Deadmau5: Album Title Goes Here – review

Dance music has finally conquered the US, and Deadmau5 is its biggest star – but does he really hate the whole scene?

The first single taken from Deadmau5's sixth album was called The Veldt. It features Chris James, a vocalist the Canadian producer discovered via the internet, beatifically cooing about a "happy life with the machines … the world the children made … look at us now, so in love with the way we are".

The lyrics are based on a Ray Bradbury short story, but sound a lot like a celebration of the American electronic dance music (EDM) scene. It's hard to think of a more unexpected turn of musical events than EDM's commercial triumph. For decades, the US remained impervious to the charms of the house music and techno that had been invented under their noses in the 80s. Then suddenly, nearly a quarter of a century after the rest of the world cottoned on, dance music has become very big business indeed.

From the outside, it's inexplicable. Perhaps examining the work of Joel Zimmerman can shed some light. As Deadmau5, he is not only arguably EDM's biggest star – as evidenced by a recent Rolling Stone cover – but also the scene's self-appointed spokesman. He took Madonna to task for the scarcely imaginable crime of mentioning drugs at a rave, suggesting it was akin to "mentioning slavery at a blues concert". It was redolent, he said, of the days when "a dark veil" hung over dance music, before he and others had "taken EDM so goddamn far". By this "dark veil" period, he presumably meant the 35 years when dance music had to content itself with merely providing a glorious, euphoric voice for disenfranchised minorities, being a genuine countercultural phenomenon, repeatedly revolutionising music and changing the face of popular culture. This, of course, was before it found its true, noble calling: soundtracking Las Vegas pool parties and providing music for gurning frat boys to mosh to.

Deadmau5's pronouncements do tend towards the odd. In a certain light, they can give the impression that EDM's top dog loathes dance music. DJs are "fucking cunts … I don't see the technical merit in playing two songs at the same speed together … it bores me to fucking tears". Live dance music, including his own, is essentially a con: "It's not about talent … I just roll up with a laptop and … hit a spacebar." Dance music itself is "just 120bpm with a fucking kick drum on every quarter note". "Fuck dance music, you know?" he told Rolling Stone.

Perhaps this is the righteous iconoclasm of a nonpareil artist, so far ahead of his peers that he can splatter his scorn with impunity. Or perhaps not. Anyone who remembers the glut of electronic albums released in the late 90s might find something familiar about Album Title Goes Here. It keeps doing the things lesser talents signed in the wake of the Chemical Brothers and Leftfield's success seemed contractually obliged to do. There is an awful hip-hop track, featuring rappers some way past their peak: Failbait, with Cypress Hill. There is a bit of waffy ambience with vocals by a female singer-songwriter (Imogen Heap on Telemiscommunications). There is an attempt to meld electronics and hard rock, Professional Griefers, featuring Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance. If it featured a track described as "the soundtrack for a film that hasn't been made yet", he'd have the full house. It doesn't, but it does feature Closer, a track based on the five-note pattern scientists use to communicate with aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which is the kind of idea The Two Ronnies would have come up with had they been called upon to parody rave culture in 1989.

Perhaps Deadmau5 appeals to a middle-American audience traditionally resistant to dance music because he seems to have taken a genre born out of a largely black, largely gay club scene and ruthlessly expunged any lasting sonic evidence of its birthplace. You can hear his style's roots in the big stars of 90s electronica, their respective sounds adjusted to cut them adrift from the music that inspired them. It's the Chemical Brothers without their love for hip-hop and Detroit techno; Daft Punk without their deep understanding of Chicago house; the Prodigy without their roots in breakbeat hardcore. What's left is bizarrely unfunky, unambiguous, unsexy and unreconstructedly macho: Maths or Fn Pig offer a noisy euphoria that makes you think not of the communal transcendence of the dancefloor, but a bloke from sales with his tie wrapped round his head, waving a can of Relentless in the air and roaring. It's house music that Frankie Knuckles wouldn't understand, but Finchy from The Office would get straight away.

For all his dismissal of pop's co-opting of EDM, Deadmau5 deals in an amalgam of sounds indistinguishable from those you'd find on a pop R&B single – the distorted bass wobble of dubstep, Auto-Tuned vocals, 80s synths (including, on Channel 42, the kind of piercing electronic wail that preceded Ray Parker Jr's insistence that he wasn't 'fraid of no ghost), epic breakdowns. All this is set to beats that steadfastly decline to swing, a lock-stepped quick march across the dancefloor. It's The Triumph of the

Deadmau5's album titles – Album Title Goes Here follows Random Album Title and For Lack of a Better Name – suggest a man whose motto is "This'll do", casually knocking out any old cobblers because he holds his audience in contempt. The really weird thing about Album Title Goes Here is that nothing could be further from the truth. It's derivative, cliched and gives the impression of having been made by someone who's never danced in their life, but in a purely technical sense, it's extremely well produced, punchy, powerful, with a strong grasp of dynamics and occasional flashes of a deft melodic touch. Nothing feels careless: a lot of time and effort has clearly been expended on making it as generic and unfunky as possible. It's the sound of a man who knows his market.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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