Deadmau5 at the Movies
The controversial music producer on his favorite film, making music for the movies, and not being Peter Hook.
A good deadmau5 song or album can feel like a story—unfolding layer by layer, building more tension and exhilaration by the second. Deadmau5 is known to create complex soundscapes that pack both the drama of an Oscar contender and the gut-punching action of a summer blockbuster into one song.
It’s no surprise, then, that the Canadian-born electronic sound generator is now expanding into the film world. This past January, deadmau5, née Joel Zimmerman, made his film score debut via Polar, a feature film adaptation of the action-noir webcomic and graphic novel series of the same name from Dark Horse Comics.
Out now on Netflix, the film follows Duncan Vizla (Mads Mikkelsen), the world’s top assassin who’s also known as The Black Kaiser, as he attempts to retire from the hitman life, only to be forced back into the game when battling a squad of younger, merciless killers. To match its heart-pumping pace, deadmau5 composed a fluid soundtrack—comprised of mostly new deadmau5 productions, and officially released via the producer’s mau5trap label—that flows with the film’s drama and intense action sequences.
The soundtrack itself is noticeably different from his discography: Where deadmau5 albums usually feature big, festival-ready beats, the Polar soundtrack features slowed-down, nearly meditative electronic compositions more fitting for an action thriller than a rave.
The film pairs deadmau5 with Jonas Åkerlund, who’s directed Grammy-winning music videos and concert films for the likes of Madonna, Paul McCartney, and Lady Gaga in addition to the 2018 feature Lords of Chaos, set in the Norwegian black metal scene of the early ’90s.
A self-proclaimed gaming enthusiast, deadmau5 recently tripped into a minefield of controversy after using a homophobic slur on live-streaming video platform Twitch, which subsequently banned the producer for violating its anti-hate speech policies.
Following a now-deleted Reddit rant, in which he seemingly cut future ties with Twitch due to their “double standard” toward censorship, an uncharacteristically humble deadmau5 posted an apology on Reddit, saying, “I know what I said was wrong, and my hastily composed non-apology was an insult to injury… This was my worst moment.”
Speaking via Skype from his home studio outside of Toronto (before the contentious Twitch incident occurred), deadmau5 discussed his move into film, and the creative challenges and lessons that came along with it.
Were you a big movie fan growing up?
Nah, I’ve never been a film aficionado. My frequency of watching movies is probably the same as everyone else.
What is your favorite movie of all time?
All time? Man, that’s hard. Man Bites Dog—I like that one.
Does the music or soundtrack ever stand out to you when you’re watching movies?
It hasn’t really until kind of recently. By recently, I mean since Requiem for a Dream. Since Clint Mansell started doing that stuff, especially with Pi, too. That’s when I started to take note. That was the first [time I was like], “Holy shit, this soundtrack is rad.” And then I [started] hearing soundtracks all of a sudden after that movie.
Were you watching any other films or listening to any scores while you were creating the music for Polar?
No. [That’s] like asking a guy who makes music, “So who were you listening to when you wrote your album?” [Laughs.]
It sounds like you’ve been interested in doing a film score for a bit and were waiting for the right project.
What I meant [by] “the right film,” it’s just like the right project settings, really, where I can sync in with the director and kind of pick up on his vibe and get along with the guy and be on the same train car as him—as opposed to just, like, a work-for-hire kind of thing, like, “Here’s a movie. It’s gonna do twenty million at the box office because it’s the sequel to four other movies. Have fun.” It’s art to me, so I want to work with artists.
What was it about Jonas or Polar that really vibed with you? The film itself is super bright and colorful and violent.
“I honestly don’t see myself wearing a mouse head and playing inside cubes for my sunset years, you know what I mean? I’m not Peter Hook.”
Yeah, it’s over the top. I like that, it was just cool. I knew going in that it was just going to be goofy-ass violence and copious amounts of whatever he can get away with for release on Netflix. And Jonas—we’re both kind of musicians. We have this understanding that we connected on that level, so it was pretty rad. He wanted to coax me out of going super electro-guy, and I wanted to coax him into, “Hey, let’s try this and that.” We really gelled in terms of personalities and our workflows and how we get things done.
When I listen to your music as deadmau5, a lot of times the songs or albums unfold like stories. Was there any correlation with the scoring and composing experience and the traditional album-writing experience?
No, not really. Albums are just compilations of shit I did that year; there’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. I just go in my “completed” folder and then say, “Oh fuck, I got twelve tracks. Cool. Let’s mash them together and put an album together.” And if someone wants to say, “Wow, he’s got really great storytelling skills on the album,” then I’ll take it.
There’s a growing trend of electronic producers moving into the film-scoring realm.
Yeah, the market’s dipped. They’re like, “Shit man, I’m getting old. Girls don’t like me. And thirteen-year-olds think I’m washed up. I better go do something with my life.”
Does it have to do with producers growing old, or growing tired of the scene?
You’re a big gamer. Do you see yourself moving into video game soundtracks in the future?
Yeah, I mean a lot of new games are doing a lot of really cool shit with these long-play games. I don’t mean the [first-person] shooters, like [PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds] and Fortnite. There’s no theme to any of that shit. But there are a lot of games that do have these incredibly arduous six-to-twelve-hour-long storyboards, like Half-Life and those early ones. You’re playing a fucking movie at that point. FL