Deadmau5, the outspoken Canadian DJ who performs intricately choreographed concerts with a giant mouse helmet sitting atop his head, has come out as one of the biggest critics of electronic dance music, or EDM. Which is interesting, because he’s also EDM’s biggest artist.
Earlier this year, Deadmau5 — real name Joel Zimmerman — posted a rant online about Ultra Music Festival, the EDM-centric Miami event that is one of the biggest festivals on the EDM calendar, calling it “the definition of insanity” and saying it’s overpriced. He followed by taking shots at Madonna, who appeared with Swedish DJ Avicii at Ultra, and criticized her (he called her an “idiot” with a certain seven-letter modifier) for making drug references at the festival. (She followed up by practically begging for his forgiveness, proving how powerful Deadmau5 has become in the culture.)
Last week, Deadmau5 appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone, and in the article he takes on the live performance aspect of EDM, calling out David Guetta and Skrillex as “button-pushers” and even taking his own live performances to task. “Not to say I’m not a button-pusher,” he says. “I’m just pushing a lot more buttons.”
But over the weekend he elaborated on his comments, and underplayed his role in his live performances even further. In a post titled “we all hit play,” he writes, “I think given about 1 hour of instruction, anyone with minimal knowledge of ableton and music tech in general could DO what im doing at a deadmau5 concert. Just like i think ANY DJ in the WORLD who can match a beat can do what ‘ANYONE else’ (not going to mention any names) is doing on their EDM stages too.”
He goes on to rail against artists who defend their live performances and says the real artistry is in the studio, where he (and others) make the tracks that eventually get played (via a pushed button) at concerts. But his comments have rippled throughout the EDM community, which has exploded in recent months as more and more money gets thrown at artists to put on big, heavily produced concerts (with varying results; see Avicii’s postponed, downscaled arena outing).
The question is, does it matter that everything at these shows isn’t being mixed live? I’m not sure it does. I’ve seen Deadmau5 in concert and his show is fully captivating, a sensory overload that is jaw-dropping in its technical achievement. There are far too many cues with the visuals to ever pull off successfully with a 100 percent live mix, and the performance is so heavily reliant on technology it would seem almost silly to not take advantage of software that would allow for everything to be synced up on cue. The level to which the music is pre-loaded is potentially problematic, as no one wants to feel they’re seeing a performance that’s being completely mimed, but it would be naive to think performers were making “live” tracks on the fly all while manipulating their live visuals, as well. Everyone knew there was a certain element of pre-recording at these shows to begin with.
There was lots of snickering when I saw Daft Punk at Lollapalooza in 2007; my friends and I joked that not only were they not up there playing, but since they were wearing robot suits, it might not even be them up there in the first place. Even still, I put that performance in my Top 10 of all-time, because the show was absolutely outstanding, from the visuals to the music to the environment and everything else that makes a concert experience unique. I knew Daft Punk wasn’t up there building “One More Time” from the ground up, but it didn’t matter. Just like Deadmau5 and Skrillex and David Guetta — all of whom I’ve seen give great performances multiple times — they’re playing under a different set of rules.
But beyond the realm of live performance, Deadmau5 doesn’t seem like he’ll be happy until he destroys the entirety of EDM culture from the inside out. What will he take on next? And is anyone safe from his wrath?
Either way, not unlike at his shows, his comments are certainly pushing a lot of people’s buttons.