Joel Zimmerman, better known around the world as the electronic producer Deadmau5, has created much that doesn’t line up with the electric dance music /angry geek stereotype that sometimes accompanies him on the Internet. Although famous for his “Mau5 head” and the sensory light shows that accompany his latest sounds, Zimmerman has a creative edge that runs a lot deeper than the LED-lit grin of his famous headpiece would suggest.
Musically, while many of North America’s most popular electronic acts get grief for merely playing tracks instead of playing an instrument (as a recent SNL skit pointed out), Zimmerman is someone who has a much more intimate connection to his “beats” than most. With a great deal of high tech knowledge himself, Zimmerman is involved on both a creative and technical level in designing not only his music, but the sound and lighting equipment that define much about his live shows, at some points even developing software that writes music. He can also be creative outside the realm of his normal production style, as the seventeen-minute song 7 demonstrates.
But Zimmerman’s creativity lives in a world beyond music as well. Of his many projects, one of the most recent ones to be seen is his Coffee Run series, where he drives to get coffee with different people, mainly fellow musicians. The drive is filmed with one or two small cameras in the car. It’s in many ways a stripped down and far less performance driven version of the Jerry Seinfeld show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
Although both series are fundamentally built on people of fame somewhat having their guard down in a vaguely coffee-oriented situation, the beauty of Zimmerman’s version is that it’s not sold as a TV show. It’s not sold at all. It’s just posted on the Internet. The most advanced tool in the production of his videos is the car itself, followed maybe by a GoPro.
Best of all is that he doesn’t pry his filmed friends with many typical questions. It really is just a mundane drive to get coffee. There’s no theme other than a rambling conversation. Even if that doesn’t sound absolutely riveting, one could interpret that as the whole point, especially if you contrast it with the aggressiveness of a lot of Internet videos. This contrast is perhaps most clear during his longest video, when Zimmerman spends an hour and a half driving around with fellow electronic musicians Dillon Francis and Skrilllex. The three of them are all known for their sarcastic Internet personas, mocking everything from Taco Bell, to pictures of cats, to brostep. But over an hour in a car gives you a view of them that’s a little messier and more human than any tweet could ever demonstrate. It’s still them being snarky and ironic, but some of that snark inevitably melts away, leaving just a car with three people in it, which for teenagers that idolize these guys, is probably a good thing to see.
Maybe the intelligence of the Coffee Run is that it’s not trying to be anything, or prove any point. It’s definitely something easily over-thought. Even so, a camera fixed on anybody longer than a couple seconds is a fairly intimate situation. That intimacy subtly reveals little details about people, and in a way more closely resembling a Warholish underground film than the abbreviated punch lines that permeate a lot of the web right now. Seeing three guys bullshitting in a car, particularly these three guys, puts a more human face on some of popular music’s most typecast characters. The honesty of it in this particular context is, for lack of a less corny phrase, kind of beautiful.
Many years from now, long after the Deadmau5 gig has run its course, let’s hope that Joel Zimmerman, no stranger to sarcasm, is still injecting creative and thoughtful ideas, even subtly, into a world where irony often comes to us all too easily.