He may not be one for metaphors or lofty album titles, he may not know how to refrain from weighing in on any given subject, he may not really know how to play a bunch of traditional instruments, but Joel Zimmerman, aka deadmau5, is absolutely one of electronic dance music’s greatest producers.
He’s quite prodigious with eight studio albums released in 10 years, a successful label that helped spawn Skrillex and others, and his own music production Master Class series. You get the feeling he does everything the hard way, but he somehow does it so well.
With so many songs under his belt, we at Billboard Dance couldn’t bear to shorten our list of favorites to anything less than 20. Here’s a list of the 20 best deadmau5 songs to date, in our critical opinions. Enjoy, and feel free to disagree.
20. deadmau5 – “Bot”
For Lack of a Better Name is deadmau5’s fourth studio album and one that cemented the noise artist as one of the greats. It spawned tons of hits, and while “Bot” isn’t the LP’s grandest achievement, it is one of deadmau5’s most interesting songs. It’s full of wacky textures and frog noises. It sounds like the tribal music of exotic aliens who dwell in some kind of fantastic cyber jungle.
19. deadmau5 – “Alone With You”
This glittering bit of progressive house come from Random Album Title, deadmau5’s beautiful third LP. The persistent beat keeps bodies moving through the sparkling, melodic mist. It’s the kind of emotional build one happily and aimlessly explores over and over again.
18. deadmau5 – “Closer”
That exciting five-note progression should be instantly recognizable as John Williams‘ alien-speak melody in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Daft Punk also used the sample, officially titled “Wild Signals,” as the intro to its Alive 2007 set, but deadmau5 takes the motif and turns it into something even grander. He deviates after the first two minutes, though those five notes continue to make their way in and out of the melodic lines. Maybe the aliens are listening.
17. deadmau5 – “Snowcone”
The first official single from deadmau5′ latest album, W:/2016Album, earns its name. It’s light and airy atmosphere captures the feeling of a light snow, and as we move forward into the beat, we find ourselves exploring deadmau5 hidden love of hip-hop rhythm. Kanye West and Pete Rock are fans. They shared a video of themselves listening to it in the studio, upon the reception of which deadmau5 announced “Snowcone” as one of his favorite songs on the new LP.
16. deadmau5 – “Infra Turbo Pigcart Racer”
Track five from while(1<2) has got to be one of the most unique weapons in deadmau5′ musical arsenal. At just more than nine-and-a-half-minutes, it tells the supersonic story of, well, let’s pretend it really is a piggy racecar driver. It’s called Fast and the Furriest, and it is all about one adrenaline junky porker who makes his way into the Tron world and unlocks the true supersonic potential of those light bikes. Alright, I just made all that up, but doesn’t it sound like that?
15. deadmau5 – “Hi Friend”
This song perfectly captures the vibe of going out to your favorite nightclub and running into everyone you know and love. Lots of electro, heaps of filters, and dope party raps from MC Flipside.
14. deadmau5 – “Aural Psynapse”
Though it appears on 2011’s 5 Years of mau5 double-disc compilation, “Aural Psynapse” was first recorded and released in 2001 under deadmau5′ former alias Halcyon441, another Joel Zimmerman screen name lost in the annals of time. Proving the old adage that everything old is new again, the single went on to peak at No. 7 on Billboard‘s Dance/Electronic Digital Song chart. It’s a beautiful, emotional song where synths take the lead in all shapes and forms. Definitely a classic deadmau5 atmosphere.
13. deadmau5 – “HR 8938 Cephei”
This stand-alone release never graced an official deadmau5 album. It was one of Zimmerman’s Soundcloud dumps, but it’s nothing to overlook. At nearly 11-minutes long with a distant star namesake, it’s a progressive journey that starts cold and somber, builds into a hopeful, shoulder shaking beat, and here and there blasts the listener with strong, powerful moments.
12. deadmau5 – “Brazil (2nd Edit)”
Whatever happened to the first edit of “Brazil?” Well, deadmau5 decided it wasn’t that important. He might have been right. This track has been sampled by Kylie Minogue, Alexis Jordan, and Taio Cruz. It’s got an infectious beat and an easy-going staccato synth melody. Does it make you feel like you’re in Brazil when you listen to it? It’s a lot cheaper to enjoy than a vacation, in any case.
11. deadmau5 – “Maths”
Who’s ready to get weird? We are, and deadmau5 is bringing the electronic, alien funk heavy on this cut from 2012’s > album title goes here <. It served as the album’s lead single, and originally, it was supposed to be the final track on 4×4=12. The anxious, rising motion of the hook is the stuff dance floor come up dreams are made of. No one can stay seated when a tune like this gets dropped. This weird little tune is a get-up-and-go machine.
10. deadmau5 – “Moar Ghosts N Stuff”
Question: Why does “Moar Ghosts N Stuff” precede “Ghosts N Stuff” on 2009’s For Lack of a Better Name? Answer: Because deadmau5 is a troll, and he does whatever the hell he wants. This creepy organ intro is bone-chillingly cool. It’s actually a sample of Frederic Chopin’s Piano Sonata, Op. 35, No. 2 in B-Flat Minor, if you care to know. The vocal sample is from a monologue in The Brain From Planet Arous, a black-and-white, 1957 sci-fi indie flick. It also is an incredible way for deadmau5 to say “yeah, I just totally changed the game, and I am one of the best ever. Part two comes before part one. -shades fall on eyes- Deal with it.” This motif is one of deadmau5’s most memorable and instantly recognizable melodies. It just had to crack the top 10.
9. deadmau5 – “Sometimes Things Get, Whatever”
Another absolute fan favorite, this one being an early cut from 2008’s Random Album Title. It’s an easy song to relate to. We’ve all been overwhelmed by life to the point that we revert to cold robot mode, right? Zimmerman probably feels this way all the time. He’s totally that perfectionist sound engineer guy who frets over everything. I can’t actually say that with certainty, but c’mon, listen to this. Ironically, it’s a pretty straightforward and simple composition. He’d probably have a big explanation for why that’s not true, of course. It probably took like a million hours of engineering to create this. It’s probably too complicated to explain, so, you know, whatever.
8. deadmau5 – “Animal Rights” with Wolfgang Gartner
Storytime! This jam dropped a couple weeks before I turned 23, and the night of my birthday, I was partying in college, and some drunk frat guy wandered into our after party and heard it was my birthday and decided he was gonna give me a lapdance. So I put on “Animal Rights” and he was like “Hey, I really like this song. Who is it?” And I was like, “Don’t worry about it and take your clothes off.” That has nothing to do with how awesome this Wolfgang Gartner collaboration is, how it’s super funky and was totally exciting and fresh at the time, how it blends Gartner’s signature “complextro” sound with deadmau5’s awesome, techy atmospheres – but then again, maybe it does. Either way, go get a lap dance from a frat boy to it. It’s a pretty fun experience, even though he’s totally feeling himself more than you are.
7. deadmau5 – “The Veldt” feat. Chris James
Grab your reading list. This tune is inspired by a Ray Bradbury short story, also titled The Veldt. That’s more to do with Chris James’ original lyrics, but it’s still totally awesome. You should know Ray Bradbury as the guy who wrote Fahrenheit 451, and if you don’t, get it together! deadmau5 created this song live during a 22-hour livestream. Dude is insane, right? The original version is just more than eight-and-a-half minutes long, and when the radio edit ends at just more than two-and-a-half, you’re like “wait, where is the rest of the song,” but the video is really cool, so we share it with you. This is a majestic bit of music, a perfect combination from deadmau5 and James.
6. deadmau5 – “Some Chords”
I nominate this track for Best Song Title of All Time. Basically every song in the history of ever could have this name, but only deadmau5 was lazy and clever enough to think of it. The chords in question are the backbone for the song, the musical template around which the beat aimlessly meanders. The chords evolve through different instrumentation, all the while the texture accents weave in and out to build the song to an aggressive fever pitch.
5. deadmau5 – “Raise Your Weapon”
Heartbreak is never easy, but the music is inspires is some of the best ever written. “Raise Your Weapon” is a rallying cry, something to cling to in times of sadness. It’s opening piano notes, matched by singer Greta Svabo Bech’s listless vocal entry, welcomes your sorrow, but soon, the song finds strength, just as you will, given enough time. Bech is positively powerful by mid-section, and of course, so is the music, which eventually dissolves into a dubstep breakdown. It grips the listener from beginning to end, and though it’s a rather primitive bit of dubstep, it’s got some of the cooler noises we’ve heard in the garish genre. We’re happy to hear those piano chords finish it out, though. Part of your sadness never dies.
4. deadmau5 – “Faxing Berlin”
Faxing is an outdated form of communication, but it may have still been slightly relevant when deadmau5 first released this track in 2006. Email was totally relevant by then, but old people, you know? Famously supported by Pete Tong, “Faxing Berlin” is actually deadmau5’s first single ever, which is worth celebrating in itself. It’s also the first-ever release from mau5trap records. It’s also a constant favorite among fans, it’s slow build progressive vibe being absolutely quintessential to the deadmau5 sound. It’s one of his chillest, prettiest compositions. It’ll put you in a trance you’ll never want to escape.
3. deadmau5 – “I Remember” with Kaskade
“Faxing Berlin” is beautiful, but “I Remember” is one of the most luscious, gorgeous, all-encompassing electronic tunes of all time. It’s got classic written all over it, from the moment the beat and chords hit your ears, to the transcendent minute vocalist Haley Gibby sings into the mic, on through its full, spell-binding nine minutes. It’s kind of the perfect rave anthem, with soft female vocals whispering vaguely positive messages and chords in the tone of soft blues and whites. Something about it makes me reminisce about raves I went to in the mid 2000s, or maybe that’s just the song’s reminiscent vibe creeping into my head. I see what you did there, guys. Good game.
2. deadmau5 – “Ghosts n Stuff” feat. Rob Swire
Here we are again, these instantly-recognizable synth chords, this moment-defining sound. Of course, this time, we get the incredible Rob Swire, a man who was already a legend for his work with Pendulum, and who would go on to be even more famous as Knife Party. Swire is a beast on this track. This song was originally created at the request of Pete Tong, who essentially dared deadmau5 to make a new tune in time for his appearance on BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix. It’s one of deadmau5’s biggest hits ever, which is more than impressive for a last-minute production. This beat matched with these scream-along vocals makes for one of dance music’s most memorable refrains. It’s a classic. Kids 20 years from now will be like “have you heard Ghosts n Stuff,” and wish they were around to party in 2009, for sure.
1. deadmau5 – “Strobe”
I don’t think anybody would argue against “Strobe” being deadmau5’s best song. It’s iconic. It’s got all the elements that make deadmau5 the producer he is. It’s slow and pretty, it takes time to evolve, it’s got a slow and steady build, it erupts into progressive house perfection, it even carries a bit of hard electro edge. It’s just the jam. It’s such the jam, deadmau5 recently reimagined it for mau5trap’s 100th release, then he gave it away for free because he knew all you fools wanted it so bad. It’s one of those perfect electronic tunes that stays with you forever, and for that, we owe deadmau5 our eternal thanks.