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How Deadmau5—a.k.a. DJ Joel Zimmerman—came to make $100,000 a show and have four million Facebook fans

Mouse pad: Joel Zimmerman’s downtown condo has jägermeister on tap. (Image: Matt Barnes)

Mouse pad: Joel Zimmerman’s downtown condo has jägermeister on tap. (Image: Matt Barnes)

A steady August downpour drenched Chicago’s Grant Park on the final night of the Lollapalooza music festival. The rain and the force of thousands of feet had turned the park into a swampy field of splattering mud. The show should have been a flop; instead, it became a frenzied dance party, like Woodstock on methamphetamines.

Some of the dancers wore cartoonish, oversized mouse helmets that bobbed side to side and back and forth. The helmets’ eyes were blank and bulging, their crescent mouths leering grins. They were worn as a tribute to the musician Deadmau5, who was the headlining act that night. Deadmau5 (pronounced “dead mouse”) is the nom de guerre of the Toronto electronic music artist Joel Zimmerman. When he performs, Zimmerman wears his own electronically enhanced mouse mask, what fans call a Mau5head. The helmet looks goofy, but it’s important: it was key in Zimmerman’s transformation from a dance music outsider into a mainstream icon.

Before Zimmerman started appearing in his mask, his style of fast-paced rave music was typically played in a warehouse accessed via a dark alley. As Deadmau5, he fills stadiums. He stands high above the audience in a specially designed, spacecraft-like cube. He doesn’t sing (he hires guest vocalists for some tracks), but operates a bank of computers and occasionally waves at the audience. He’s surrounded by towers of strobe lights and projectors, all flashing in sync with the thump of his music. The audience screams and swoons as if for a rock god.

The devotion of his fans is cult-like: they follow him from show to show, tattoo his logo on their arms and calves, and post thousands of gushing comments about him and his music online. But cults are usually small; Deadmau5’s followers are legion. His fame has grown exponentially in the six years since he released his first recording. He has more than four million Facebook fans, though given the speed at which his following has grown, that number could double by the time this story hits the newsstands. Even his cat, a black and white shelter rescue he named Professor Meowingtons, has become a starring character in Zimmerman’s online universe. (The cat has his own Facebook page and 73,000 fans.) The Lollapalooza gig was one of the biggest shows he performed in a year of big shows. His fall tour will take him to stadiums across North America and culminate in a 14,000-person rave at the Rogers Centre this month.

Mau5head off, Zimmerman resembles many of his fans. He’s pale and skinny, with a collection of tattoos across his neck and arms. He wears ball caps and T-shirts and turned 30 earlier this year. He is often surrounded by a posse that includes childhood friends, managers, his mother, his brother and his girlfriend, Lindsey Gayle Evans, a one-time Playboy playmate. When I first met Zimmerman, a week before the Chicago show, he had a Band-Aid on his cheek, the result of a shaving experiment with a straight razor, and was embarrassed by the tiny wound. Zimmerman’s self-consciousness was strangely sweet—I didn’t expect anxiety from a guy who performs to full stadiums. Later, it dawned on me: it must be nerve-racking to be face to face with a stranger when you’re so accustomed to meeting the public in a mask.

  • Alex

    It’s really unfortunate that guys like this are famous. Sign of the times. No real talent, no real work.

  • Nate

    I have an idea… Try making something better than what he does. Do you even know how much effort goes into production? It takes both skill and acute knowledge, that most people never have at their disposal. So basically, he’s insanely gifted, and you’re an ass.

  • Mike

    I like the last line.

  • LOL

    Great journalism…NOT! Good job publishing false facts. Bunny & Mau5 broke up! :)

    And his talent has tanked over the years, because now his production is better than his music. Who gives a shit. WHy complain about it? Suck your own dick.

  • An0n

    to the 1st post; no talent? you obviously dont have any clue as to what he does to make his music.

  • max

    great work, no realy it is. learned alot of things i didn’t know about deadmau5 that helped me do a biography of him. dont listen to all the ass-holes up there, i doubt these ignorant’s couldn’t right a 6 page story like this!

  • tortuga

    Great article. Good background into the rise of a dance music and pop culture icon. There is nothing even close to a deadmau5 show and his digital/musical talent can only fully be appreciated at a live venue. Sarah’s description of Joel’s music is spot on. Critique but NEVER hate on art.

  • J-rock

    He seems like a decent guy, and while it’s nice to see a local kid make good, I don’t care much for his music. Deadmau5 makes dance music for kids that aren’t actually into dance music.

  • Chavez

    I’m a musician and most musicians hate dj’s and some dj’s hate musicians, but I don’t, I do think there are lots of un-talented electronic music producers who won’t recognize what a G key is or that have never played an instrument, but deadmau5 is not the case, as a musician i know the stuff he does in his music and its real progressions and stuff, not just shifting the pitch of a note with a knob during 3 minutes and adding drums to it.

  • marc nguyen

    I remember how hard he had to work even the streets why would you say he no work hard he work a like a man a real man even I was scared.

  • johnbarron1998@yahoo.com

    good good

  • http://twitter.com/Mark0000Yma Tyriaunna McGee

    Cool

  • krista

    he is fuckin awsome

 

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