Neon Desert Music Festival: Capital Cities, Zedd, Wiz Khalifa bring award-winning sounds to El Paso
By Margaret Gallardo / El Paso Times
POSTED: 05/22/2014 11:04:38 PM MDT

One of today's up-and-coming, popular indie pop duos Capital Cities has been burning up the charts with the infectious top hit "Safe and Sound," garnering national recognition, including multiple Grammy Award and Billboard Award nominations, and earning millions of fans worldwide and online.

And as Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian savor success, they look back at how it all began, and it's not how you expect. It wasn't in a garage or a nightclub, or as schoolmates or playing in bands together.

It all started with the classifieds.

"I put out an ad on Craigslist as a music producer and Ryan was looking for one," Simonian said in a recent interview. "He was actually the only person to call me from that ad."

"I called him up because we seemed to have a lot in common," Merchant said. "We both love music and had something to offer each other, so we ran with it."

And run they did. Intoxicating, get-on-your-feet, pulsating rhythms have been the result of this successful pairing and they bring their sound to the Neon Desert Music Festival this weekend at Cleveland

The festival lineup is lined with some of music's biggest and award-winning groups and talent. Zedd, a 2014 Grammy Award-winning electronic music producer and DJ, will join Grammy Award nominee Wiz Khalifa, MGMT and Calle 13 as the other headliners. The diverse lineup also includes Latin Grammy nominee Hello Seahorse!, Panteón Rococó, A$AP Ferg and others.

"This is huge and we're really excited that we can bring these award winners and Grammy talent to El Paso," said key organizer Zach Paul of Splendid Sun Productions. "It just shows how much growth we are experiencing with this festival, and we aren't even close to reaching our potential. The Neon Desert Musical Festival is here to stay."

Merchant hopes so. He says these types of festivals are what "brings the music to the fans in a big way and really expresses what we do."

"I think we have a live performance that is exciting and fun," Merchant said. "It's a great mixture of electronic dance beats, especially live. Our fans love it."

"Music is our artistic outlet and we are blessed to have the opportunity to express ourselves," Simonian said.

And that opportunity didn't take long. After Merchant and Simonian teamed up, they successfully composed music for commercials and advertising campaigns for three years. They then went in a new direction and became Capital Cities, releasing their debut, self-titled album in June 2011. In 2012, the duo signed with Capitol Records and the next year released their pivotal "In a Tidal Wave of Mystery" album, featuring their top hit, "Safe and Sound," which continues to lure in fans as well as award nominations, and is still on the charts.

"I don't think we were quite prepared for the heights that we have been reaching with that song," Merchant said. "Thanks to all our devoted fans at these festivals and online, it's been great."

Capital Cities, who will join pop superstar Katy Perry on her Prismatic World Tour later this year, kicked off its first-ever North American tour April 23. The popular Neon Desert Music Festival earned a spot on that tour. Over the past three years, more than 30,000 fans have attended the festival, which has added events and more top musical acts each year.

"It just gets better every year," Paul said. "We are going to fill Downtown El Paso with amazing music, artists, vendors, visitors and locals for an incredible weekend-long event."

Margaret Gallardo is entertainment editor for the El Paso Times. She may be reached at 546-6166