Story and video by Meghan Chancy Ledington
The first weeks of Deadmau5’s fall lineup of shows, the Meowingtons Hax Tour (named after his beloved cat), included headlining the 20th anniversary of Chicago’s Lollapalooza and San Fran’s Outside Lands, an insane 4 night run at L.A.’s Hollywood Palladium, and his return to Colorado, where nearly 10,000 devoted electronica fans waited in anticipation at the spectacular Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Bringing along some of his Mau5trap label crew and good friends Tommy Lee & DJ Aero, SOFI, Excision, and Zedd, Joel ZImmerman is making this tour one for the books with a feel-good party vibe, complex stage setup and gamer-influenced visuals, live vocals and performances, his famous LED mau5 helmet, and an immense appreciation and love for his fans, whether they are sporting one of his t-shirts or going all out fan-tastic in a homemade mau5head. (Guilty!)
I’ve been a fan since Joel left me speechless with wonder and intrigue at Bonnaroo 2010, never having seen a solo electronic artist with such an elaborate and creative production: the LED helmet and cube are unavoidably compelling on top of the hyphy dance-inducing prog-house pumping out of the speakers. I was instantly hooked on the mau5 phenom’s cheese. I caught his first few live streams on ustream where he let us intimately into his behind-the-scenes world, watched him on the VMAs, and obtained my own kickass mau5head thanks to eBay. Seeing him a second time last October in Michigan from inside the helmet only fueled my passion and introduced me to the diamond-in-the-rough and then-opener Sonny Moore, aka Skrillex. Having seen multiple shows at arguably the best venue in the world, it was easy to predict an experience of epic proportions would go down in the Colorado mountains on a warm Tuesday night in August. Before the show Joel tweeted, “Heading off to one of my most favorite venues of all time! you know who you are... can’t wait to get there!”
Germany-native Anton Zaslavski, better known as 22-year-old prodigy Zedd, kicked things off between the glorious towering rocks with his complex electro-house and brought the crowd to their feet immediately. His intelligently designed ‘Zedd Style’ remix of Skrillex’s hit “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” among many others spoke to the young crowd who enjoyed his playful spirit and obvious skills. With the energy level soaring high and the speakers at a deafening volume, the end-of-summer dance party was underway.
Next up was Tommy Lee and DJ Aero, who will be on the road with Deadmau5 for the three month span. The duo has toured since 2005 and previously performed together in Methods of Mayhem. Lee and Aero’s music has been described as “dirty, filthy, nasty electro-house”. They brought an entertaining performance aspect to the live show due to their extremely high energy and rambunctiousness. DJ Aero, real name Chester Deitz, busily mixed while Lee triggered the video and audio effects by drumming on electronic pads and getting rowdy, bouncing around as much as the audience. They played their new single “Static” which is currently 18th on Beatport’s electro house chart as well as a few unreleased tracks that are going to be on their upcoming EP. Our first time seeing SOFI (“Some Other Female Interest”), vocalist and Tommy Lee’s girlfriend Sofia Toufa, took place during the performance of her new hit "Bring Out the Devil" during Lee and DJ Aero’s set, which led to another live vocal track entitled “Broken Souvenirs,” produced collaboratively with Brighton-based dubstep and drum & bass production trio Millions Like Us. The approving mob of college-aged partiers showered the well-known and vastly experienced musicians with whistles and cheers.
Excision straight killed his set and punched the only rain-filled clouds in the sky with his rock-rattling bass music. Jeff Abel, a fellow Canadian-based producer, brought an enthusiastic energy to go with his heavy mix of dubstep, hip hop, and electro tracks which included crowd-pleasing remixes like DJ Fresh's "Louder (Doctor P & Flux Pavilion Remix)” and the Zomboy Remix of “Bass Cannon” which led into a remix of Zomboy’s track “Pump it Up.” The slew of beaming attendees gladly took a break from the lighter electronica that they knew the mau5 would bring back soon and got down and dirty bending low and throwing up crossed arms to form an “X” to show love for Jeff’s ear-melting skills. Skrillex's "Reptile" was the perfect lead-in to "Reploid (Neon Steve Remix),” a collab with Downlink. His remix of Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode” got the crowd amped and dancing with arms raised, singing along to the well-known lyrics of a song beloved by our generation. With the video screens depicting plants growing and sprouting pot leaves, the famed ending “Smoke weed everyday!” was shouted by all and happily applauded. It started raining during Excision’s set, prompting him to ask why he always brings the storm when he performs outdoors. Immediately, I was taken back to the Electric Forest Festival where his show was delayed due to a massive thunderstorm, creating a muddy mosh pit of dubsteppers raging to his intense drops in a wet whirlwind of enthusiasm. As the rain picked up, the darkness fell and the dancing continued, the scene felt oddly fitting as he threw down remixes to Emalkay’s “Fabrication” and Doctor P’s “Tetris”. Hitting us with “Heavy Artillery (Skism Remix),” another collaboration with Downlink, Excision commanded the attention of all and steamrolled over our eardrums like a mighty bass train, leaving ears ringing for days.
Finally it was time for the mau5 man himself, Toronto-based superstar Joel Zimmerman. Deadmau5’s new production is a spectacle to be witnessed firsthand. Beginning with an erratic synth line building up to almost silence as seven white spotlights zeroed in on him in his grey LED helmet, Joel dropped it loud and hard into his recently released pulsing powerhouse track “Where My Keys” released on Beatport in an exclusive compilation Meowingtons Hax Tour Trax and is chillin’ in the top spot on their electro house chart. The driving banger grabbed the ecstatic crowd and threw them into a dance delirium that only intensified as Joel hit us with “Bad Selection” from his smash album 4x4=12, sending hundreds of video phones into the air. Still his huge LED cube and new surrounding smaller LED cubes remained dark, with only the strobes above flashing white, blue and yellow to the insistent, rising beat. As he transitioned into an unreleased but not-too-new track entitled “Maths,” the first visuals of the night flashed, abstract green and white lines pulsing and spinning to the glitchy synth, starting on the smaller cubes then quickly switching to the huge background screen behind an “X”-shaped frame of lights. With “ahh”s of excitement from the crowd at the new display, it was clear that Joel was showing us through the consistent building up of light and sound that we were not prepared to be hit with everything he had in store for us right off the bat. As his LED helmet became bordered in blue, he let the beat go leaving the electrifying synth to welcome in a growing barrage of visuals on his very own towering cube: a fast-moving glowing neon web of colors bumping and swirling and growing brighter, moving from his cube to the three surrounding triads of cubes to the see-through screen allowing us to also view the gorgeous red rock behind the stage.
Bubbling, ascending synths and flashing triangles drew us into a fierce head-bobbing mix of “The Reward is Cheese” and “The Reward is More Cheese” which continued into a bouncing spin off the WTF? tracks called “Play Us Out,” urging the mass of mau5 fans to clap in sync above their heads as Joel’s mau5y ears bobbed in time. WTF? is a group made up of good friends Deadmau5, Steve Duda, Tommy Lee, and DJ Aero. The words that spell out the common acronym and others gradually moved across his cube as alternating red and white lights flashed on the “X” behind him until just “F*ck” flashed repeatedly motivating the young crowd to cheer before Bill O’Reilly’s voice intoned, “There’s no words there to play us out. What does that mean ‘to play us out’? I don’t know what that means. I can’t do it. We’ll do it live. Do it live! Fucking thing SUCKS!” The audience went wild with cheers as they danced harder to the jumping spacey synth lines and steady, rolling beat that thundered on against the rocks.
Deadmau5 mixed in Elton John’s classic “Tiny Dancer” with his own major hit “Some Chords” which was refreshing and unexpected. Currently welcoming his brand-spankin’ new right arm sleeve featuring the mysterious character, Cthulhu, Joel raged with us to “Cthulhu Sleeps,” sending us spiraling into a twisted tunnel that sped up and slowed down but kept us moving. Another way of connecting with the younger audience is through his visuals, which bounced from cartoon mice, starscapes, and flames to spinning abstract 3D shapes and video game replications of Pac Man, Super Mario and Minecraft with a mouse character playing a dominating role in each scene. His visuals correspond to his many tattoos in reference to other games like Space Invaders and Zelda, which brings a fun and unique element to his live shows. Diving into older trancey synth-heavy favorites “Arguru” and “Slip” from past album, Random Album Title, Joel stirred up smiles in those of us who remember their greatness. "Raise Your Weapon" ended with SOFI emerging in a glittering silver hood and barely-there shorts taking the podium at the front of the stage. She sang their hits “Sofi Needs A Ladder” and dubstep-banger “One Trick Pony” from his album 4x4=12. It was a perfect change of pace for the show since SOFI is, let’s face it, a mega-hottie with an amazing voice, sick dance moves, a killer style and a huge appreciation for her fans. With Joel rarely speaking during his set, SOFI gave the audience attention by asking how we were and telling us how much their crew loved Denver and the energy that was coming in waves stronger than the gusty winds blowing Joel’s mau5ears like sails. On Twitter the morning after, he responded to one tweet from a fan @jepatton, who asked why he didn’t wear his head more during the show. He responded with, “coz of the wind! Was blowin everywhere n breaking.” He switched between his expensive LED helmet, his all-white mau5head and a red “In-N-Out” Burger cap that we can assume he recently purchased during his stay in L.A. as he’s mentioned he’s a faithful customer.
After SOFI left the stage, Deadmau5 threw down the drum-filled “FML” and his new online release "Professional Griefers" which contains Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” lyrics sprinkled in its midst. A fan in a ghost costume, which Joel previously wore himself last tour, crept on stage and waved his arms wildly playing eerie sounds on the theremin located on the podium at the front of the stage to ring in the hit “Ghosts ‘n Stuff” from his album For Lack of a Better Name. After a quick bathroom break, Joel climbed onto the podium and spoke for the first real time saying, “Sorry for the freak out, I had to piss so bad. So I’m like freaked out ‘cuz fucking buddy over here [pointing to the smaller LED cubes hanging above his main cube] is gonna fall on my head, all this fucking wind. [Looking back at the crowd] Oh hey what up Colorado?! I’m gonna piss more shit.” His encore included “Animal Rights,” his smash collaborative effort with Wolfgang Gartner and "Get in the Cart Pig," a recent online release. He concluded the epic night at the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheatre with the ten-minute, gradually building masterpiece, “Strobe,” as the grateful crowd cooed and melted into the smooth and intensifying instrumentals. As the song ended, the boisterous crowd got loud showing love to Joel with a mutual passion for the performance that just unfolded, prompting him to walk silly while waving and making a heart with his hands which only incited an utter frenzy of screams.
About ten minutes after finishing his closing song, Joel returned to the front railing where a group of about twenty uber-fans waited anxiously with their mau5heads, while the majority of the massive crowd waited in the stands above to catch another glimpse of the evening’s iconic host. He signed my red sequin mau5head after saying, “Oh I like this one” before quickly moving on. As far as Tuesdays go, this one wasn’t too shabby. Especially when you’re wrapped up inside those Red Rocks. Thanks, Joel.