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Ultra 2013: Deadmau5 Proves He's a Real Person, Rejects the Easy Headliner Gimmicks

How quickly some stars have ascended in the EDM boom. Just a few years ago, in 2009, Toronto-based producer Deadmau5 could be found at Ultra Music Festival on the live stage, essentially opening up for Simian Mobile Disco. Last night, though, trying to get the main stage to witness his fest-closing set was an exercise in carefully ignoring claustrophobia.

Tens of thousands of revelers squished body to body in the surrounding field, sharing sweat and vibes as they cheered, recorded, and Instagram-ed Joel Zimmerman's every move. Seriously, Deadmau5 could have showed up and played a polka and kids would have still gone insane, by their level of rapt, devout attentiveness.

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So what inspires this devotion? Well, a lot of it seems to be that Deadmau5 comes off as a real person -- despite that Mau5 head! -- instead of taking on that demi-god persona that so many other main-stage DJs seem to like. You won't find him doing that worship-style arm-raise move or seeming to pat himself on the back. Instead, last night, there were actually a lot of awkward, confusing shuffles around the stage. Deadmau5, maybe he's really a slightly geeky computer nerd, like many of us!

But there's also the music, of course, which boasts big, ridiculous melodies, and the occasional anthemic lyric while still managing to hold on to some semblance of subtlety. As a festival performer, in fact, he even seems to revel in bucking the trend toward fist-pumper after fist-pumper.

Deadmau5 has admitted he's not a DJ, and he's said, in the past, that "of course he just presses play," because the point is for fans to hear the tracks in a loud, massive communal setting. Yet last night, there was still some of a proper DJ's structure to the set. It would have been easy for him to come out with the obvious wallop of "Strobe" or another mega-hit, but instead he started things off very techy. And for him, the lead-in was even relatively minimal. The focus was not on synth flourishes as much as the rhythms and a slow burn.

In fact, it proceeded that way throughout the set. For every supereasy part to latch onto, like the vocal-heavy "Raise Your Weapon" or the hit "Sometimes Things Get, Whatever," there were longer, carefully building parts. Monitoring the Twitter conversation, there were fans who dubbed this boring, but it was a slick move on the artist's part.

A lot of dance culture is based around keeping a relatively long attention span for a DJ (or producer) to do proper work. And perhaps by avoiding a total hit parade, Zimmerman is trying to steer things, ever so slightly, back there.

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