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Computer Geeks Turned Rock Stars

The music industry is undergoing one of the largest shifts in recent history. For the first time ever, the folks behind the mixing board are getting just as much recognition as the pop starlets singing over their beats. In a sense, hip hop was the first genre to bring the producer/writer to the forefront with the likes of Dr. Dre, Primo, and Kanye, but even still the MC was the focal point as lyrical content was the most important aspect of the style.

Now, it is the button-pushers, knob-twisters, and fader-flickers that have taken the reigns of the music industry. As EDM continues to rise in popularity, a new breed of rock star seems to be emerging. These are mostly guys who spent their childhoods taking apart computers instead of learning power chords. Gathering production techniques from dark corners of Internet music production forums, instead of making out with groupies in dark corners of the club. Up until a couple years ago, electronic music production was very much a bedroom hobby for most of the community. Occasionally, if you had some real talent and the right connections, one or two of your singles might be picked up by some obscure European label, and a stream of royalty checks may start showing up in your mailbox, but only if DJs decided your track was worth the purchase. But even this model still kept the DJ relegated to a booth hidden from the crowd, the maestro of the party, not the focal point. As EDM shifts and takes on a new identity in America, a country so deeply invested in our celebrities, it makes sense that the DJ/Producer has moved out of the booth and onto the stage. Because of this, producers who often never intended to leave the confines of their bedroom are being thrust on stage and asked to develop some sort of live performance for a genre that is largely dominated by playing pre-recorded songs over a PA system. While we’re sure Kaskade and Avicii would not claim any reluctance to their newfound stardom; it certainly comes with some bumps in the road.

Take Deadmau5, arguably the biggest star EDM has seen since Tiesto, for example. Deadmau5, a.k.a. Joel Zimmerman, kicked off the electro-progressive-house revolution long before every frat boy in America was womping to Skrillex.

But he got his start as a computer programmer and sound designer. Always having an attraction to EDM after attending some of the illegal ’90s era warehouse raves, he spent much of his free time on music production forums, adopting the handle DEADMAU5 after finding a dead mouse (literally) behind the fan of his computer tower (the ‘5’ was a necessary reduction to stay within the 8 character limit imposed on many early forums). His infamous mau5head has given him and his music an instantly recognizable brand; rabid fan base not withheld, making him the wealthiest of the “new generation” of EDM stars.

For a man who claims to hate traveling, is best friends with his cat, Meowingtons, and really does not seem to like other people, the fame is causing a bit of trouble. Joel Zimmerman is a self-proclaimed “level 60 Troll” and “Professional Hater” (terms that came about in the Internet comment age where trolling is par for the course), and unfairly pointed to as the resident asshole of electronic music. He seems to constantly get into trouble through Twitter, whether it’s calling Madonna out for implied drug references:

Or putting DJ Pauly D in his place:

It is clear that the man speaks his mind and generally doesn’t give a shit what people say. This mindset is something that was ported over from his Internet forum days, as you can find it in any popular comment section across the web. For a man who seems to have his image so well calculated (the mau5head, 3D cube/stage show, and complete control over all his own social media), it is quite interesting and voyeuristic to see his true personality shine through occasionally. Back in February, the pressures of his nearly instant superstar status seemed to catch up as he posted a series of remarks across Facebook and Twitter about his concerns for his physical and mental health, posting “okay, well, after some general tests and crap, CT’s MRI’s apparently “nothing is wrong with me” at a glance. I feel like my body is shutting down on me, doesnt quite feel like a flu or cold, but WHAT THE FUCK man? im exercising now, eating decent, cut back huge on the cokes, smoothies and water… somethings fucking WRONG and its driving me fucking MENTAL. going to get bloodwork done on monday.”

Moving forward, will our generation’s rock stars be like Madeon?

A 17-year-old producer from France who is primed to be EDM’s next breakout star; he’s been piecing together beats on his family computer for nearly as long as producers twice his age. And with his French touch, teenage drive, and pop sensibilities, he’s an easy listen for the mainstream public who has been so indoctrinated by vocal heavy music. But even if the mainstream can start to accept pop music that does not rely heavily on vocals, will his modern performance style of MIDI controllers and a laptop throw the industry for a loop. Are these musicians? Performers? Entertainers? Audio Technicians? Or just some fad we’ll be able to laugh off in a few years?

So just remember, next time you hear We Found Love on the radio, give a little credit to Calvin Harris, the computer geek who put in countless hours of work building the track from scratch, just to have RiRi grace us with her wonderful presence by singing those gorgeous seven words, over, and over again.