Editorial: Deadmau5 rejects status quo with repeated Ultra set; status quo doesn’t notice
When Deadmau5 was revealed as a headliner for Ultra, the announcement had the quality of a Daft Punk rumor. Hadn’t he sworn to never again play the festival? Hadn’t he been wholly absent from the 2012 U.S. festival circuit? Hadn’t he called out “EDM” as “Event-driven marketing?” Well, he had. But yet, there was the lineup with his name on it. Oh you. Deadmau5. You’re so random.
Perhaps ironically, mau5 was billed with a live set for the two-weekend extravaganza, leaving David Guetta and Tiësto to the DJ sets and joining the ranks of Crystal Castles and Yeasayer. Whatever Ultra meant by “live,” it’s unlikely the crowd that amassed in front of the cube gave a second of thought to the distinction: they just wanted to get lost in those big black ears, play-pushing or not. Come weekend two, I wanted to be right there with them.
Not wanting to spoil the experience but being unable to resist, I broke my no live stream rule and tuned in to Deadmau5’s Saturday headlining set. Though Joel ditched his mouse head much earlier than expected, he held on to the mau5 of old, delivering a set with few samples and no frills, just a churning river of uninterrupted sound backed by larger than life visuals. But after smiling along with the crowd as my own mau5 memories flashed before my eyes, I realized it didn’t just remind me of the mau5 of old, it was the mau5 of old. Or maybe they’re one and the same.
Only five tracks from <album title goes here> made their way into the set, with “Maths” and “Professional Griefers” barely counting – though new to the album, they had been in sets since 2010 and 2011, respectively. Instead of playing out his newest, Joel played some of his best, going as far back as 2008’s Random Album Title and completely eschewing Ultra convention: you were definitely not going to hear a “this is my brand new track!” shouted into the microphone.
What you were going to hear was Deadmau5, Deadmau5 and more Deadmau5, unless, of course, you had a finely tuned ear for Einmusik or Basti Grub & Mike Trend, who Joel worked in amongst a vast catalog of originals. One of the few DJs to continue to play almost exclusively his own material, Deadmau5 has both resisted the move to playing all mashups and mixes and mocked it, telling Vibe he had “no advice for the fucking kid that wants to play everyone else’s music and be famous for it.”
Perhaps in an effort to prove his point (but more likely because it’s the mau5 way), Deadmau5’s Ultra set proudly showcased his own work, featuring his sound and his self, unfiltered (see: without head). Though he potentially catered to the festival crowd with the obligatory “Raise Your Weapon” and “Some Chords,” Joel also included the still unreleased “Untrust,” an “FML”/”I Remember” edit and a shiver-inducing finale of the rarely played out “Strobe” that pre-MTV fans could appreciate. And he did so both weekends.
A mid-Miami Music Week tweet from Joel tipped me off to the possibility of a repeat set, but the tweet’s ellipsis followed by a question mark gave me hope there would be some surprises. Yet, after cramming into the homemade mouse head- and past tour tee-sporting Main Stage crowd for mau5 round two, I discovered that aside from a lighting malfunction and some stage meandering, there weren’t any.
After telling Vibe that Ultra was “the same thing every fucking year,” Joel played exactly the same set for Weekend 2. The thing was, nobody seemed to care. Phones were up, grins were on, cheers erupted for “The Veldt” and “why is it over??”s, “dude!”s and “best set, hands down”s filled the air when the final rattle brought the set to a close. While on the trek out I smiled politely as someone tried to tell me Deadmau5 created everything on the fly, I started to wonder if Joel hadn’t had the last laugh.
The set was the same, but it still undeniably had a magic that was missing from the Main Stage’s earlier self-described bangers. The tracklist wasn’t particularly current, but the tracks themselves weren’t halfheartedly cranked out in the rat race to produce single after single. Mau5 had vocally and repeatedly given Ultra the bird, but he packed its largest stage both weekends with fans either too devoted or too new to collectively find a flaw in his delivery. And I didn’t know whether to love him or hate him for it.
The set gave me shivers, reminded me why I loved mau5 in the first place and presented pixellating mice, swirling shapes and well-timed color pops to stare at. But I don’t know if it demanded a repeat.
I don’t know if a DJ playing all their own music falls under resting on their laurels or refusing to cave to a silly sample game. I don’t know why Joel agreed to play Ultra after bashing it repeatedly and I don’t know if those who attended his sets had any idea what he thought of them and their love for EDM.
What I do know is that he doesn’t give a fuck what I or anyone else thinks. And that with results like his, we should all like it that way.