Electronic dance music – or EDM, that exuberant, propulsive, still-new genre that’s grown so big it now gives pop music its cues – needs a charismatic poster boy. Instead, it has the polarizing Joel Zimmerman, the man better known as deadmau5.
For one camp, the Toronto-based producer is a virtuoso, winning audiences over with his panoply of bass, warm synths and electronic trinkets. For the other, he’s bellicose, self-righteous and staid. But whether they love him or hate him, fans of EDM are showing up. Earlier this month, more than 20,000 people stayed put through a thunderstorm to see Zimmerman headline Toronto’s Veld music festival, one of the world’s biggest EDM gatherings.
The man under the iconic mouse headpiece is more resentful than anything of his abrupt stardom – the Grammy nominations, the Rolling Stone cover, being named sixth on Forbes’s first “Electronic Cash Kings” list of the world’s top-paid DJs. “I wouldn’t be famous in an ideal world,” he said in his trailer before his Veld set. “Everyone would be … happy doing their own … thing.” For all his rising fame, Zimmerman says he just wants to produce music – to do his own thing.
Unsurprisingly, he’s also tired. The day after this interview, Zimmerman took to Tumblr and wrote he is “pretty miserable,” saying he planned to “unplug for a wee bit.”
Before that admission, Zimmerman sat down with The Globe and Mail to talk about stardom, EDM’s future and the biggest career killer of all.
On his sudden fame
“I’m not acclaimed or paid to be a superstar. I’m paid to make music and sometimes perform it. So I don’t really worry about the superstardom of it. I’m not Pauly D. It doesn’t affect what I do. … If that has an impact on your career, then you’re doing it wrong. So as long as you’re good at what you do, nothing else really matters.”
On how he sees electronic dance music growing up
“Maybe it won’t. Look at disco. It died off – and it had a good hang time. EDM has popularly had hang time of about 10 years, and so did disco, but then one day, it just died. And nobody (cared). And maybe that will happen with EDM. I don’t know. But as long as I have these skills as a producer, I can produce new and interesting things or I can go different directions as much as I always have. Just because EDM is hot right now doesn’t mean I’m constantly cranking it out.
Part of my mission statement is not for the tastemakers and the listeners, it’s more for the other producers – it’s like, look, man, that’s great you wrote a catchy dance tune and you’re probably going to have a whole career out of this one tune for two or three years, but don’t be afraid to actually learn what you’re doing and expand out. And that’s kind of what will drive things in other directions.”
On his fan engagement
“I just call it as it is, so long as you’re true to yourself and true to everyone else, and you’re not lying about anything. The minute you’re caught up in a lie, you’re done. Being not what you’re about – you’re toast. That’s the career killer. Not you saying something you believe or what you think is right or isn’t right. At least everyone knows that your conviction is there. That’s kind of why it’s key to me, because I need people to know, I take this seriously – this production thing, the EDM thing – and it’s all too often I run into these tool bags that don’t.”
On using his stardom as a platform
“Not for me. Maybe for other people who want to do the same thing, and then it’s like, look at this guy, he’s so successful at doing it and that’s great. So then it’s a source of inspiration, and not a source of debate like, ‘Is this acceptable, because it’s simple music and it’s simple technology and it’s simple performance?’ … If you want to think that about something, it’s not my place. It’s not my job to defend anything. I’m not a crusader. I just call it as I see it. I leave the crusading for the crusaders.”
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Deadmau5 will release a new LP on Sept. 25.