By: Andrew E. Brown
Joel Zimmerman, a.k.a. Deadmau5, is well known for saying he is not a DJ. He reiterated this for the nth time on his blog just a week ago: “I am not a Disc Jockey. There is no jockeying of discs going on.” Well, I beg to differ – because he uses a crossfader to mix between songs, he is a DJ in my book. But I understand why he makes these repeated proclamations. He isn’t like other DJs. He plays his own music almost exclusively. He is an unabashed computer geek and nerd, more at home at a LAN party than in the VIP section of a greasy club in South Beach. But most importantly, he performs. Other DJs just mix.
He took the stage at the Tabernacle, downtown Atlanta’s beautiful church-turned-concert venue shortly after 12:30 Friday night. The “cube,” Zimmerman’s massive and awesome LED structure, and the piece de resistance of his lightshow, flashed on and after a minute or so of introductory bass gurglings rumbling through the speakers he dropped “Some Chords”. The crowd, some of whom had been listening with ever-growing boredom to the opener for three hours, came back to life.
Zimmerman’s lightshow is like no other DJ’s. Of course, he has the standard rotating color changing stage-mounted lights and LED screens. But what makes his performance remarkable is the reaction of cube and LED mau5head (a recently constructed second version) to his set.
The best display of the cube and ’head’s power is in “Sometimes Things Get, Whatever”, which he mixed into about halfway through the 90-plus minute set. As the song broke down, the blue circuits writhing across the faces of the cube turned a violent red and seemed to come out of the structure towards the audience. Four LED screens at the back of the stage malevolently dripped red. A computerized, disturbing voice: Sometimes things get complicated. The mau5head, pitch black except for a fluorescent blue silhouette, loomed like some perverse phantom in the darkness. Sometimes things get complicated. The music stopped altogether and cube, head, and every stage light went out. For a few moments there was only darkness and the crowd screamed. Then the cube came back to life, illuminated solely in white, and a purple mouth and set of eyes appeared on the mau5head, looking, no leering, at the crowd. Sometimes things get complicated. The beat dropped, the cube flashed, and the crowd exploded.
There was only one hiccup in Zimmerman’s performance when the audio died briefly about three-fourths of the way through the performance, this time not intentionally. To emote his disappointment to the audience, Zimmerman lifted the mau5head off his own and pouted. Within moments the music was back and no one cared.
Even stripped of his lightshow, Zimmerman would be an entertaining performer. Once he emerged from behind the cube to pluck a thrown glowstick from the cube, shooting the audience a look of mock-reproach. When more glowsticks strafed him, he grinned and covered his head in pretend fear, then threw the sticks back exaggeratedly, lest the audience think he were actually angry with the bombardment. He scurried back to the safety of the cube and donned the mau5head once more as another hail of sticks rained down on him.
After 75 minutes or so Zimmerman had played some of his most popular songs, including “Ghosts ‘n Stuff”, “Strobe”, “I Remember”, “FML”, “Sofi Needs a Ladder”, and many lesser known tracks. At the end of “Arguru” the stage went dark and he vanished from behind the cube. The crowd couldn’t have been clapping and chanting “Deadmau5” for more than a minute before he strode back onstage, which lit up for the last time.
Zimmerman has said that he has no particular attachment to any one genre of music and that he dabbles in producing more than just progressive house. Lately he has played dubstep in his encores and Friday night was no different. After a brief progressive house intro (a new song perhaps?), he mixed into fifteen minutes of harsh, abrasive dubstep – think Excision and Datsik. At the end of the encore the cube died, the house lights came on, extinguishing hopes of a second encore. Zimmerman slung one last glowstick into crowd and disappeared offstage.
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