For the past thirty years, the great rivalry in popular music was between rock and hip-hop. Today, a genre that has only blown up in America this decade threatens to eclipse both of them: electronic dance music. The pre-eminent style of the moment sanctifies Vegas nightclubs, replete with thundering four-to-the-floor beats and pulsating lights. Within this mushrooming sub-culture, Canadian DJ and producer Joel Zimmerman, better known as Deadmau5, is one of the biggest stars.
Recently dubbed the fifth best DJ in the world in DJ Mag’s Top 100 poll, Deadmau5 started out making music at home out of video game sound chips. These days, he’s more likely to be playing sold-out shows all over the world, including to crowds of tens of thousands at festivals like Lollapalooza and the Electric Daisy Carnival. But a few weeks ago, the superstar DJ played to a crowd of less than two hundred people at a tiny gallery on La Brea Ave.
Invited by Jason Bentley to record an intimate set for KCRW – which will air tomorrow on Morning Becomes Eclectic -- Deadmau5 brought along a miniature version of his spectacular “Rubik’s Cube” LED stage setup to SONOS studio, a small venue designed with the audiophile in mind. Amusing visuals included 8-Bit Deadmau5 figures hopped around a Mario universe and a stream of neon mouse-shaped planets slithering through space. Performing for an hour and a half, he put on what could loosely be called an acoustic version of his standard stadium set.
Wearing a black cap that he switched out for his iconic mouse helmet halfway through the set, Zimmerman pounded through the show with a barrage of original material spanning early tech house to club-friendly electro and progressive house. Crowd-pleasers included the 2009 worldwide club hit “Strobe” and the seminal Deadmau5 chart-topper “Ghosts n’ Stuff” -- two songs that demonstrate his ear for harmony, variation, and tonality.
While the LED screen setups, highlighter-colored lighting, and stage props helped create a dance-friendly atmosphere, it was material off Deadmau5’s new album,Album Title Goes Here, that really got the crowd going. Hard-hitting songs such as “Professional Griefers” and “Subliminal” brought inspired superfans and curious KCRW spectators to set down their drinks and pay attention. The highlight was the closing song, “The Veldt,” a massive nine-minute track with lustrous synths and vocals that convinced several members of the crowd to pull out their iPhones, paying Deadmau5 one of the biggest compliments a musician can get these days – a look-up on Shazam.