With the depletion of EDM’s popularity over the last few years, the self-loathing and self-critical deadmau5’s continued appeal seems more and more like some cruel, ironic joke. Fewer and fewer people stick around for the drop, as a once seemingly revolutionary art form edges closer and closer to full pop absorption. Somewhere between the commercial failure of We Are Your Friends, Calvin Harris becoming the genre’s poster boy and Mike Posner unintentionally segueing into the genre off the back of a Seeb remix, EDM went from a bustling subculture to a hollow, saccharine comedown. But for deadmau5, with his rodent helmet nestling in somewhere between Mickey Mouse and The Strangers, his approach to his own genre omits him from any ridicule.
Twitter spats with Kanye West and Madonna, as well as a number of fellow DJ/producers such as Skrillex, Tiesto and Avicii, have emphasised an impertinence completely separate from the arrogance of some of EDM’s most notable acts. In fact, Deadmau5’s contempt for his own music and himself seems to be more in line with his fellow Torontonian The Weeknd. Last month, deadmau5, real name Joel Zimmerman, tweeted about how his latest album felt ‘slapped together’ and was only made to pay his ‘mad’ bills. And just a year ago, he threatened to ‘kill off’ the deadmau5 persona and start fresh. deadmau5’s derision in place of arrogance could be a benefit if he chose to act upon his true personality and feelings- much in the same way The Weeknd vibes off of his drugged-out, bad-boy persona. The same just can’t be said for Zimmerman despite vigorously shrugging off the sugariness that infects mainstream EDM. His music doesn’t feed the EDM bros- it’s so much quieter, less grating and a lot less predictable even if the oversized mouse balaclava says panders to that lamentable stereotype.
‘For the majority of the album, there’s no progression, no evolution. Just an empty threat of something bigger and juicier’
His latest album, W:/ 2016ALBUM/, gathers the best and worst of deadmau5’s personality. There’s a rejection of expected tropes for somewhat fresher ideas but you can’t help but feel his exhaustion and ennui with EDM seeping into his compositions. ‘Three Pound Chicken Wing’ could’ve been as intriguing as its title had deadmau5 bothered to venture outside the menacing pulse of the intro’s percussion. Meanwhile on ‘Let Go’, the undulating synths threaten to present something captivatingly auteurist but the innocuous vocal of featuring artist Grabbitz drags the track back into a haze of outdated, Eurotrash clubland. ‘2448’ meets the same adverse end, wasting a promising intro built around a satisfying synth line before souring the denouement with an unnecessary quest for greater BPM. And unfortunately for ‘No Problem’, despite its energy, pace and its layers of defiant synths, we can’t help but align it with the tried and tested all-in offensive of French house stalwarts Justice.
It’s not all bad though- W:/ 2016ALBUM/ does have a number of redeeming moments throughout. The record opens with the polite, if not soothing ‘4ware’. The plucky synths aerate the track as does the smattering of ’80s charm that fades in just before the halfway mark. ‘Deus Ex Machina’ manages to shape an unsettling coolness, onset by an odd concoction of cosmic and industrial textures. However, these moves are to be expected from deadmau5- the album is truly at its most enthralling when he experiments with other styles and genres. ‘Cat Thruster’ this time fulfils its quirky title- wobbly, elongated synths and a noodling guitar line nod to Justice once more, but the results are far more original this time out. ‘Snowcone’ does the same, instead swapping disco and funk for a cloudy trip-hop vibe. It’s an interesting concept, but like so many of the tracks on W:/ 2016ALBUM/, it fails to lead anywhere. For the majority of the album, there’s no progression, no evolution. Just an empty threat of something bigger and juicier.
Overall, W:/ 2016ALBUM/ is a concept. It’s a suggestion of what could’ve been. deadmau5 is a talented DJ/producer and is an integral part of EDM whether he likes it or not. Considering this is his first record since buying himself out of his EMI contract, I would’ve expected more bravery from Zimmerman. Maybe a few tracks as acerbic and interesting as his Twitter beefs. In regards to this latest album and deadmau5’s future direction, I’m drawn to one tweet in particular that featured in an ongoing beef with Laidback Luke. In retort to Luke, deadmau5 stated rather solemnly ‘i just hate being lumped into a category i dont belong to… or feel like i belong to anyway.’ Whether it’s his fellow purveyors of EDM, his fans, or critics, deadmau5 still seems burdened by an expectation to deliver what brought him an EDM fame and attention in the first place. W:/ 2016ALBUM/ is caught between the flaccidity of that past and the potential for a consistently good album in the future. Perhaps Joel Zimmerman was right a year ago; maybe his fresh start lies outside that enormous, light-up mouse head.
Image courtesy of Billboard