Deadmau5 and Richie Hawtin Talk 'Digi-Gritty' of Electronic Music in Austin

Richie Hawtin (left) and Deadmau5, in conversation during SXSW

Surely there were major gearheads and big electronica fans who found the discussion between superproducers Richard Hawtin and Joel Zimmerman -- aka Deadmau5 -- at SXSW today fascinating, but for most first-day music-conference attendees and those ending their interactive experience with the chat between the two knob-twirlers, it was mostly an exercise in banality -- through no fault of the two artists, who clearly loved talking with each other. Rather a moderator, who could have brought the duo back on track when they went on nerdist tangents, which took over most of the super-casual talk, could have been useful.

The audience unquestionably agreed: the packed house started shedding attendees nearly as soon as it started, while the twosome talked about the actual brands and model numbers of the computers they grew up using. It continued: what modulaters they use; what issue of drum machine each of them prefer; it was surprising they didn't talk about what brand of microwave they preferred. (It nearly did hit that point: the answer to an audience-provided question about what piece of gear they'd be most sad to lose did yield that actual cooking implement as Zimmerman's answer, though thankfully he refrained from mentioning whether it was a Black & Decker or Sears model).

That said, there were a few moments of brevity. Zimmerman brought up the oft-discussed subject of whether electronic artists are actually performing live by discussing his jealousy of bands who use analog instruments on stage. “One thing that's bothered me about the [electronic music] format -- because of the DJ and the format, it's a continuous show,” he said. “Sometimes [bands] stop and say 'what's up, Cleveland'. There's some tech that's switching effects, and then they start the next song. I wish electronic music had the flexibility to do that.”

To his part, Hawtin -- who released his first record in 1990 -- talked about being a techno forbear, and what that means in a much more crowded (and far more mainstream) electro world. “Part of the reason I liked electronic music in the first place was that I got sucked in,” Hawtin said, of growing up in Canada's tiny electronic scene. “It was really small, it was really underground, and no one else of my friends knew what electronic music was. There were all these different parts of learning [about it].”

Zimmerman also didn't shy away from talking about the piece of equipment that's arguably the most visible reason why he's so successful: the enormous, lit-up mouse head he wears on stage, which's become his trademark (a calling card that, it seems, is both a blessing and a curse.) “[All the time someone will come up and say] 'My five year old daughter loves you',” he said, seemingly a bit perturbed. “Maybe your daughter sees this mouse head -- and she'll like anything.”

And, maybe, someday, she'll also care about what kind of bulbs it uses.