Any nerves at the prospect of meeting deadmau5, famously temperamental dance producer and star of so many internet and real-life feuds, tip over into excitement with the promise of getting close up to his Ferrari.
Or “Purrari”, as the man also known as Joel Zimmerman calls it — a svelte Ferrari 458 that he’s had wrapped in the most ridiculous imagery. It features a pixellated picture of the cutesy, supremely irritating meme known as Nyan Cat. Even the horse-doing-a-wheelie logo has been replaced by cat silhouettes on the bonnet and wheels. “People love it when they see this car,” deadmau5 tells me. “Everyone’s got these smooth racing lines and cool vector art, and I’ve decided to go in completely the opposite direction.”
I’m not so sure about the petrolheads; they might feel that he’s made a beautiful vehicle look a bit silly. But the 33-year-old from Niagara Falls, Canada, is obviously something quite different from the average supercar-owning millionaire.
And there are plenty of those at the Gumball 3000, the rally for rich boys and their shiny toys that passed through Regent Street last weekend on the way to its Ibiza finale. The DJ said to have earned $21 million last year has been hanging out and comparing horsepower with Tinie Tempah, Jonathan Ross, rapper Xzibit and David Hasselhoff. He’s been throwing his considerable wealth around more than any of them too, earning the “Spirit of Gumball Award” for spending almost a quarter of a million pounds on the various charity auctions that took place along the way. He bid almost £50k to become the proud owner of Hasselhoff’s Baywatch shorts.
I catch up with the pageant at Dunsfold Park in Surrey, the Top Gear racetrack. I park my car at the far end of the aerodrome complex. It is imperative that deadmau5 does not see that it is full of twigs and bracken and unicorn storybooks, and has a spider living in the wing mirror. He’s busy hitting 172mph on the runway. His car is supposed to be able to reach 200 but he thinks it needs a longer run-up.
His publicist, who is delayed, phones to urge me not to approach him without an introduction. He apparently threw a wobbly about having his photo taken in Golden Square that morning and further wobblies are not beyond the realm of probability. Before I meet him I must undertake a thorough briefing, not unlike the health and safety talk you might receive before going scuba diving with sharks. This includes not asking personal questions — he and celebrity tattoo artist Kat Von D got engaged and then broke up very publicly on Twitter last year – and being extra careful about how I approach the EDM thing.
Electronic Dance Music might be a clunky term for the sound that is booming in America but that’s not the issue. The problem is that the giant mouse head deadmau5 wears on stage is EDM’s most recognisable symbol and as talismanic to today’s clubbers as Daft Punk’s robot masks are to an earlier generation.
Yet deadmau5 gives every impression of wanting nothing to do with the vacuous, hands-aloft antics of his party-starting DJ peers. He hates those guys, notoriously describing them as “f****** c****” back in 2008. “I don’t really see the technical merit in playing two songs at the same speed together and it bores me to f****** tears,” he said then. He prefers to be recognised as a producer who generally doesn’t play other people’s music at his shows.
Other entertaining insults have included dismissing big hitter Afrojack’s music as “McDonald’s” and Swedish House Mafia as “show-pony shit”.
You will understand where the nerves are coming from. But when we’re finally formally introduced (wary handshake, gentle negotiation about length of time he must endure interrogation, tempered by the appearance of chips and a Sprite), he’s not as prickly as I’d been led to believe, though his mix of distractedness and sarcasm admittedly isn’t the dream combination.
When I ask why I’ve been granted this rare interview, he replies: “Why not, it’s the Guardian, right?” Thin and cadaverous in trainers of different colours, a black baseball cap and a T-shirt proclaiming allegiance to US horror punk band The Misfits, he’s also covered in enough tattoos to land him a job as a circus freak if this music lark doesn’t work out. These include a giant green space invader hunched on one side of his neck, and a paw print and the word “Meowski” on the other.
Today’s dose of venom is reserved for dance music festivals. He’s the main draw at London’s largest electronic music festival, South West Four, later this summer but seems mainly to have it in for the kind of all-night carnivals that have become so huge in the US.
“It’s another thing I can’t f*****’ stand, you know? Festivals are being branded bigger than the acts, which is totally backwards in my head,” he spits. “It’s ’cause of those acts that you’re a festival! Who wins? The promoter. The guy who’s throwing this festival that’s branded bigger than you, that you think you’re awesome for headlining. It’s a shame, so that’s why I’m pulling out.”
He means that next year he is striking out alone, planning a giant solo tour without so much as a support act, that has already been two years in the planning. “The show is gonna be a whole lot better than all eyes on you in some confined cube. It’s gonna be way more immersive. It’s in the round. We have Hollywood screenwriters coming up with a script. We have Chris Ha over at Blizzard [the video game developer] doing storyboards for it. We’re producing it like you’d produce a film. I’m really excited about it because it’s a sink-or-swim thing. Even the accountant’s freaking out.”
Is he looking at taking this extravaganza to stadiums? “It has to be, with the way this production’s laid out.” Don’t doubt him. He’s already done his own massive London shows at Earls Court and Victoria Park. That grinning, flashing mouse head is just one aspect of a blinding spectacle to match any rock or pop production. His music, which sits closer to harder, serious techno than the poppy lovefests of so much EDM, has a raw power that bashes concertgoers over the head.
His fans are obsessive, many making mouse heads of their own or getting tattoos of his logo, not least because of the amount of direct contact he gives them. Ways to get close include becoming one of his 2.8 million Twitter or 945,000 Instagram followers, or signing up to pay $4.99 a month for the endless streaming content on his personal website.
While we talk, a cameraman films the entire thing over my shoulder for use on deadmau5.com. His Gumball journey has been streamed live and uncensored from inside his car. He’s even an interviewer of sorts himself — check out his Coffee Run series on YouTube, in which he takes fellow musicians including Pharrell, Tommy Lee and Zedd for a drive and a chat.
In fact, I can think of few musicians with such a powerful sense of their own brand. It’s going to ensure his survival if EDM, with its private jets, multi-million dollar live events and lucrative Las Vegas residencies, turns out to be a fad, which deadmau5 is certain it is. His disconnection from the scene has long been apparent. Now he is sounding its death knell.
“As they say, the rat is the first one to jump off the boat when it starts going down, and that’s kind of what’s happening. 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 shit, and f****** good luck,” he says. “Disco had a longer run than EDM has, to be honest about it, and that died in a f****** hurry. EDM is way more susceptible because that was in a time when they didn’t have mass social media and all that shit. It’s not gonna be me saying, ‘OK, EDM’s done’, and the whole thing falls apart, but I think it’ll eventually f*** itself so hard.”
Listen to his new album and you can almost hear him saying goodbye to the rest of them. Some of his previous long players gave the impression that albums are a bit of an afterthought for him, with names such as Random Album Title and Album Title Goes Here. While(1<2) (read that as “While one is less than two”) has 25 tracks, is close to two-and-a-half hours long and features contemplative piano pieces, melancholy electronica and a Nine Inch Nails cover. “The person who’s never heard my stuff before is hopefully gonna get surprised by the fact that it’s not just ‘dance’ music,” he says, the word “dance” dripping with distaste.
Then he’s back to his preferred topic of supercars and off to theEurotunnel and Paris, then Barcelona, then Ibiza. I want to know how what happens when the driving stops and the partying starts but, disappointingly, he says he hasn’t done much of that. “I quit drinking a couple of years ago so I just find myself standing around with my hands in my pockets.”
I get my picture taken in the Purrari and a semi-friendly farewell. I have failed to join the exclusive club, which counts Madonna and Justin Bieber among its members, of people who have fallen out with deadmau5. There could be more opportunities, though. Dance music’s fortunes may ebb and flow but the mean man with the mouse head is going to be around for a long time to come.
While(1<2) is released next Tuesday on Virgin EMI; deadmau5 plays the South West Four festival, Clapham Common, SW4 (0871 220 0260, southwestfour.com), August 23-24.