We are on the third floor of the Fillmore Detroit on Friday, Oct. 21, 2011 and the floor is, indeed, swaying perceptibly beneath us with the stomping of the crowd as well as the bass from the stage. Down below, one can almost see the sound waves flowing forth, pulsating the bodies in the crowd and causing teeth to vibrate against each other. It is the kind of bass that resonates through organ and bone, a veritable defibrillator.
I assure the girl that we are at a deadmau5 concert and not experiencing an earthquake.
Joel Zimmerman, the creator and mastermind behind deadmau5, had appeared onstage moments earlier behind a translucent curtain. Backlit by a purple glow, his trademark mouse-head helmet and shining white eyes float eerily in rhythm with electronic chords atop a shimmering, fragmented Rubik’s cube. The volume intensified, the notes held longer, and the crowd screamed its devotion. It felt as if we had been suspended in time when the beat finally dropped. Everyone’s bodies broke against each other like water poured from high above, finally crashing into something solid. The crowd moved and undulated; hands waved through the air in deadmau5’s direction. It was the kind of dance that is appropriated only for this kind of music, a series of half-collapses, stomps, and hand gestures that are meant to indicate approval and pay tribute to the artist on stage.
“It’s all about the light show,” someone screams into my ear. “That’s what it is. You’ll die. You’re going to die.”
Strobe light seizure warnings aside, this person was right. The music is hypnotizing and registers deep, but we are not simply watching a DJ on stage. We are in the midst of what might be a religious experience, lights and visions flashing before our eyes as our bodies move together. Shafts of purple and yellow light pierce the dust and haze like arms reaching for the back of the theatre.
Ten years ago, a production of this technical sophistication, along with a sold-out house, would not have been typical of electronic music. Usually these things are relegated to pop music acts, with their far-reaching appeal and endless budget. Electronic music, meanwhile, spent years growing in basements, clubs and small venues, and has finally begun to proliferate, a point proven by the radio hits laid unassumingly over house beats. Deadmau5 may arguably be the golden boy of his genre, with international success and his current tour, Meowingtons Hax, selling out shows virtually everywhere he goes (he recently did six consecutive nights at the Roseland Ballroom in New York).
Outside, people are breathless and wide-eyed. They have just caught a glimpse of Sofi leaving the tour bus. She walks briskly through a side door, and only those on the periphery take notice; she is one understatedly stylish woman amongst many. But a while later, she struts onto the stage in a silver and black leotard, commanding the audience’s affection and attention during “Sofi Needs a Ladder” and “One Trick Pony.” Deadmau5 even descends the cube and busts a few moves alongside her.
Cries of ecstasy erupt when the crowd recognizes the first few notes of “Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff.” There is an enormous push toward the stage, and even though it is close to 1 a.m., people explode with more energy than they had all night.
After the final note dies at the end of the night and the lights go up, we are all blinking away remnants of flashing strobes from behind our eyelids. I still feel the pulse of the music inside my ears as I walk toward my car, and on the way home, it’s as if the deadmau5 eyes glow knowingly in the form of each pair of passing headlights.