All photos by Nieto Dickens. See more of his photos at No Sleep NYC
At music festivals, no one could ever confuse the main stage for a silent disco. One is the screaming heart of the action, usually sponsored by some big brand, while the other is an inaudible mosh pit, usually sponsored by some expensive headphone company. But in the final hours of Saturday night at Governors Ball 2015, they might as well have been the same thing, as thousands of people awkwardly jumped around in silence after the power cut out at the launch of Deadmau5's much-awaited new rig, dubbed "The Thunderdome."
Pockets of the crowd launched into an a capella version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" or (what else?) "Seven Nation Army." I caught snippets of words like "awkward" and "disaster" as groups weaved towards the exits. Someone behind me quipped, "Bring Björk back out! She doesn't need power—just wind and energy." After multiple failed attempts to restart the show, the booing began.
Before blowing the power, Deadmau5 was blowing minds, kicking things off with a lattice of lights that shimmered over a massive geodesic structure called the Thunderdome—a nickname that references both the steel fighting cage in Mad Max and the iconic 90s Dutch rave. Then, the dome started pulsing along to melancholy synth chords, what has become Deadmau5's signature sound. A raised platform piled with custom-made, black-and-white 'mau5 heads imported from his Hakkasan residency completed the spectacle. This technological masterpiece made the other headliners' setups—including Drake's use of colored lights and a whole rainforest's worth of fog—look practically basic.
After warming up with a few uplifting hits like his 2008 Grammy-nominated remix of Morgan Page's "Longest Road," Deadmau5 was still M.I.A. onstage. At least, that's what the audience thought.
Then came the big reveal: two halves of the dome yawned open, revealing a smaller dome inside. That dome also split in half, revealing two laser-like eyes and Deadmau5's brand new mau5 head peering out from the controls. Just as the energy in the air was climbing to a ballistic peak—everything stopped. The music cut off, the stage was blanketed by darkness.
This is the sound of thousands of people (possibly) peaking on molly being robbed of their pleasur source:
After a few minutes, the stage flickered by to life... then cut off again. And again, and again, and again. This stop-start would happen about six more times in the next fifteen minutes, as Deadmau5 and his team scurried around trying to fix the problem. Finally, after a long pause, the show resumed for good as Deadmau5 valiantly battled to regain momentum with familiar cuts like "Ghosts and Stuff" and Eric Prydz's edit of "The Veldt," off his 2014 greatest hits compilation, 5 Years of Mau5. The extremely rocky start left some residual PTSD—people visibly flinched at even the briefest (intentional) pause in music. But with 45 minutes left, Deadmau5 kicked into hyper-drive, fully recovering from the debacle and leaving the crowd on a feverish high.
The comeback was so strong that Ryan Adams had to complain about it. Frustrated by the sound bleed during his own set on another stage, Adams called Deadmau5's set "robot music... it's like we're living in a fucking Terminator nightmare!" and challenged, "Try to make this song on your f—king iPhone." He then supposedly said "you damn kids get off my lawn" and "back in my day, people weren't named with numbers" before launching into "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You."
Most likely, the launch's performance issues were first-timer problems; Saturday night was the world debut of the Thunderdome, which will travel to Bonnaroo in Tennessee, Glastonbury in the UK, Fuji Rock in Japan, and Veld in Toronto. (A different setup has been hinted at for his arena shows.) The hiccups were blamed on multiple power shortages, or as Deadmau5 tweeted, some "fuckup who doesn't know how 3 phase power works."
Regardless, the rig is insanely impressive—and probably just as insanely expensive, with a wall of LEDs behind the dome, strobes, and video screens all playing against each other. In its grandiosity, scale, and technological prowess, Deadmau5's Thunderdome is reminiscent of similarly ambitious live shows like Eric Prydz's EPIC 3.0 and BT's Electronic Opus.
Talking to inthemix about his production plans in 2014, Deadmau5 quipped, "I can die happy never needing to get in a fight with Tiësto or Armin's fuckin' team over who gets to use what percent of a fuckin LED screen because all our music sucks so much shit we might as well blind them with CG we had nothing to do with."
But the joke hinted at Deadmau5's very real desire to escape the banality that plagues other main stage regulars. Striking out on his own and having complete control over his brand has been his calling card since the beginning—it's the reason why he bypasses publicists' advice and spews his unfiltered thoughts all over Twitter. It's also why he launched a subscription-based, $5/month app last year that feeds his fans exclusive music, videos, and (priceless) updates on his cat
"Most publishers and labels are, still, completely overlooking the value of an artist created/driven subscription model," he said in a 2014 Reddit post (that obviously predated Jay Z's Tidal, in which he is an investor). This originality is what's keeping him at the top of the dance music food chain, but when you're not playing it safe, there's also a higher chance of fucking up.
Luckily, the tired crowds trekking back home on public transport didn't seem to care, or know the difference. When asked about Deadmau5's performance issues, a trio leaning against a subway poll was incredulous: "Wait, those long pauses weren't on purpose? We thought he was just trying to scare the non-fans away!"
Michelle Lhooq was blocked by Deadmau5 on Twitter, which is why you should obviously follow her.