Remember Fleetwood Mac, the group that reached out to the listener through words woven intricately into such common emotions that everyone could relate to them? This is the thread of Joel Zimmerman, a performer and producer of progressive-house music from Canada, who uses synthesizers as a voice to evoke sentiment and thought, yet somehow manages something undoubtedly provocative.
Joel Thomas Zimmerman, now thirty-three, was born in Niagara Falls, Ontario in 1981 to an artistic mother and a hard working father, who are still a big part of his life. His introduction to music came in the form of a keyboard he received as a Christmas gift in high school. After tolerating his piano lessons and recitals, he dabbled in Web design and animation; spent hours fixed on his first Atari system video games, and tinkered with the working of small electronics. He became obsessed with computers and computer language, and after staring at the screen of his mother’s computer, he came up with one of his first recording names – B.S.O.D. or the ‘blue screen of death’.
One day while communicating with a friend on his computer, it suddenly shut down. Joel’s investigation uncovered a dead mouse, which he shortened to ‘deadmau5’ and created a logo around the name. There are stories that a frozen dead mouse was found in his computer, and although there have been numerous reincarnations, the mask has become his alter ego for a personality that is sometimes introverted, other times cocky, but always brilliant.
More than a DJ
When Zimmerman was a teenager he experienced two turning points: The divorce of his parents and his first rave. Raves were typical of a sub-genre of house, techno, electronic, jungle, trance, dance, and acid house music in the late 1980s and early 1990s. A culture of its own, borrowing hardcore sounds of New Beat, raves revitalized the hippie generation with the motto P.L.U.R. (peace, love, unity, respect). Joel changed his look, but refused to participate in the drugs of the time. Zimmerman’s computer skills fared well when he started his music career as a DJ in the 1990s working for a radio show in Niagara Falls. At 17, he moved to Toronto landing a job at the Play Records label and started his own programming and web development business using the name deadmau5. Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee used some of Zimmerman’s compositions on the album ‘Methods of Mayhem’ in 1999.
Building on the electronic music he created on computer, his first track ‘This Is the Hook’ was released as a joke in 2006. The digital, robotic voice of real-time narration was intended to parody the dance music topping the charts at that time, but instead became a number one on Beatport’s music charts and convinced the Toronto label to expand their repertoire to include non-traditional computer formats and not only turntable.
As a music innovator (Zimmerman feels that the term DJ does not fully capture his skills and behind the mask), are a phenomenal artist and producer. As a story teller, deadmau5’s dance music goes beyond what some consider part of the genre’s mindless disconnect. Beatport included his instrumentals like ‘Faxing Berlin’ and ‘Not Exactly’ on their compilations. In 2005, the first full-length album, ‘Get Scraped’ was smart, witty, nerdy, and continued the parody through tracks like ‘Waking Up from the American Dream’ and ‘Bored of Canada’. Zimmerman had also sent the track ‘Faxing Berlin’ to Chris Lake, a British DJ which was then passed on to Pete Tong who played the song on his show Radio 1 turning it into a 2007 hit and created numerous imitators.
In 2007, Zimmerman started his own label ‘mau5trap’, and released the 2008 album ‘Random Album Title’ along with Ultra Records and Ministry of Sound as well as the collaboration on ‘I Remember’ with San Francisco producer Kaskade. Zimmerman followed with ‘Sex, Lies, Audiotape’ and ‘The Reward is Cheese’ on ‘At Play, Vol. 1’, in 2008 first in a series of DJ friendly versions. ‘For Lack of a Better Name’ came out in 2009, which featured the two popular songs ‘Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff’ and ‘Strobe’. The singles ‘Some Chords’, ‘Animal Rights’, and ‘Sofi Needs a Ladder’ came off 2010’s release ‘4×4=12’. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation used ‘Some Chords’ in one of their episodes and Zimmerman himself made an appearance on the show.
“WTF” or What Else
Besides his own releases, DJs and producers have benefited from his quirky style like MC Flipside, Rob Swire, Wolfgang Gartner, Bighorse, and Mellefresh. Zimmerman was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2008 for Best Remixed Recording. In 2010, Zimmerman was named MTV’s house DJ and PUSH Artist of the week at the MTV Video Music Awards. The deadmau5 label won Dance Recording of the Year by Canada’s Juno Award four years in a row and in 2012 and 2013 he was nominated for Artist of the Year. Last year, he also signed with Astralwerks, out of New York City, and with numerous releases in 2014, the superstar shows no signs of stopping.
Zimmerman sometimes seems surprised and almost impudent about his successes. For him, music escapes the confines of other forms of art because it can be reproduced over and over, which somehow defies reality. Yet the artist has reached an epiphany in his career, and it is well deserved. His live shows are performance symphonies and biological in nature.
What is old becomes new, what is cliché becomes fresh, what is weird becomes dynamic, what is careless becomes effort, what is generic becomes marketable, and what is technical becomes melodic. These are the scenerios behind Zimmerman and the deadmau5 label, and we owe our thanks to a dead mouse.