Of Mice and Men: CP Interviews Deadmau5
by Marcos Colón and Michael Maryanoff
Unless you've been dancing under a rock for the past year or so, you’ve most likely heard of Deadmau5. It seems as though he rose from obscurity to stardom overnight, but his ever-expanding body of work is the culmination of over a decade of production experience. He is an enigmatic figure, and from the dance floor it appears as though he’s just a man in giant mouse head with a laptop, but step into his booth and you’ll see a jungle of music-making technology.
While many acts will enjoy a rapid rise to fame only to fizzle out just as quickly, it seems as though Deadmau5 is just getting started. Publicly, he’s perceived as a DJ, but after speaking with him before a show in Ibiza, it became apparent there is much more to the man in the mouse head.
Clubplanet: What have you been up to lately?
Deadmau5: Mostly preparing for the world tour and finishing up my first album. I have an artist album in the works but I’ve made the decision that it will be ready when it’s ready. It’s a mixture of a lot of different things, not exclusively dance music. It’s more satisfying to me than anybody because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, to get all my productions out there. You can get stuck with the DJ stigma really quick.
CP: Who has influenced you outside of dance music?
Deadmau5: Lots of different artists. I rather like Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Sigur Rós, Trentmoller and Radiohead. I like to keep my arches wide. I listen to music with a technical ear. If I hear a good mix, melody, tone or phrasing I think about how they did it or managed to get a certain unconventional sound.
CP: How has technology played a role if your live performances?
Deadmau5: If you’re doing a live set where you have multiple channels of audio and one track playing, stretched over 4-16 channels, beat matching is pretty important, so that is something you want technology to do for you while you’re synchronizing. If you have to worry about beat matching and all the other live elements, just forget it. Technology helps a lot.
CP: What is your favorite gadget right now?
Deadmau5: My Monome 256, which is just a 16 by 16 matrix of buttons. That’s pretty much all it comes with, no manual, no software, no nothing. You basically have to install the communication protocol to get it to talk to your computer and once you’ve managed to do that you can write your own software for it. You can make really cool rhythmic patterns and you can lay them on top of other patterns. Next to impossible to get because it’s just one guy that makes them. It started out as a very boutique art installation kind of thing but you can adapt it into your own equipment.
CP: Some may see technology as a crutch, but would you say you use it to enhance your performances?
Deadmau5: If I wanted to, I could cue tracks one after that and it’ll still work, probably sound great, but I like to make it interesting for me too. I’d rather not fly halfway across the planet to hit a spacebar and do a couple of fist pumps. It’s an evolving thing and I really need to sit down, plan and figure the technology that’s portable and technically feasible. At a lot of club gigs, you’re restricted to a meter of space in the DJ booth. If you’re carrying around a CD bag you’re in luck because it’s all set up. But if you’re carrying a laptop and soundcards you may be in a hard place. I try to get to the club early, check it out, do a little sound check here and there and make sure everything is set up. As I move forward it’s going to become more of a hassle. As I do my own events and do a full stage production, I’m going to be doing more of a performance than DJing. I’m stuck between a rock and a DJ place right now. My music routed to a very dance fueled market. You’ve got to do the clubs and be a “DJ” because that’s the way it’s done. Unless it’s a festival and then you can get away with whatever you want. I’ve heard stories about some huge acts, playing gigs and walking away with $20 after playing a $300,000 production. I just need to find that happy medium that’ll work across all formats. I’ve been alright with the stuff I have, but I see how it can get boring for me after 20 shows. It’s just a matter of switching it up and doing something that the other guy isn’t. I’ll make it entertaining for myself while keeping others entertained.
CP: Are you going to increase the live element as time goes on?
Deadmau5: Absolutely. When it’s feasible for me to lug around my studio that’s just going to be crazy. It’s about finding a happy medium. The big thing about the laptop performer right now is that the audience might asking, “What the is this guy doing? He’s checking his fucking e-mail.” Maybe I’ve gotten to point where they are like “I haven’t a clue what he’s doing” which is better than “he’s not doing anything.” But the goal is to have them say, “I see exactly what he’s doing.” I’m working on having a visual system that is a good visual representation of what is going on in the booth. It has to be a show and a show has to be aesthetically pleasing. It’s just a matter of what I want to bring what I don’t want to bring. The second time at Mansion I had two laptops running synced over an Ethernet cable. It was kind scary because the problem with Ableton was that if I restarted the computer it wouldn’t start. I was fortunate enough to go through it without any technical problems.
CP: How has the Internet played a role in your career?
Deadmau5: The internet has kept my ego in check like you wouldn’t believe. You get a lot praise and it’s good to know I’m doing something with my life right now that makes me happy and others happy, but you also get the critics. Your colleagues and friends will be like, “they’re just little nerds,” but that stuff fucks my day. I’ll read something saying, “this guys shit is so cookie cutter and blah blah blah.” It keeps me in check making me think, “maybe I can outdo this.” I guess I’m a real easy target because I’m so up and coming to everyone. I’ve been doing this since I was 13 or 14 but you have a crowd of people saying “where the fuck did this guy come from?” The same people that put you up will put you down just as fast (laughs). It really keeps me in check. The internet has been more than helpful because when I was so far into obscurity I would get really good production advice. I could join little developer communities and production communities, just learning off one another. It’s kind of heartbreaking that where I’m at now I can’t go back to that. I can’t go back to that, there’s no way. I’m learning a lot from really unbiased people who really don’t give a shit about music.
CP: The comment could be coming from a 12 year old from BFE.
Deadmau5: Yeah, but you know what? You’re playing to them, you really are. It’s just someone from BFE, but guess what, the next stop on your tour is BFE. I’m kind of grateful that the Internet is the place for that and I don’t get punched in the stomach when I’m playing a gig. I’ve never had a shit gig, every crowd I’ve ever played has been great. I think that keeps me going.
CP: How has it been going from relative obscurity to being seen as the biggest thing?
Deadmau5: It’s a bit of a head-fuck because if you have people telling you that you’re the biggest you’ve got to question that. It doesn’t feel like I am. If you want me to b