(I wrote this up for EDMTunes. Give them some love for letting me make obscure literary references to rave kids: www.edmtunes.com/2013/10/deadmau5-holden-caufield-edm-hero/ )
EDMTunes and I have been a fan of Deadmau5 for a very long time and we’ve been following his recent exploits(w, x, y, z) closely. I’ve been a fan of the way that the maestro of synth works with ideas but recently, I think we’ve begun to see a side of Joel (I know I can’t call him that but it’s easier to type than Mr. Zimmerman or Deadmau5 or trollmau5 or TimHortonLover) that we don’t get from any other producers or DJs in the community. Joel reminds me very much of J.d Salinger, with their mutual creations (deadmau5 & Holden Caulfield, respectively) having affected Western culture profoundly in their own ways. Holden is a man alone against the world (or so he thinks), who both despises those who would prey on the weak and innocent, but also wishes to be heard by those same people. And I think the way that Deadmau5 uses social media right now, is the way that Holden Caufield from Catcher in the Rye would if he existed in a world with internet, and don’t worry, it’s not because they share a penchant for outlandish headgear (stay with me now).
Holden Caufield was obsessed with maintaining his innocence and the purity of form that comes from an honest pursuit of an ideal. There was a great amount of discussion about this innocence being lost both in the book and as EDM has taken hold in the USA, which, seems odd at first glance. Holden became a recluse because he felt so many people had either lost their innocence, were attempting to take his, or even trying to take it from other people themselves. If you look at the way Deadmau5 approaches music, this is something you’ve seen. He’s tremendously protective of the creative process and has a very harsh opinion of himself and others, just like Holden. He can be forceful and sometimes overly direct in a way that has been riffed on by many an unworthy critic. They may not understand him, but while they’re standing around clueless, Joel is connecting with his fans on social media in a way that I don’t think has been done by an EDM artist before.
I think whatever the inspiration for Coffee Run, deadmau5’s entertaining new YouTube series was, something in the way he presented himself changed. While his original foray into outward social manipulation (Skrillex’s phone number at the Grammys) was both hilarious and successful, as of late he’d been a bit more reserved. Communicating in relevant and usually comical twitter call outs and social media verbal spasms, but never taking your full attention. For some time though, if you followed his Soundcloud, you’d see a similar pattern of attention to a certain sound. There was an honesty in his fuckmylife persona that came about in a way that made you feel he was sitting there making shit sound the way he wanted, no matter how long it took.
A perfect example of this is the Pets/Steps track two-for that came out around the first Coffee Run release. These playful melodies bounce back and forth simply, but with a shift in emphasis and slow fading work, they change gradually and shift through a few different feelings without you noticing. There’s an ease to the teasing of the balance that Joel does better than anyone in the game right now. Both are wonderful with pets being more playful and light. This riffing by himself, without remixing or label pressing, just simple re-envisioning of the idea, is something I’d seen quite a bit in my upbringing as a jazz trumpet player and had hoped I’d see in EDM eventually. Then, on Sept. 2nd Pets 1&2 were posted, and you saw the melding of the two tracks and a large amount of extra material. This was done without blog notification, announcements or beatport purchases, a free window into the creative process of one so talented soundsmith. This is the purity in the creative process (mind-to-listener) that both Salinger & Zimmerman wished to allow the innocent to pursue unfettered. While many would fall, being seduced by the ridiculously over-produced hooks of banging electro & big room house, deadmau5 would remain, as a Catcher in the Rye, saving those that he could, allowing them to play in the realm of sound and progression for as long as they wished.
The violent re-workings and large departures of previous spurts of tracks would continue, but now, there’d be clusters of uploads that built on each other. Phantom and Creep followed soon after, with “start over” eventually morphing into “slow down”. These combined with a liberal dose of verbal content on tumblr & twitter, kept him in the public eye and ensured that he was connecting specifically and honestly to his fans.
The Coffee Run series and his Soundcloud is a perfect example of a famous person interacting without a handler, which, if I’m wrong, bravo to whoever is advising him. Coffee Run feels super loose, unscripted and endearing. The engaging aspect is its casualness and the idea that you really see two rather important people just chilling without branding and a hype machine. There’s something intensely personal about it, which is why it’s working. Russell Peters and Joel Zimmerman connect in a way that couldn’t be produced in a more honest way.
This is how I feel Holden would’ve used the internet, had it existed in his world. He’s got a noble cause (or so he believes) and after being in the spotlight and sometimes behaving badly, he’s figured out how to communicate to his audience in a way that allows them to respond to him. This is a guy, both in the book and in real life that would rather be focused on some creative pursuit than hyping it. He spoke about this quite a bit on a tumblr post, discussing the difference between art, execution and product.
man, its so unreal… i mean, all that training! finally payed off! heres to another awesome year of ableton doing everything for me.
— deadmau5 (@deadmau5) October 19, 2013
HOORAAY!!!! IM THE 12th BEST CD PLAYER IN THE WORLD!!. suck it! id like to thank the committee. my fans, all that shit. etc etc.
— deadmau5 (@deadmau5) October 19, 2013
He has the freedom, so he focuses on the art. Holden struggles with a lack of freedom, and that’s where their roads diverge in the woods. It seems Deadmau5 is doing much better on that when it comes to leveraging his popularity, and has remained a free agent beholden (sorry, that’ll be the only one) to no one. He hates DJ’ing, largely because he doesn’t think he’s very good at it, but people pay him obscene amounts of money to do it. Deadmau5 has, for all of his snide remarks, remained a man of “integrity” in a scene where many others have fallen to the dark side of gimmicky electro, auto-tuned vocals and pre-mixed sets. The same with Holden, as the famous, book-banning prostitute scene reminds. I also completely assume Holden Caulfield would have told Bieber to grow the fuck up. (For more info on Holden & Catcher in the Rye, John Green does a great summary with entertaining analysis & commentary.)
His recent moves have been pretty astonishing. The move away from the corporatized Ultra Records in favor of smaller but more responsive Astralwerks (backed by Capitol Music Group, who he partnered with back in June) is in line with what Holden would do, in addition to his latest connection with the adorable Dariu5, who is drawing the head before an upcoming show in December. Protector of the young believers, the organic beats, and hopefully able to prevent event attendees from being exploited, is something I think Joel would like to be. And I’d like him to be that too.
— Dariu5 Deadmau5 (@Draw4Deadmau5) October 26, 2013
I’m rooting for you Deadmau5. Can’t wait to see what you have up your sleeve for us next. Your adorably angsty & angry antics have captured our hearts. Also, the live mixing into & out of Daft Punk you did at Made For America in Philly was dope. I think you’re a pretty decent DJ, and I wager quite a few other people agree with me, DJMAG rankings be damned. His 2014 tour is eagerly anticipated, and I think you can figure out why if you’ve made it to the end of this article. This is Terry Gotham, see you on the dance floor.