On the subject of Europe’s 4/4 imports, which indeed continued to flood our borders unabated last year, there’s one homegrown North American house-music star who made big waves in 2010, though he went largely ignored by critics (this one included): The Canadian techno producer deadmau5, who plays his thumping, buzzing tunes live while wearing a giant, Takashi Murakami-esque mouse head. Deadmau5 is a certified phenomenon, headlining gigantic festivals, selling out arenas, appearing as in-house beat-dropper at this year’s MTV VMAs. His timing is good, of course, but he’s also pulled off a nifty trick: Transcending typical club-circuit anonymity by obscuring his face behind a (brilliantly goofy) mask. David Guetta may be a titan of his field, but his fans don’t show up at concerts wearing his head over theirs.
A few weeks ago, Rolling Stone sent me to Toronto, where deadmau5 lives, to profile him. I watched him play a concert downtown. It was a raucous dance party, but it was also a conversation conducted between a multitude of screens. The face of the mouse head deadmau5 wore that night was one big LED display; several of the heads have little screens within them, too, which transmit to him images of the computer screens via which he manipulates his audio software. As he played, he stood inside a large, LED-screen-covered stage set. And, out in the crowd, there were never fewer than 40 people holding up smartphones, eyes on their screens, taking pictures and video.
We often describe dance parties as primal, communal, utopian—flesh on the floor moving as one, insistent beats, intestinal bass. Some musicians (Kraftwerk, Daft Punk, the Zombie Nation dude) have shaded that utopian vision with a dark frisson of techno-fascist, automaton dread (however theatricalized). Here, there was no dread in the air of any sort, just hypermediated post-communality and “the real thing,” interwoven.
It struck me that this wasn’t a dance-music-specific development, but rather a particularly extreme iteration of a truth so true it’s basically boring by now: We are our screens, even when we’re surrounded by other people watching music made live and even when a large portion of those people are raver-hippies zonked off their brains on all manner of friendly-making drugs. Robot rock, indeed!
Anyway, you all have been so good at bringing the wide-angle (widescreen?) commentary that I figured I could get away with ending on a quick close-up shot. Also, I’ve got a bunch of browser tabs to check, Bandcamp pages to stream, .rar files to unrar, and empty .docs to fill up with word counts. It’s been an honor and a blast—thanks to you and to our readers.
To the Soundcloud,