“How much does your head weigh?” asks Joel Zimmerman, mockingly throwing me the question he gets asked all too often. It’s the end of our conversation and he’s done talking about himself. When Zimmerman dons his much-talked-about mau5head, as he will for thousands of screaming ravers at Lollapalooza on Sunday 7, he transforms into deadmau5, the biggest dance act since Dutch trance megastar Tiësto. Without the cartoonish rodent head, the tatted-up, nail-biting chain smoker looks more like the computer programmer he once was rather than the club-music rock star he is now. The 30-year-old is a frantic ball of energy when I reach him by phone in his Toronto studio. He’s knee-deep in all the gadgetry that will become the laser-light show at Lolla.
On the new live show
“Can you tell us about it?” I ask. “No,” he deadpans, followed by his Beavis-like rapid-fire chuckle. With a little prodding he opens up: “We’re all freaking out. It’s awesome…. Right now we’re working on the actual technology to control all the cool stuff. Otherwise it’s just going to be a lot of expensive stuff up on a stage and everyone’s going to go, ‘Woo… But what does it do?’ And, we’ll go, ‘Well nothing, because we can’t get this fucking thing to work.’ But we’re working on it and I think we’ll figure it out. My career depends on it.”
On being a gearhead
It becomes apparent that the techno toys trump the techno itself. Has he been a dance-music fan since an early age? No. “I’ve been converted. I grew up a little metalhead: Slayer, Megadeth, Metallica, that kind of shit. I was a bandwagon jumper. If everybody in high school listened to it, so did I.” More so than the classic rave-informed tech-electro he makes, it’s the futuristic spectacle of the performance—and the requisite gear—that fuels Zimmerman. “I’m just a little artsy-fartsy computer dude,” Zimmerman says. “It’s not an alter ego. It’s not, Now it’s time for crazy time, put on a mouse head—adventure! I’m the same guy in and out of it.”
On the evolution of the mau5head
“Oh, wow, if I had a nickel for every time I had to tell this fucking story,” Zimmerman mumbles. His most recognizable attribute, the mau5head, has seen seemingly endless permutations: red with bugged-out white eyes, solid black with a glowing mouth, chrome. Most recently it’s become a glorified LED screen with pixelated lights for its eyes and mouth. “It was a 3-D model years and years before it was anything else,” he explains. Then a friend convinced him to turn it into a mask. “I wore it out for my first official deadmau5 gig, and everyone was looking at me like, What the fuck? It was a combination of that, the big brand identity, and the music, that pushed it all forward. It was so tongue-in-cheek, it’s like, No fucking prisoners. Fuck it, if I do this, I do this. If I fail, I’ll go 3-D model my head off till I’m old and gray and still sitting behind a desk. I’m happy either way. Now I can’t take the fucking thing off.”
On the Disney rumors
In May, spoof conspiracy-theory blog tropiganda.com ran a story claiming Disney bought the trademark to deadmau5. “Dude, that is such bullshit,” Zimmerman bellows. “Disney fell asleep at the fucking wheel when I trademarked my shit. I have a thing with a big grin and mouse ears. If you blacked it out, everybody would be like, Oh, Mickey. Someone over at Disney was taking a nap.” The only interaction deadmau5 has actually had with Mickey was a gig in Orlando at Disney World. “I’m thinking that I’m gonna go into the dressing room and the door is gonna slam shut and Goofy and fucking Minnie are gonna come out and I’m going to get a beat down.” He came home bruise-free.
On the fame and fortune
Does it still surprise him? “No, I knew it was going to happen when I was five,” Zimmerman says, dripping with sarcasm. “I’m kidding…. It was a total fucking shock, are you kidding me?” His fans adore him, often sending him their own renditions of the mau5head. As an example, he shares a story from last Christmas. “My mother goes on the Internet and downloads pictures of people with all their mau5heads and she made this massive, fuck-off poster of hundreds of thousands of mice—all different ones. Not a single one is the same. I love that about my image. How many fucking Tiësto fans go to a Tiësto concert with a photo of Tiësto for a mask?”
Deadmau5 plays the Bud Light stage on Sunday 7 at 8:30pm.