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Deadmau5 on Beefing With Madonna, What He Shares With Dave Grohl, and Why One Direction Are the Future

Deadmau5 / Photo by Getty Images

An EDM godhead in an oversized mouse helmet, Deadmau5 infamously reigns over his empire of Tumblr and Twitter followers with an iron fist and lightning-fast fingers, at least where his keyboard is concerned. The man born Joel Zimmerman recently released his sixth long-player, the cheekily named > album title goes here <, which debuted at No. 6 on Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart. But a steady stream of controversy has accompanied the album’s gestation. When Zimmerman, 31, sees injustice in the electronic world, he responds with unchecked vitriol. But the Mau5’s in-person bite is even stronger than his cyber-squeak. Zimmerman agreed to enter the ring with SPIN on such subjects as his Grammy telecast collabo with a grumpy Dave Grohl, his beef with Madonna over her exploitation of rave culture, his recent designation as one of the richest “DJs” in the game, and his new girlfriend Kat Von D.

Aren’t you trolling fans with this record’s title? It’s not exactly search-friendly.
[Laughs] I know. We did troll science pretty hard with a non-album track “HR 8938 Cephei,” which is a constellation way the fuck out there. You’d only come across it if you were legitimately researching it. Now, if you’re a hardcore astronomer Googling that one part of space, you’re only going to come up with my song.

But this isn’t really a proper album, is it? It’s a compilation right?
It was a tour-heavy year, so I didn’t get time to sit down and make something from start to finish like The Wall. Fuck, last time I said that some dickhead posted an article [in NME] saying, “Deadmau5 compares himself to Pink Floyd.” It’s getting brutal out there. But half the tracks came together in a transparent way, where people watched me make them, and there were earlier versions on SoundCloud. I’m hopeful about now having time off to produce an album no one’s heard. It’d have more allure.

You condemned big-name collaborations on Tumblr, but you’ve got a few of your own.
We’ve got big names working with us, but they’re not on my ‘suck list.’ And the collaborations were organic. I was sitting in Tommy Lee’s basement and Cypress Hill were there hanging out. I threw them this hip-hop-sounding track I’d had forever and said, “Hey, just take it home.” I was really surprised when they came back with a song. Same thing with Gerard Way. We met at a festival and got gnarly talking about the industry that controls us all, and I was like, “Maybe we should do something.”

You Tweeted that you’re done with your label, Ultra Records. What’d they do?
They’re like your phone company: There’s always something to bitch about. They do good things from time to time, like give you phone service, but their goal is to make money. My big thing is when I upload a video, I say, “Listen, whoever puts an ad on this, I’ll fucking kill them.” But Ultra — and I don’t even know if they’re to blame — if you want me as a client, you’ve gotta put up with this. I just need everyone to know [putting ads on videos] isn’t my idea. And my contract is up with this record.

Dealing with Madonna’s fans is an exercise in futility. You’re farting against thunder on that one.—Deadmau5

Do you have to put up with a lot of “Professional Griefers” in your life?
Yeah, but it’s fun, especially if it turns into a competition. Like with Pauly D. He came out with his [“Night of My Life”] video and asked, “What do you think?” I said, “Stop pandering. Engage your fans creatively.” I went as far as to say his fans aren’t stupid, which is fucking generous, and he replied with, “Oh, being hated on by Deadmau5 is priceless.” So that’s when I got mad. We’d already been working on the “Professional Griefers” video, and it later occurred to me, “God, I hope he doesn’t think I went into seven digits on this to show his little video up.” That would’ve been awesome, but it’s not what happened. I’m thinking he can’t be too butt-hurt about it. I mean, the kid’s still doing all right in his circle of fuck.

I’ll say. You both made Forbes’ “Highest Paid DJs” list — you with $11.5 million.
I got an opinion about that too. It’s bullshit. I had to call my manager and say, “Yo! Where’s the other 10?” Sure, we’ve seen $20 million in the past two years, but that’s gone back into the studio, into tours—they cost up to $10 million alone. It’s money in, money out for all of us, but the list makes us look like a bunch of overpaid dicks. The cool thing about it, though, is that it says, “Invest in this shit because it’s hot,” to the idiots with more money than all of us put together. It’s a self-propelling stupidity that’s now influxing big industry money into the previously small EDM market.

Speaking of, you played with Foo Fighters at the Grammys. Were you aware of Dave Grohl’s seemingly anti-EDM rant before you got up onstage together?
No! He came into the dressing room afterwards and said, “I think I said something stupid.” And I’m like, “What’d you do?” I didn’t find out until I was watching the video online later and I was like, “Dave, oh my God, really?” But he’s like me, he shotguns his shit. It’s a quality — maybe not the most admirable quality — we both share.

You know you gave Madonna a pass for pandering to the EDM crowd with her MDMA references, right?
I should have been more relentless, but I thought it looked like I was after attention, and then it became an exercise in futility dealing with her fans. There’s no such thing as winning against 10 million idiots. You’re farting against thunder on that one.

Still, you’ve got sway. The day after your “We All Hit Play” essay where you talked about what producers actually do onstage, Swedish House Mafia announced that they were quitting music. You’re responsible for that!
[Laughs] I don’t think so. They’d had some management issues. But what I did see was a ton of artists writing articles justifying that they actually do something on stage. Sometimes you just gotta kick over the beehive and it brings up shit like that. It educates and infuriates, but what better motivator to get somebody to do something than to piss them off?

Last month, you said you were miserable and needed to unplug.
Why? I got 99 problems, but a bitch ain’t one. I was just in a dodgy-ass relationship then.

You’ve been pretty public about your new relationship with Kat Von D.
I’m super fucking stoked to be with Kat. It was such a breath of fresh air to find someone who’s creative, who’s got ambition. There’s a great amount of deceit that comes to someone with stature and wealth, according to Forbes, and yeah, you could walk into a nightclub and find some blonde who’s like, “Check out that $11 million dick,” but I’m fucking over it. I’d much rather be happy with someone who’s on par.

Mainstream interest in electronic music has come and gone before. What’s your contingency plan if this all goes to shit?
One Direction. That shit’s still hot. The industry has always had a problem with the 18 to 25 market, but EDM is perfect — a unique identifier for a group in that mental and fiscal state; in their youth, but free to do whatever they want. We filled that void. But the industry knows they’ve been missing this market, so they’re taking what we have and mixing it with what they’re doing. Plus, the scene is going to oversaturate within itself anyway. Dubstep totally did. So that hole will close and then be open again for a new thing. It’s just the wax and wane of that odd fucking middle zone.

Have you ever considered releasing a compilation of your greatest rants?
Nah. You know where to find them. That whole thing stemmed from me being in a bad mood with an annoying lady from the Irish Daily Star back in 2008 [when Zimmerman referred to DJs as “fucking cunts”]. That kicked it all off. Honestly, if I had just had a good day that day, I would be Richie Hawtin right now: Cool as fuck, no opinions, just like, “Hey man, I’m in a beautiful place. I’m in Ibiza having a great time.”