These days, electronic music shows draw increasingly eclectic audiences. Found bumping and grinding in the sweaty masses are veteran ravers, eager bloggers, lascivious teenagers and scatterings of spunky old folks.
But on Wednesday night’s sold-out show at the new Fillmore Silver Spring, attendees young and old had something in common: they all wore green glowsticks in the shape of mouse ears. From a distance, the throng resembled an alien army dispatched to the venue to greet their leader:a supernatural, zippy mouse who reigns from atop a large cube.
Joel Zimmerman, the Canadian electronic producer better known as Deadmau5, has become a dance music icon, of sorts. Thanks to his creepily endearing trademark — a demonic Disney-like mouse head that he dons during his sets — he has successfully branded himself to near universal recognition in just a few years. Now, his signature silhouette is everywhere, including the heads of his cult following.
Currently on his Meowingtons Hax Tour, Deadmau5 played two back-to-back shows in Silver Spring this week. Even though this wasn’t his first time in the area — he sold out three consecutive shows at the 9:30 Club this summer, weeks in advance — Wednesday’s crowd felt unacquainted and starstruck: they danced less and gawked more, ultimately dissolving into asea of flashing camera phones for most of the two-hour set.
In their defense, this was not the mouse they once knew. What began as a simple piece of headwear has evolved into a full-on alter ego. The old mouse, simple and silly, was primarily an arbiter of dark, loud dance parties. The new mouse, however, means business. He comes with an elaborate trio of light-up cubes (up two from before), an animated light show that rivals any planetarium and a brand new mouse head, which itself projects a mini-light show that mirrors his dizzying backdrop.
He’s also sexing things up; Sofia “SOFI” Toufa, a saucy female rapper who appears on two of his dubstep-heavy tracks, briefly joined him on stage in a hooded leather leotard and heeled boots. Before long, the old mouse began to feel like a children’s Halloween costume.
Why the frills? It could be that Zimmerman feels pressure to differentiate himself now that DJs are increasingly ubiquitous. It could also be a strategy to keep him on par with producers like Skrillex and Diplo who deliver more sonically diverse sets. (Generally, Deadmau5 plays exclusively his own tracks and can sound monotonous by comparison.) By evolving his shows from dance parties to full-blown spectacles, he offers something others don’t.
It’s hard to say whether he’s compensating for something or going the extra mile, but the show was indeed spectacular. It was also a reflection of the man behind the mask:quirky, charmingly nerdy and at times, downright weird. In “To Play Us Out,” he looped a viral Bill O’Reilly rant over pulsating bass lines. During a remix of “Some Chords,” the lights on his mouse head mouthed Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” while pixelated Nintendo figures flashed in the background. And for “Ghosts N Stuff,” his biggest career hit, he took the stage in a white sheet and made spooky sounds into his microphone.
All the while, he spun from his cubic cockpit, the captain of a grooving spaceship floating through his twisted world, a virtual reality where aliens run wild and video games come to life. This is Mau5 2.0, a revamped rodent whose shows are now a feast for the senses, not just the ears, and who has something for just about everyone, both the die-hard and the newly curious who have come to see what all the fuss is about.
Change can be hard to swallow for old fans, particularly when it involves a crossing over into the mainstream. But Deadmau5 is evolving into uncharted territory, boldly going where no mouse has gone before.