It’s hard to envision Joel Zimmerman, bka deadmau5, one of the most ardent opponents of the flourishing electronic music culture, ever feverishly waiting in line outside of a Toronto club. Yet, before Zimmerman donned his now famous mau5head, he was much more comfortable in his first-gen raver garb of UFO pants, an oversized tee (for soaking up all of the sweat), and a trusty character backpack. Ironically, it wasn’t until Zimmerman himself started to dominate the scene with his over-the-top performances and collaborations with the likes of Tommy Lee, Kaskade, and Wolfgang Gartner that his disdain for the community began to surface. Only five years prior to the recording process of new double LP while(1<2), and two years before signing game changer Skrillex to his mau5trap imprint, Zimmerman was praising the community following his coming-out party during the 2008 Beatport Awards. During an interview with gbh.tv that year, Zimmerman not only praised Ultra Music Festival, but revealed that Miami’s Mansion was his favorite club to perform at — a far cry from his remarks earlier this year that he wouldn’t “be playing any more Miami clubs.”
Maybe it’s the more recent six-figure performance fees continually tossed his way or the years of headlining festivals, but at his core, Zimmerman seems torn between being an entertainer and being an artist. Even as he gears up to tour behind what he has repeatedly called the “first album [he’s] ever done that [he] would even call an album,” he is preparing the most lavish set design ever designed for a DJ performance. So, to deny that he is an entertainer first would be a lie. However, if one were to ever publicly compare deadmau5 to the likes of Swedish House Mafia or Krewella, they should expect an immediate tirade from Zimmerman. The comparison might be valid, but so would the tirade. When listening to any disc pulled from the deadmau5 catalog, it’s impossible not to notice the many influences and subtle production nuances — elements that are certainly absent from over 90% of big room releases. Before he was at the helm of progressive electro-house, Zimmerman was dabbling in Fatboy Slim-leaning big beat (reference “The Oshawa Connection” from his 2005 debut LP, Get Scraped). Even when the sound shifted firmly to electro-house, the sonic oddities would continue to pop up; “Word Problems”, “Raise Your Weapon”, and “Telemiscommunications” each highlight these intermittent experiments. With a multi-million dollar studio at his disposal and 25 tracks to explore, while(1<2) reinforces Zimmerman’s claim that he is in fact aiming to push the scene to a new level — words that have since been echoed by fellow standouts Porter Robinson and Hardwell.
As the album is over two hours in length, there is very little urgency in these productions. Lead single “Avaritia” contains the signature deadmau5 whip, but it’s placed in the rear of an otherwise leisurely rolling electro mix. Following track “Coelacanth I” foreshadows the down-tempo brilliance to come. Lacking the standard building blocks of today’s electronic music, the track is a representation of the warm, cretaceous waterways where coelacanths first found life. As the album progresses, especially during the second disc, the chaos only continues to diminish, with timeless piano melodies taking the lead during “Acedia”, “Ira”, and “Superbia”. An acoustic guitar even manages to meander through “Monday” before the song collapses into a Radiohead-esque breakdown.
Already a rock star in many respects — he did headline Lollapalooza — Zimmerman has taken new liberties with the rock genre on this release. He doesn’t put the deadmau5 spin on just one Trent Reznor production; he manages to offer up remixes of both 2007’s “Survivalism” and “Ice Age” from How to Destroy Angels’ 2013 LP, Welcome Oblivion, the latter a much more affecting effort. However, even though Zimmerman has pointed to an eclectic array of dream collaborations, including Boards of Canada and Autechre, one must wonder if the NIN tie-in is one of inspiration or shared Columbia Records connections. There is some evidence of the former, as “Errors in My Bread” and “A Moment to Myself” are reminiscent of Reznor’s tortured analog soundscapes.
Just as Reznor looked toward movie scores after killing off NIN for the first time, the same move could be a logical next step for Zimmerman. Not only are tracks “Gula”, “Pets”, and “Rlyehs Lament” the most emotive of Zimmerman’s career, they each contain an array of whimsical touches that force one to peer deeper and deeper into the mix. These tracks don’t just want to make you dance, they want to make you actually feel something … anything.
Despite these fresh, artistic detours and his ridicule of the main-stage EDM festival sound, these 25 tracks are not without their saw-jaw moments. deadmau5 of 2008 comes alive during “My Pet Coelacanth”, which at track four finally kick-starts the album into high gear, and “Phantoms Can’t Hang” steals the best from Dutch house and Melbourne bounce to create a new sound all its own.
Those tracks serve as the cheese to lure the new EDM pups into Zimmerman’s trap of electronic music education. While contemporaries like Diplo genre-hop from month to month or create multiple aliases to share their many passions (see Richie Hawtin/Plastikman, Eric Prydz/Pryda), Zimmerman understands that this scene can only turn a corner if those supporting it actually have an understanding of its roots. From trance and hardline techno to house and outrun/chase (“Infra Turbo Pigcart Racer”), while(1<2) offers a more thorough understanding of the dance music culture than the main stage at Ultra has done over the last six years. Should it really have taken 25 tracks and over two hours? Probably not. But for someone that drives around in a Purrari, excess was not of much concern during the making of this album.
Essential Tracks: “Phantoms Can’t Hang”, “Superbia”, and “Infra Turbo Pigcart Racer”