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Beating a Deadmau5

Music | Thursday, April 2nd, 2009 | 8 years, 8 months ago

So I was travelling for business a few weeks ago, and on the plane I was pleasantly surprised to find some techno music on the in-flight entertainment console. Said console locked up and refused to work about midway through each flight, but that gave me the opportunity to listen to much of Deadmau5’s album “Random Album Title”. Some kicking minimalist electro, to be sure, though not the highest fidelity on my cheapo in-ear buds.

Deadmau5 is a Canadian chap so I Wikipediaed him when I got home. He’s just a couple of years younger than me, and lives in Toronto, so I assumed a bit of a kinship with him. After all, Toronto is truly a world-class city, especially when it comes to music, and especially especially in the global history of electronic music scenes as this fair city has producers and DJs to spare. That’s why I was so surprised and even a little betrayed when I read a quote of his (on his Wikipedia page) about his perception of DJing:

It puts me to fucking sleep to be quite honest, I don’t really see the technical merit in playing two songs at the same speed together and it bores me to fucking tears and hopefully with all due respect to the DJ type that will fucking go the way of the dinosaur id like them to dis-a-fucking-pear. It’s so middle man, they’re like fucking lawyers. You need them, but they’re fucking cunts. God bless them they’re my number one customer right so I’m not gonna go diss every fucking DJ. But to say you become this massive up on a podium performer by playing other peoples productions at the same speed as someone else’s productions and fading between the two of them, I don’t get it.

Damn right you don’t get it.

I’ve been on both sides of the fence, having composed a lot of music myself and later dedicating many years to the hobby of DJing, so I think I’ve earned my fair say on this matter.

Deadmau5 is full of it. For many reasons. Here’s the first and most important:

DJING IS VALID.

DJing is a means of creative expression and performance that takes sense, skill, practise, and a gift. Not just anyone can do it at all, fewer can do it well, and no two DJs will exhibit the same technique. One’s technique and style are uniquely theirs, and these are things that change and mature with practise and age, no different than any other creative expression.

I’m irritated by those who say that DJing is no more than putting two songs together, and that a DJ is nothing without the works of others. To me that’s as vapid a statement as calling Deadmau5 a biter because his songs use the 4/4 time signature, or berating Douglas Adams for writing stories in English rather than inventing his own language. Venetian Snares uses 7/8 time signatures, and Anthony Burgess uses a lot of slavic and made-up words in “A Clockwork Orange”, and good for them, but they’re by no means the epitomical figureheads of their respective media.

Creative expression is all about displaying contrast by means of a point of reference. You start somewhere familiar to your audience, and you add an element of personality so that people understand the perception you are trying to convey versus that starting point.

  • My song is about how much I love my girlfriend and how we will be together forever.
    • My song is about how much I love my girlfriend, but tragedy struck so we cannot be together.
      • My song is about I hate my ex-girlfriend, but tragedy struck and she died so now I’m happy.
        • My song is about how much I hate my ex-girlfriend, but I use all major chords which makes the song sound ironically happy.
          • My song is about how my abusive relationship is an allegory for how propaganda distorts perceptions of fascist dictatorships.

These are all examples of songs, but they can’t be considered entirely original because they all use the same basic themes. However, each iteration has additional meaning as contrasted with its predecessor. If one is familiar with this history, their appreciation would be all the richer.

Deadmau5 does not exist in a vacuum that exempts him from this. From what I’ve heard of him his style is consistently minimal electro techno. The very name of this genre denotes the major iterations that occurred before he picked up the ball. I’d love to play some excerpts with more specific examples, citing histories behind his patterns and even his very instruments, but Deadmau5 strikes me as the litigious type.

His biggest hypocrisy is, obviously, the fact that his album “Random Album Title” is beatmatched and mixed. There is no flare or style to these transitions – they are clinical and utilitarian. This is precisely the sort of inanity Deadmau5 complained about. I can think of only one reason he would make this decision if not for artistic merit, and that is to ruin the beginnings and ends of each song on the album so that DJs will have to buy the single.

This is only my presumption, but I cannot respect any artist who sacrifices artistry for profits.

I initially enjoyed listening to this album, but I see it in a new light now that I have some back story. I can’t see this album as anything but the half-assed embodiment of everything the artist himself hates. Instant turn-off.

With the definition of poor mixing in mind, what is a DJ and what do they bring to the tables?

A DJ is a musician, first and foremost. The DJ collects music and weaves them into a contiguous production of his or her personal design. Like songwriters who choose instruments and weave them into songs, the order and means of playing a collection of songs is what makes all the difference between two DJs. A DJ’s technical abilities, creative decisions, and the moods they convey will attract some listeners and repel others.

Closed-minded people will say that all DJs do the same thing, just as easily as one unenlightened person might easily say that all hip hop is the same. Sweeping generalizations about vast genres are rarely true.

I’ll address 2 of Deadmau5’s specific comments. First:

I don’t really see the technical merit in playing two songs at the same speed together…

I don’t even know what he means by “technical merit”. Most (but not all) people focus their concentration on non-technical elements of music; more the mood and message, I’d think. Still, to my ears, it’s far easier to detect the minutiae of a DJ than that of a songwriter – thanks in no small part to the fact that the DJ does his thing live, in real time.

Still, as I’ve already mentioned, it’s the context of interposing one song with another that is significant. Let’s say I have two CDs side-by-side on my shelf: the self-titled album by the band Garbage, and the soundtrack to the stage musical Grease. A music enthusiast might infer that I have a preference for powerful female lead vocals, while a less-informed person might see only the title of each album and assume I enjoy living in squalor.

To his second point:

But to say you become this massive up on a podium performer by playing other peoples productions at the same speed as someone else’s productions and fading between the two of them, I don’t get it.

This is two points I suppose. As for an entertainer – ANY entertainer – being treated as someone truly important, I must agree that it is a superficial, superfluous job and the world would be little worse without any one such individual. But the inference that all a DJ does is fade between songs is what I take exception to, and I’ve got the wherewithal to back up my claim.

http://blog.demodulated.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/juggling.mp3

This is an excerpt from one of my occasional internet DJ shows (www.radiogrounds.com ftw!). I’m mixing between two songs that I love and am very familiar with. I know from experience that these songs are complementary and sound good while simply overlapped, playing at the same speed at the same time. However, to do so would be basic and uncreative – simply the bare minimum effort that one might call DJing. I apply my knowledge, technique, and love to this scenario and add a little flare, challenging my listeners to keep up with me.

Naturally it’s not always the case with all types of music but Deadmau5 himself admits to being popularized thanks to the promotional efforts of DJs, punctuating the symbiosis and not reliance of one upon the other.

No one pursuit is more valid than the other, and they can coexist just fine without an artist and DJ ever having to co-operate or compromise or endure the arrogance of the other.

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