Deadmau5 an mesmerizing everyrodent for the masses in Vancouver
From a distance, Deadmau5 seems like a gimmick. Here’s a skinny, introverted white guy from Niagara Falls cranking out mindless rave ditties and sporting a giant mouse head to compensate for the fact that he’s a prickly, uncharismatic nerd. To the person who hates dance music, or to the snob who cherishes the form in its underground purity, there’s something comforting about that image of Deadmau5. The trouble is, it’s bullshit.
Here’s the truth: the man born Joel Zimmerman might just be the most exciting, fascinating Canadian musician to have emerged in the past half-decade. What about the Arcade Fire, you might say? Or Drake? Popular as those acts surely are, they’re working in established mainstream forms with massive built-in infrastructures and audiences eager for the next hot thing. Deadmau5, on the other hand, has dragged dance music back from the dead, shrewdly making the connection between the smiley-faced, future-loving vibe of '90s-era rave and today’s hyperconnected, gadget-crazed Twitter generation.
The first of Deadmau5’s two sold-out shows at the PNE Forum Thursday bore all the hallmarks of a classic '90s warehouse rave: there were pixie-ish candy ravers doing their triangle moves at the back of the room, rail-thin teenage boys roving in sweaty packs with their T-shirts tied around their waists, veteran dancers doing stretches and pounding water to fend off muscle cramps, and dazed groups of friends—boys and girls—sitting in circles on the cold cement in a makeshift chillout zone, passing out blissfully on one another’s shoulders. It was hard not to get a little misty-eyed at it all.
Gone are the Day-Glo 8-bit ditties that Deadmau5 started out making; instead, the producer led his adoring listeners along a darker, subtler path, alternating screeching atonal experiments with the kinds of dreamy, infinite-horizon interludes that suggest he’s been mainlining Tangerine Dream’s ’74–’83 catalogue. Standing atop a 20-foot Rubik’s Cube–like podium, Zimmerman repeatedly conjured the half-gorgeous, half-schizoid electronic tones that carried mid-period Radiohead albums like Kid A. That’s a crucial reference point for the producer, whose trademark mouse mask evokes the English band’s creepy “death bear” logo, a creature who’s smiling way too hard for his own good.
At mid-set, Deadmau5’s podium rotated 180 degrees so that fans could see him work his coolest-looking instrument, a large iPad-like screen that he pushed and daubed at like a painter, lights flashing in-time to the sounds he was making. A little later, he brought out Sofi Touta, the raven-haired girlfriend of Tommy Lee and the singer on two of Zimmerman’s biggest hits, “Sofi Needs a Ladder” and “One Trick Pony”. Those tunes went down like a treat, but it was when Deadmau5 was alone that the show was at its best, his elaborate lighting rig accentuating every synth flourish and drumbeat to frenzied synesthetic effect.
On the floor, a sea of heads bobbed in unison, many of them crowned with glow sticks coiled to look like mouse ears. Many of those kids are just a couple of years removed from sporting Mickey Mouse ears; to them, Deadmau5 is a gateway drug, a DIY god, and a guy not unlike themselves—middle-class, anonymous, and destined to live out his life strapped to a computer. When those kids are stuck in ninth-grade math class later this year, they’ll be daydreaming about this night.