tour, and I want to bring [the production] to whatever clubs I'm playing," he said. "My show is more of a show than a DJ set. Most DJs I know, they don't prepare their sets, they just go out there and play whatever they feel like. Every song has a certain visual that we've made for that song and … it's really a visual show more than just a DJ set in a club in Vegas."

For Zaslavski, having spent the last year on a grueling nonstop tour, the residency will give him a bit of a break from the road (he's now based in L.A.) and the stage to preview material for his next record. It will also be where he tests out his production for Coachella, though he says he hasn't thought about it yet.

"I want to stand out and do something no one else does. I am nervous … for sure," he said. "Obviously I have to deliver."

Zaslavski may be uncertain about his Indio set, but he's just excited more will turn out to the desert to see him.

"This year I have a pretty good slot. I played two years ago, but my name was so small you needed glasses to see it," he said and laughed.

gerrick.kennedy@latimes.com

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