Usually, I'm a rock and roll fan. Usually. But I like to mix it up now and then, see something I don't usually get the opportunity to see, hear something I haven't heard before. The club scene is rarely my scene, but last Wednesday night, I find myself in the middle of a DJ show at the Fox Theatre in Boulder, CO. To me, this is like being on another planet. It's not the music really, although there is something futuristic and otherworldly about electronica that I find appealing, it's the people who make me feel like I'm in outer space. It's like when you're watching campy old sci-fi movies, and everyone is dressed in strange and often shiny clothes, and you're like, "why the hell are they wearing that stuff?" Then suddenly you're at a DJ show, and people in the crowd are dressed like that too.
But somehow, it makes more sense in the club than in the future. About half the aesthetic of the electro-show is visual, pretty lights, smoke, that kind of thing. The people are just another part of the visual aesthetic, those in their shiny costumes, glitter, and accessories blending into the colorful fabric emanating from the stage. That's the scene, and it's a free for all, a human circus of sorts.
As it turns out, much of the circus is still outside waiting to get in. Sir Thomas is already on stage, pumping out bass that overflows the theatre and escapes into the street. A kid in the crowd is wearing a red, cartoonish mouse mask, paying homage to the night's main event, Canadian born Joel Zimmerman, aka Deadmau5. The crowd is abuzz, people talking about the last time they saw Deadmau5, where they'd seen Deadmau5 before, and how they'd heard he'd got a new mau5 head.
Inside, the crowd is growing tired of Sir Thomas. He's been playing for about an hour by the time I get to the front of the room, and seems to be loosing the entirety of the front row, many of whom are resting their heads in their hands, and their elbow on the stage, looking blankly upwards and maybe tapping a foot or a finger. The most vocal person in the room, who is more than a little insane by the way, boos and heckles Sir Thomas loudly, and I'm sure Sir Thomas is able to hear it. Amazingly, Sir Thomas manages to ignore him. The loud guy has some good points though. "That's the same fucking thing you just played, asshole!" he shouts. Sir Thomas's beats, catchy though they may be, are generic and repetitive, even by dance music standards. There would be a build up of energy and momentum, then the beats cut out while Sir Thomas steers into a trance-like climax. But when the other shoe drops, it's the same exact beat and build up all over again.
Somehow, Sir Thomas stretches this game out for another half-hour, and eventually some guy has to pretty much drag him off the stage after he ignores the five-minute warning given to him 15 minutes ago. Finally the guy behind me shuts up with the yelling, and assumes a personal pride for having forced Sir Thomas off stage.
The gear is all ready to go, and after only a minute or so, Deadmau5 comes out and assumes his position behind the boards. He's wearing a black mau5 head with orange lights, having debuted this particular mask at his Halloween show a few weeks before. His other mau5 heads are blue and white, and red and white. This one has a touch of the creeps to it, a little more frightening and a little less Japanese afternoon cartoon show. Not that I dislike any of the mau5 heads, they add another dimension to the visual aesthetic that is often lacking at the DJ show. Lights, colors, and mean dance beats aside, it's really not all that entertaining to watch some guy fool around with buttons and knobs. Watching a giant stylized mouse with a glowing mouth and eyes, and big cartoon smile fool around with buttons and knobs on the other hand…
Deadmau5 jumps right in with "Sometimes Things Get, Whatever" off his new album Random Album Title. Low, mean, crunchy, and mechanically cold, the spooky mood matches his new mau5 head perfectly. It's all a lot darker and heavier than the studio recordings available on his MySpace page. As with a lot of music, Deadmau5 is better live. It's the full experience. Something about the personality and attitude he infuses into his songs makes him seem more genuine, more real. Carefully crafting his sonic landscape, Deadmau5 elicits something primal in the human spirit, the same force which compels a person to stomp their feet in time the beat of a drum, a force that almost certainly dates back to the dawn on the human species. And boy, do the people dance. The scene is very much like that part in the Matrix: Reloaded (the second one) where everyone in Zion is dancing in some kind of crazy, psycho-sexual orgy, only in our case, without the fire, and without the immediate threat of death-by-robot.
The crowd seethes in time with the music, lots of people are rolling hard, making out and touching each other like high school kids, and some of them are in fact high school kids. Those not intoxicated on the bad stuff are intoxicated by the music, sinking deeper into a frenetic trance. There is something particularly primal about house music, a beautiful contrast to the otherwise post-modern synthesis of machinery and the organic mind. When they get inside you and rumble your whole chest, the heavy beats could almost substitute for your heartbeat, should that feature of your being go out on you for some reason. Occasionally Deadmau5 cuts out the beats altogether, and goes all trancey for a minute or two, building tension and releasing it with a torrent of new drive and energy.
After a while Deadmau5 has to remove the mau5 head, fanning his face and mouthing the words "it gets sooooo hot in there!" to the crowd. Over the course of the next three hours, he takes the mau5 head on and off five or six times, giving himself a chance to breathe now and then. People love the giant mau5 head, and go wild every time he puts it back on. Deadmau5 gets into it too, jumping around, and animatedly turning to look in all directions, his giant round ears cutting huge circles through the air. He drinks Corona in huge gulps to keep cool, and is all smiles in spite of the heat. How could you not smile, controlling an entire room full of people, feeding them out of the palm of your electronic hand? This is his party.
A song ends and the Super Mario Bros. music plays. It was the sad, "you just died and have to start over" music, not the "I just ate a gold star and can run through anything" music, or the "I just made it to the black part at the edge of the screen and that means I won" music. Deadmau5 shrugs, smiles and waves, and walks off stage. The crowd is screaming for more, chanting and clapping. After a few minutes, Deadmau5 reemerges for one last roller coaster of a song before he leaves for good. The crowd clears out eventually and suddenly I'm back on the planet earth, back in my own world and out of the world Deadmau5 created in the theatre.