“I’m no coach and I’m no pro myself,” Deadmau5 says of his relationship with video games. “I love watching professionals play more than I love sitting there 20 hours a day trying be a pro myself.” On Sunday afternoon, the DJ and Twitter provocateur found time for both, challenging a few professionals at a Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 event in New York City. An hour-long livestream captured every frag, frenzy and headshot. When the competition ended, Deadmau5 spoke to Rolling Stone about selling out, his place in music history and the connection between gaming and EDM.
Why did you get involved with the Call of Duty game?
I’m a video game enthusiast. I love video games! They were a huge part of my upbringing in their early form, when I was all about Dig Dug and River Raid. As they evolved, so did my music-making, and we just kind of grew up together like cool friends. It’s something I do still to this day. When I’m working on something and need to take a little break, I’ll go down and play some video games. It’s just a good time-sink to take your mind off shit.
Do you think your love for video games has influenced your music-making, besides being a distraction?
You know what? In terms of sound, yeah, absolutely. The first video games that I ever played didn’t even have soundtracks. It was just a bunch of blips and bloops, and then as the technology evolved we started hearing soundtracks to early NES titles and Super Nintendo titles. I was actually really taken by the – if you will – soundtrack for Castlevania and Super Castlevania for Super Nintendo. That was like, “Holy shit! These are cool songs!” Now you can just take professional-level recordings as is – sometimes better – and just throw them in games.
So I was like, “Wow! This totally caught up.” And it runs parallel to me. I love making music, and some of mine lends itself to video-game-soundtrack-type stuff. We’ve been back and forth, of course, in and out of each other’s industries, kind of playing off each other. We’re just cool buddies, me and video games. Back in the day we even did a thing for DJ Hero where we went in a mo-cap studio and recorded me “DJ’ing” or whatever.
Another part of video games – and this event in particular – is competition. Does your competitive side show up in the way you approach music?
Nah. Music is 80 percent fun and 20 percent work. Video games for me is all fun.
I think that would surprise some people who associate you with calling other artists out on social media.
Well, with gaming, I’m more into hosting competitions, like the guy who owns the football team. It wouldn’t shock me to see myself in a position where we sponsor some talented young gamers to come and fight the good fight.
There has been a lot of talk in dance music about the cost of touring and people retiring from touring. As you get more into these other ventures, could you see yourself making a move like that?
No, no. Never. No. Because I owe it to my fans to tour. If I wanted to just cash out and do my own thing and go ride ATVs for the rest of my life, then I’d just cash the fuck out and stop spending money in the music and show up to festivals with a couple of USB sticks, stick ’em in the player and just make money like a fucking madman. I’d be Calvin fuckin’ Harris. But that’s not what I want to do. I like the challenges that touring provides: all the logistics involved, all the technology and constantly keeping in the front of production that looks great.
“That’s my goal: to be the guy who unveils that crazy fucking thing that people saw. …”
There were only so many moments in music history where precedents had been set, like Daft Punk in their pyramid and then me with my LED mouse head at Coachella in the cube. I can count that on one hand, how many times those things have happened, across the fucking span of music. That’s my goal: to be the guy who unveils that crazy fucking thing that people saw and then tour it a little while so we can share it with everyone else.
If you want to retire because you’re sick of fucking playing a CD, do it! Fuck, we won’t miss you. Yeah, that was rough for you. Anyways, I have the “me” thing going on, so I’ll just be over there.
Usually a new generation comes up and displaces the older one. What do you do to avoid that, to keep pushing boundaries?
You can of course cheap out on something or not perform to your fullest or not keep updated on technology and just use some existing stuff. But I like to really throw a lot of wrenches in my fucking program just to see if it works. There’s no limit to how hard you can push your shit. I like to talk to my set designers, which is pretty rare for this day in electronic music. I’m no master of any particular trade, but I have knowledge about all of the ones that are involved with putting on production.
What new projects can we expect from you now?
You know what? I couldn’t even tell you because I don’t know myself.