Annoyed Deadmau5 marks 25 years and a Hall of Fame induction

A 20-minute mostly unprintable conversation with one of Canada’s finest
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Music producer and DJ Joel Zimmerman, known as ‘Deadmau5’, poses for a photograph in Toronto, June 4, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

Deadmau5 is unhappy.

At the very least, Canadian music producer Joel Zimmerman is extremely agitated.

Without his infamous mouse head to hide behind, his displeasure is obvious as he saunters into the green room at Canadian Music Week. Two things are on the agenda for the next hour — photos and an interview about his impressive career as a music creator.

Might he consider taking photos first?

“I don’t give a s—t,” the Niagara Falls, Ont., native mumbles, digging into a bag of Doritos.

His publicist interjects.

“Let’s give a minute,” she says before turning to him. “You can have a snack. Whenever you’re ready.”

What unfolds over the next 20 minutes is a mostly unprintable conversation layered with so much foul language it would probably make Quentin Tarantino blush.

Anyone who intently follows Zimmerman’s career likely knows the 43-year-old is allergic to interviews. He rarely does them. When he agrees, it often seems like he’s having a tooth pulled.

But on this day he’s got reason to celebrate: an induction into CMW’s Music Industry Hall of Fame, joining an acclaimed list of Canadians including Gordon Lightfoot, Rush and Alanis Morissette.

The honour marks his 25th anniversary in music, a milestone he says is pegged to 1999 when he first copyrighted a song under one of his previous aliases and nearly a decade before his single “Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff” became a worldwide dance hit.

To recognize the quarter-century mark, he’s traversing the globe with a tour dubbed Retro5pective: 25yrs of Deadmau5, performing shows as far away as India, one of his favourite places to eat.

He’ll return to Canada for summer festivals in Holland Park, B.C., and Calgary, and eventually retreat to his mansion outside Toronto where he’s collected an array of rescued animals, including two horses, three goats and a fancy ball python.

The music industry machine would suggest it’s in Zimmerman’s best interest to make the rounds at this CMW induction and offer a few pleasantries. He’s agreed to at least make the rounds.

Earlier, he took part in a 45-minute fireside chat at a Toronto conference centre in front of a few hundred music industry players and fans.

Dressed in mismatched black and red hightops, tattered jeans and a T-shirt, Zimmerman walked onto the stage to a bombastic round of hype from the host.

With his language cleaned up, he talked about the value of musicians owning their master recordings, his decision to live in Canada despite his success, and pondered one day playing the newly minted Sphere in Las Vegas.

He recently toured the colossal $2.3-billion venue with its technology team and imagined how mind-blowing its wraparound screen and cutting-edge sound system would be for an electronic show. One of the hurdles, he said, is making his grand ideas profitable.

But the conversation went south in the final minutes as Zimmerman rose from the couch to fact-check his interviewer’s notes. When the 45-minute clock ran out, he proclaimed, “Time’s up” and bolted from the stage without a goodbye.

Now walking into the green room with a Tim Hortons cup in his grip, all those swears bottled up from the stage were about to spill out. He snatches his bag of chips off the table and slumps down in a chair. Once he’s finished his afternoon snack, he agrees to pose for pictures.

This, too, appears painful.

“I’m not a f—king Ken doll,” he tells the photographer when asked to change his position slightly.

A minute or two tick by and Zimmerman becomes more irritated as the camera snaps.

“Are you doing a whole coffee table book?” he asks.

Walking back to his chair, the musician positions himself for an interview that quickly turns combative. He interrupts questions before they’re finished and challenges any word he considers vague.

It’s hard to believe he wants to be here. Does being inducted into the Hall of Fame even matter to him?

“Of course it f—king matters,” he scoffs.

“Because it’s just things I’m going to look back at and think, ‘(Wow), that’s amazing what I’ve been able to achieve.’”

He’s achieved a lot, for sure.

When his name first started circulating in the Toronto electronic music scene Zimmerman was an enigma — his colourful, illuminated mouse headpieces a unique and recognizable brand that both concealed his identity and provoked curiosity from clubgoers.

But Zimmerman’s compositions dispelled any suggestions it was mere gimmickry.

In the underground scene of the mid-aughts, his instrumentals “Faxing Berlin” and “Vanishing Point” were recognized as unique and meditative creations that worked their magic best in the darkest hours of the afterparty.

Many of those early songs were drafted in his mom’s Niagara Falls basement before his career started picking up and he moved to a tiny apartment in Toronto. He remembers those city lodgings as practically unlivable, but an early sign of his independence and a chance to “have chicks over whenever I want.”

Deadmau5 crept into the electronic mainstream around 2008 with “I Remember,” a slow-building piece centred around angelic female vocals. The song, co-created with frequent collaborator Kaskade, is now deemed a contemporary club classic.

“Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff” followed soon after, and he built his self-created independent record label Mau5trap with his own tracks as he supported a deep roster of other young creators, including Rezz, Sydney Blu and Tinlicker.

At the peak of his popularity, Deadmau5 sold out Toronto’s Rogers Centre and remains the only Canadian act to do so.

Ten years ago, when a more spirited Zimmerman appeared at CMW to discuss his flourishing career, he revealed to host Jian Ghomeshi that his accountant said he already had enough money to retire from music.

He didn’t plan to, however, since there were many ideas he wanted to bring to fruition.

It would seem Zimmerman spends little time glancing back on those early highs.

“I don’t,” he confirms flatly.

Doesn’t marking a 25th-anniversary force him to reflect?

“Yeah, because you’re forcing me to,” he chuckles, firing off an expletive under his breath.

“I don’t sit at home, eat peanut butter and just reminisce while my cats are hanging out and I’m watching ‘Star Trek.’”

OK, so what’s important these days?

“Just health,” he answers. “Health and happiness is starting to kick in as what’s really important.”

Why would he choose those words?

“Why?” he returns with another scoff. “You think I’d be … happy with stage-four cancer in a hospital bed?”

Zimmerman concedes there’s some privilege in his response. After all, he notes while unloading another swear, it’s “easy to say when you made a (boatload) of money.”

His final rebuff comes after a question about his enjoyment of trolling fellow artists, usually on social media but occasionally during his shows.

Most recently, he captured attention for one of his burns aimed directly at fellow Canadian Grimes during his set at Electric Daisy Carnival in Vegas.

The Vancouver electro-pop artist had already been skewered online for fumbling through technical issues during her debut DJ set at another festival.

Zimmerman twisted that knife at his own show by running a mocking video of her bungle as he dropped a pounding club beat. Was he taking a shot at Grimes as one of the growing number of celebrities who, despite their inexperience, seem to think they’re DJs? Not really, he says.

If anything, Zimmerman seems annoyed at the snobbery of such a question and adopts a mocking prim accent.

“I take my partying very seriously when I go the electronic music show,” he says, pounding the table.

“Tell you what, interview me a year from now and ask me how much anyone gives a (heck) or even remembers that.”

“It’s just fun, OK?” he adds. “And heaven forbid we have a little fun, some screaming and some laughs at a music festival. It’d be really weird if we didn’t. It’d be very unmemorable if we were all very serious.”

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