Deadmau5 pushes people’s buttons

Deadmau5, pushing buttons. (Flickr via The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas )
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Jed Lipinski

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Welcome to Assessment: an occasional tour through the important battles, unimportant critical squabbles, and obsessions of the Internet culture and ideas machine. Today: Deadmau5 makes some enemies

Despite his success, Joel Zimmerman, the robotic-mouse-head-wearing electronic dance-music superstar otherwise known as Deadmau5, has been in a cranky mood of late.

A Rolling Stone cover story in June—in which writer Josh Eells accompanied him on a private jet trip to Sweden—portrayed the D.J. as an ill-tempered basket-case: slamming his personal trailer door, engaging in lonely marathon video-game sessions, and chastising other EDM sensations like David Guetta and Swedish House Mafia as “button pushers.” Such comments provoked heated reactions—one from Swedish House Mafia’s Sebastian Ingrosso himself, who in his own Rolling Stone interview compared his group to The Beatles, and said: “We’ve have four CD players, six hands, so we’re going in and out all the time, otherwise we would be bored and take our fuckin’ lives.”

In an attempt at clarification, Deadmau5 only complicated matters by posting a frank and somewhat embittered declaration on his Tumblr page titled “We All Hit Play,” in which he further lambasted EDM producers and D.J.s for pretending that their live shows are more than space-bar tapping. 

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“I think ANY D.J. in the WORLD who can match a beat can do what ‘ANYONE else’ (not going to mention any names) is doing on their EDM stages too,” he wrote, adding: “'beatmatching’ isn't even a fucking skill as far as I'm concerned anyway.”

Naturally, this screed set off a whole new round of EDM producers, D.J.s, and fans who believe that, in fact, live D.J. performances can reach the level of performance art.

Some were more heated than others. “Deadmau5 is a complete & utter wanker,” noted Richard West, aka Mr. C, the British rapper and D.J. He added: “[T]here's a magic that happens when 2 tunes are mixed properly together by a real D.J.”

Another Brit, the producer known as A Guy Called Gerald, uncorked a confused, borderline anti-Semitic post called “Message to Rat Head.” "The only button you and people like you are interested in pushing is a nuke for the Palestinians,” he wrote.

But Deadmau5 also stimulated some insightful and much-needed back-and-forth inside the EDM community. After all, Steve Angello of Swedish House Mafia had been accused of being a “fake D.J.” before Deadmau5 piped up. (In his defense, he claims he’d learned how to D.J. without headphones.) And others, like Caribou frontman Dan Snaith, feel it’s time that distinctions were drawn between dance music artistry and the “EDM barfsplosion currently gripping the corporate ravesters.”

Writing in the Huffington Post, D.J. A-Trak (ne Alain Macklovitch) composed a shockingly cogent piece titled “Don’t Push My Buttons.” A New York-based turntablist and CEO of the record label Fool’s Gold, A-Trak is, among other things, Kanye West’s personal tour D.J.

Taking on what he called the “D.J.-as-Milli-Vanilli” debate, A-Trak defended the old school art of D.J.ing while wisely warning that EDM’s increasingly over-the-top stage spectacles “risk devaluing a culture that has waited for its big break for 30 years.” Rather than berate Deadmau5, he kindly reminded him that a D.J.’s improvisational prowess can’t be compared to the process by which EDM artists assemble their intricate multimedia performances—that is, beforehand, like “a theater play.”

Whether Deadmau5 read—or learned anything from—A-Trak’s riposte (which noted that the two know each other and are on friendly terms) is unknown. But a few hours after it came out, Deadmau5 found himself mentioned in a HuffPo article again, this time for blasting Playboy model Tricia Evans for a bone-headed tweet (“I heard the new Batman movie is really "to die for"! Too soon?”). For this, like the movie critics who dared weigh in negatively on The Dark Knight Returns early last week, Evans received death threats. For his part, Deadmau5, who numbered Evans among the elite 207 Twitter accounts he follows, announced that she was no longer welcome in the club: “good to know. @HollywoodTricia i seriously had no idea how big of a piece of shit you are. unfollowed.”

And yet, a quick troll through Deadmau5’s Twitter feed reveals a remarkably sensitive soul. Among the kitten imagery and interior design sense (minus the AK-47 table lamps) one finds this: “i just wish, sometimes, i could help change some things outside of EDM world, to make everyone's lives better somehow. maybe one day.” Deadmau5 was a reserved, quiet, thoughtful teenager who's skyrocketed to mind-boggling fame with the EDM craze. Perhaps all he needs is a little break from EDM.