deadmau5 is well-known as one of EDM’s most irascible figures: His rants are legendary, his feuds are legion, and he even pokes fun at himself in titles that double as wearily self-aware in-jokes (a 2018 collection of orchestral reworks of his music is called where’s the drop?). At the same time, the Toronto producer (born Joel Zimmerman in 1981) is responsible for some of the most sentimental EDM of the 21st century, draping wistful melodies and spine-tingling counterpoints over rock-steady progressive-house grooves. He got his start in the '90s, turning out lo-fi club tracks with rudimentary software, and by the mid-2000s, he’d parlayed his skills into a powerfully punchy take on electro-house, putting gargantuan synth sounds atop jacking drum-machine rhythms. But his 2008 album, Random Album Title, marked his first major breakthrough: The squelchy “Sometimes Things Get, Whatever” captured a newfound sense of fun, while the Kaskade collaboration “I Remember” took his melodic instincts to wistful new heights. With 2009’s For Lack of a Better Name, he just kept pushing outward—“Ghosts ’n’ Stuff,” featuring Pendulum’s Rob Swire, is a thrilling fusion of alt-rock and EDM—even as tracks like “Strobe” doubled down on his classically inspired melodic gifts. Since then, he’s gotten noisier (“Sofi Needs a Ladder”), flirted with dubstep (“Raise Your Weapon”), experimented with ambient (“Coelacanth I”) and techno (as Testpilot), dabbled in disco (“Cat Thruster”), and doled out more than his share of floor-fillers (“Imaginary Friends,” “4ware,” “Phantoms Can’t Hang”). Throughout it all, he’s remained one of electronic music's most reliable artists—a notoriously self-critical figure whose admitted neuroses further fuel his excellence.
- Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
- January 5, 1981