Joel Thomas Zimmerman (a.k.a. Deadmau5), electronic and progressive house music producer, performer, composer (born 5 January 1981 in Niagara Falls, ON). Better known by his stage name Deadmau5 (pronounced “dead mouse”) and signature “mau5head” logo, Joel Zimmerman is one of the world’s top electronic musicians. A leader in the revitalization of electronic dance music (EDM) in the late 2000s, he was the first Canadian artist to sell out Toronto’s Rogers Centre and the first electronic artist to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, which described his sound as a “spacey, melodic brand of fist-pumping house.” His groundbreaking mix of electronic and house music, cinematic original compositions and exhilarating live shows have earned him multiple Grammy Award nominations and several Juno Awards.
Early Years and Career
The son of Rod Zimmerman, a General Motors plant employee, and Nancy, a visual artist, Joel Zimmerman took piano lessons as a child, and grew up with a keen interest in video games and computers. Inspired by video game music, he started making chiptune music from old computer chips at age 15. He furthered his command of the latest digital audio tools while working at a local radio show in his native Niagara Falls. He then became a composer for a stock music company.
In 2002, Zimmerman became known as the “dead mouse guy” after telling people in an Internet chat room that he had found a dead mouse in his computer; he then began using the shortened name Deadmau5 as his chat room username. He released his debut full-length album, Get Scraped, under the name Deadmau5 through the San Francisco-based ZOOLOOK records in 2005. In 2006, he released his second album, Vexillology, through the Toronto label Play Digital. With a glitchy sound inspired by chiptune music and an approach reminiscent of 1990s electronica, both albums are noticeably different from the more nuanced, lush, diverse and expansive approach of Zimmerman’s later work.
His first hit was a collaboration with electronic producer Steve Duda under the group name B.S.O.D. (an acronym for Blue Screen of Death). Released in 2006, “This Is The Hook” originated as a joke, poking fun at how formulaic house music could be. Comprised of an electronic beat and a digitized voice explaining the song’s progression, “This Is The Hook” reached No. 1 on the online electronic music store Beatport. The popularity of the song encouraged Zimmerman to take a career in music more seriously.
“Faxing Berlin” (2007) and Random Album Title (2008)
In 2007, he started his own record label, mau5trap records, and in 2008 he won his first Juno Award for Dance Recording of the Year for “All U Ever Want,” a collaboration with Billy Newton-Davis. Also in 2008, the New York City-based label Ultra Music released Deadmau5’s breakthrough record, Random Album Title. Praised by Consequence of Sound for its “signature electro-whips,” the album helped establish Deadmau5’s signature sound, which Spin magazine described as “densely layered harmonics, a thicket of notes so tightly compressed you simultaneously hear it as a single note and many notes at once.” Rolling Stone called it a “spacey, melodic brand of fist-pumping house.”
The album’s lead single, a fresh, dreamy mix of trance and house music called “Faxing Berlin,” was previously released in Canada in 2007 and went on to reach No. 6 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Songs in 2009. Random Album Title also includes “Not Exactly,” winner of Best Single at the 2008 Beatport Music Awards, and the hit “I Remember,” a collaboration with producer Kaskade that made it to the top of both Billboard’s Hot Dance Airplay and Hot Dance Club Songs charts, and No. 14 on the UK Singles Chart. The album won Dance Recording of the Year at the 2009 Juno Awards.
For Lack of a Better Name (2009)
A hypnotic and continuous mix of songs, Deadmau5’s fourth album, For Lack of a Better Name (2009),samples Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 and features collaborations with producer Rob Swire and MC Flipside. “Ghosts N Stuff,” a collaboration with Swire, reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Dance/Mix Show Airplay chart, and was certified a gold digital download in Canada. For Lack of a Better Name earned the Juno Award for Dance Recording of the Year in 2010. That year, Deadmau5 was ranked No. 6 in DJ Magazine’s list of the top 100 DJs.
Zimmerman’s first mainstream success, 4x4=12 is a catchy blend of techno and house music. The album reached No. 2 on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Albums chart, was certified platinum in Canada, and received a 2011 Grammy nomination for Best Dance/Electronica Album. The song “Sofi Needs a Ladder” won the 2011 Juno Award for Dance Recording of the Year. In 2010, Zimmerman won three awards at the International Dance Music Awards, performed at the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver and was the house DJ at the MTV Video Music Awards. He also played at numerous music festivals, including headlining spots at Coachella and the Electric Daisy Carnival. Also in 2010, he became the first Canadian act ever to sell out the Rogers Centre in Toronto, and the first electronic artist to sell out the historic 19,000-seat Earls Court Exhibition Centre in London, England.
Album Title Goes Here (2012)
Incorporating hip hop and ambient sounds into his innovative style of progressive house music, Album Title Goes Here is one of Deadmau5’s most diverse recordings. Certified gold in Canada, Album Title Goes Here includes collaborations with Gerard Way (My Chemical Romance), Cypress Hill and Imogen Heap. After reaching out to Zimmerman through Twitter, Chris James, a previously unknown producer from California, provided vocals for the song “The Veldt.” The collaboration was ranked No. 48 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 50 best songs of 2012.
Also that year, Deadmau5 became the first electronic artist to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine and was nominated for the Juno Fan Choice Award. Album Title Goes Here reached No. 1 on the Billboard Dance/Electronic Albums chart and received a 2012 Grammy nomination for Best Dance/Electronica Album.
7 EP (2013), while(1<2) (2014) and 5 Years of mau5 (2014)
In November 2013, Zimmerman deleted three years’ worth of songs from his SoundCloud profile and uploaded an EP entitled 7. Each of the EP’s seven songs is named after the Latin words for the seven deadly sins. Featuring melancholic, piano-based ambient tracks, the EP is a departure from Zimmerman’s other work and highlights the diversity of his influences, particularly the classical music that he was exposed to through piano lessons as a child. All the songs but “Luxuria” later appeared on the album while(1<2).
Zimmerman, and mau5trap records as a whole, partnered with the New York City-based label Astralwerks, a subsidiary of Universal Music Group, in 2013. Zimmerman’s first double album, while(1<2), released in 2014, features 25 songs and is nearly two and a half hours in length. The album title is a programming code phrase meaning infinite looping. while(1<2) ranges from softer piano pieces, remixes of Trent Reznor songs and warm synth-filled tracks. Itreached No. 1 on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Albums chart and received a 2015 Grammy nomination for Best Dance/Electronica Album. The Daft Punk-esque single “Seeya,” featuring Colleen D'Agostino,was a certified platinum digital download in Canada.
Deadmau5 released the two-disc retrospective 5 Years of mau5 in November 2014. Along with 10 of his most popular songs, the second disc includes new remixes of his songs by artists on mau5trap records. In March 2015, Deadmau5 and Colleen D’Agostino performed “Seeya” at the Juno Awards ceremony in Hamilton, Ontario. In June 2015, he became the first EDM artist to headline the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.
YouTube Series Coffee Run
In 2013, Zimmerman began his Coffee Run web series. Primarily taking place in his Ferrari 458 Spider, nicknamed the “Purrari,” each episode features Zimmerman interviewing a guest while he drives them to a Tim Hortons drive-through for coffee. Past guests include Pharrell Williams, Tom Green, Russell Peters, Skrillex and infamous Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Zimmerman’s interview with Ford, who was fresh off his stint in rehab for addiction, made international headlines and has nearly one million views on YouTube. Zimmerman sold his Ferrari through Craigslist in 2014 and donated the money to the Toronto Humane Society.
Deadmau5 Logo, “mau5head” and Copyright Lawsuit
After designing the deadmau5 logo in 2002 using 3D-modelling software, Zimmerman was convinced by a friend to turn the logo into a mask, which he first wore at a Deadmau5 show in Halifax in 2008. Newer models of the “mau5head” mask, made by the Jim Henson Company, have programmable LED lights, and come in numerous colours and designs. Many Deadmau5 fans create their own unique “mau5heads” (instructional videos on YouTube have hundreds of thousands of views) and wear them at concerts.
In 2013, Zimmerman attempted to get the American copyright for his Deadmau5 logo, which was already trademarked in dozens of other countries around the world. However, the Walt Disney Company filed a claim in 2014 to prevent him from acquiring a United States trademark because his mouse ears closely resembled those of Mickey Mouse. Disney felt that it would damage its business in the US and around the world. In response, Zimmerman sent an extensive response to the Trademark Office comparing the two logos and claiming that Disney attempted to collaborate with him on multiple projects even after filing the trademark opposition. As of June 2015, the lawsuit remains ongoing.
In 2010, Zimmerman and Tommy Lee were reportedly banned from the Coachella Music Festival by its promoter, Paul Tollett. The pair talked about the incident in an episode of Coffee Run, where they admit to “landing a helicopter in a field with burning vans” and describe how angry Tollett became.
Zimmerman is very outspoken about his opinions of other musicians, and frequently uses social media and interviews to air his grievances. During their Coachella performance in 2014, Arcade Fire’s Win Butler gave a shout out “to all the bands still playing actual instruments at this festival” — a not-so-thinly-veiled dig at EDM. In response, Zimmerman wrote a slew of tweets aimed at the band, such as, “s—t to remember: A computer is a tool, not an instrument,” and “If I wanna watch real artists perform, I'd pick the opera before wasting a f—king minute of my life with Arcade Fire.” At the Ultra Music Festival in 2012, Madonna introduced a set by electronic act Avicii by asking the crowd if they had “seen molly” — slang for the drug MDMA. Zimmerman responded by calling Madonna an “idiot” and arguing that it was a bad message to send to young fans. In a 2013 interview with Vibe magazine, Zimmerman stated that he hates Kanye West and that the music of Mumford & Sons is “boring folk s—t.”
Ironically, despite his success as an EDM artist and influence within the genre, Zimmerman is an outspoken critic of EDM, DJs and other electronic producers. He dislikes being called an EDM artist or a DJ, and feels DJs have no technical merit. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2012, he attacked DJ David Guetta’s live show by claiming that it consisted only of prerecorded music and that Guetta just had to “press play.” Zimmerman has also compared EDM to the short-lived disco genre, believing EDM to be just a fad. In a 2014 interview with Rolling Stone, he likened EDM to a sinking ship, saying, “It’s already been going down the last couple of years, for me. Maybe not in the industry. Maybe there’ll be a whole new herd of sheep following that s—t, and f—g good luck.”
In 2011, Zimmerman was added to the Arts and Culture Wall of Fame in Niagara Falls. Originally, he was not included as the Arts & Culture Committee had already settled on the maximum of six inductees. However, following a backlash from fans and city council members, he was inducted.
To commemorate the launch of Deadmau5’s residency at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, the city’s mayor proclaimed 2 January 2012 Deadmau5 Day in Las Vegas. On 1 July 2014, Zimmerman served as the grand marshal in the Niagara Falls Canada Day parade and received a key to the city.
Dance Recording of the Year (“After Hours”) (2008)
Dance Recording of the Year (Random Album Title) (2009)
Dance Recording of the Year (For Lack of a Better Name) (2010)
Dance Recording of the Year (Sofi Needs a Ladder) (2011)
International Achievement Award (2012)
Best Electro House DJ (2008, 2010, 2011)
Best International DJ (2010)
Beatport Music Awards
Best Electro House Artist (2008, 2009, 2010)
Best Progressive House Artist (2008, 2009, 2010)
Best Single (“Not Exactly) (2008)
Top Electro House Track (“Animal Rights”) (2011)
Artist of the Year (2011)
International Dance Music Awards
Best Electro Track (“Ghosts N Stuff”) (2010)
Best American DJ (2010)
Best Artist (Solo) (2010)