“That was fun, that was adventurous and it was a thing unique to you in your youth. And for kids today, that’s gone. I’ll always look back at it and be, like, ‘Dammit, I wish I could get that back.’”
At 17, Zimmerman moved to Toronto, produced tracks for house music label Play Records, took freelance programming and web development gigs, and worked with an audio software company out of Belgium.
“Contrary to popular belief, I was very underground,” Zimmerman once recalled. “I was in my Mom’s basement tooling away on Impulse Tracker on a 386, just doing Nintendo music until some Loop Library company hired me as a producer.”
deadmau5 continually introduces new, self-designed software to enhance the live experience.
Independently, deadmau5 issued albums like 2005’s Get Scraped and 2006’s Vexillology that initially stirred underground interest. But once he truly struck out on his own with his Mau5trap label and a partnership with Ultra Music and Ministry of Sound, Zimmerman’s career skyrocketed. His third full-length, Random Album Title, paired him with San Francisco’s Kaskade on “Move For Me,” which topped Billboard’s Dance Mix/Airplay charts in September 2008.
Another Kaskade collaboration, “I Remember,” followed “Move For Me” to the top of the charts and entered the U.K. Top 30. “Move for Me” and Random Album Title generated a JUNO nomination and victory, respectively, while deadmau5 earned the first of three consecutive Best Electro House Artist and Best Progressive House Artist awards from Beatport.
At the time, he expressed his goal of creating “transparent recordings.” “Something that is very clear,” Zimmerman explained to Resident Advisor, adding that he masters his music as he makes it. “Where you hear every nuance in the way that it’s mixed. Transparency applies to engineering, the placement of certain sounds, the honing in on and the lessening of certain frequencies.”
His album For Lack of a Better Name assured another breakthrough year for the mau5man in 2009, bringing him Grammy attention for the first time. His remix of Morgan Page’s “The Longest Road” featuring Lissie was up for Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical. He’s since earned three consecutive nominations for Best Dance/Electronica Album, for 2012’s 4×4 = 12, 2013’s Album Title Goes Here and his latest original project from 2014, the 25-track, four-and-a-half hour while (1<2).
While (1<2) pays particular homage to one of Zimmerman’s early heroes, Trent Reznor, covering “Ice Age” from Reznor’s How To Destroy Angels project, and Nine Inch Nails’ “Survivalism.” Deadmau5 describes the creativity behind the album in general terms.
“It’s not just about making a dance hit or a brand,” he said on his website. “I love engineering music of all time… I’ve done hip-hop tracks, glitch tracks, piano concertos, and dance hits. I think a large part of my fan base knows that, so this is for them. And if it’s not for them, then maybe I’ll attract some new fans who aren’t so EDM.”
It’s really the stage that best serves his platform, as he continually introduces new, self-designed software to enhance the experience.
For live performances, Rolling Stone notes that “Zimmerman starts by building his set on his computer, programming whatever songs he wants to play into a two-hour collection of discrete six-minute blocks. Then he starts stripping away elements one by one – a kick drum here, a bass loop there, as many as he thinks he can get away with. Finally, in concert, he puts it all back together, re-creating each sound with his battalion of synthesizers.”
How he’s done it, deadmau5 told Rolling Stone, is with “a 16×16 grid where each button will light up, and that’s it. But with that, you can build your own sequencer and have each button doing a different thing. So Steve Duda built this monster of an application called MOLAR, which is an extended version of MLR.
“Steve really has a thing for complicated machinery, so he set it up so that we can load in wav [file] data and slice that up. It basically allows you to sequence a feed, MIDI triggers or wav data playback to a channel. You can permutate it in so many different ways that you can really jam on it… I’ll make 150 loops or something, and just chuck them into the directory.”
Sampling, sequencing, looping: deadmau5 continues to be EDM’s creative genius, a musician whose inventiveness and integrity continue to redefine the genre.
And he’s just getting started.
Publisher: EMI April Music Canada Ltd., Play Records Publishing
Selected Discography: Get Scraped (2005), Vexillology (2006), Random Album Title (2008), For Lack of a Better Name (2009), 4×4=12 (2010), Album Title Goes Here (2012), while(1<2) (2014)
SOCAN Member since 2006