Alive and Kicking: For about a decade and a half, masked producer and DJ deadmau5, aka Joel Zimmerman, and equally revered electronic music artist Kaskade, aka Ryan Raddon, have been forging a thrilling, fascinating partnership. Both, of course, have celebrated careers in their own right, but their on-again, off-again collaborative relationship has proven to be extremely fruitful every time it’s on-again.
It was 2008 that the pair released the “I Remember” single, under the simple and accurate name deadmau5 & Kaskade. This time, they’ve formalized the project name as KX5. That makes sense; they keep working their way back to each other since “I Remember.” They remember it well. Kaskade was drawn in by a 2006 deadmau5 track.
“I’ve got two things I remember,” says Kaskade. “‘Faxing Berlin — ‘when I heard this, it was like one of those moments where I was like, what’s happening in this song? It was an amazing song. He’d been putting stuff out, but ‘Faxing Berlin’ did well on Beatport. A big song. I still listen to it to this day. Awesome tune. I hit Joel up. Up to that point, he was mainly doing just instrumental stuff and I was doing a ton of songwriting. I had written a song just over one of his instrumentals, just screwing around. I sent that to him and said ‘hey dude, have you ever thought about doing vocal stuff,’ and he was like, ‘yeah, what, huh?’ I sent him that, and he’s like ‘this is pretty cool.’ Then it was off to the races after that.”
The track sticks out in deadmau5’s mind, too, because it was one of the first of his tracks to feature a vocal.
“I was never really a fan of vocals, until Ryan kinda got it over to Haley [Gibby] and wrote it, and she sang it and it sounded great,” deadmau5 says. “I’m not like Simon Cowell up here listening to voices going, ‘you need to do this and the tone needs to sound like this.’ I don’t know, I’ve been trying to avoid listening to radio for that reason, just because it’s always overprocessed or tuned, whether it’s for effect or lack of singing abilities. So I never really honed in on who’s a good singer and who’s not. I focused more on the message and the voice was not really processed outside of the standard processing that you do with a vocal.”
That British vocalist, Haley Gibby, had worked a few times with Kaskade back then, but she was new to deadmau5, who confesses that to this day he’s never met her. Amusingly enough, the recent KX5 single, “Escape,” features vocals by another Brit, this time named Hayla.
“We found her through a colleague of my managers, who was kinda working with her on some stuff,” says deadmau5. “I think I was sent some tidbits of her stuff, which was a lot different to how ‘Escape’ turned out. But it was the same vocal, just different melodic structure and all that stuff. Then I thought ‘wow, if I could just get the vocal with that I could rewrite the music.’ I did that and I really liked her voice. She’s got pipes, she can sing. Let’s turn this into something – she knows what she’s doing. Then I think I basically threw the track over to Ryan with the new melody and her vocal, and just had maybe one or two passes back and forth over little ‘bells and whistle’ things. That’s that.”
It certainly worked out, and the song further cemented the KX5 project as something that stands alone from their individual work.
“We figured we would continue making 3, 4, 5, who knows how many more songs together,” says deadmau5. “He’s become such a recurring collaborator in my world that it only made sense to kinda brand it as that. We’re working on a lot of unique stage production for the events that me and Ryan are doing, our KX5 thing, so it just warrants its own music identity.”
Despite the quality and quantity of the work that the two men have done together, they say that they rarely sit in a studio together throughout the process. Geography and workload means that they bounce ideas across the country.
“A lot of ideas that Ryan sent over to me are just some audio engineering tricks and tweaks away from being completed,” says deadmau5. “Same with some of my tracks. I just go back and find ones that fit that niche. In the history of all the stuff we’ve done together, we’ve never actually sat down and gone through the process together in a studio, where it’s literally hours and hours and hours of just staring at screens, playing with plug-ins – we’ve never endured that with each other. We’re both grown-ass adults.”
“We’re on the other side of the continent and we actually have lives,” adds Kaskade. “So it’s much easier to toss ideas back and forth to one another.”
Following “Escape” and then the “Take Me High” single came “Alive,” a collaboration between KX5 and indie band The Moth & The Flame.
“I’ve known those guys for a while,” says Kaskade. “I’ve done a couple of songs with them. This is my third or fourth time working with them. Great songwriters, cool band. I really like indie rock stuff. In another lifetime, maybe I’ll come back and do that. So I reached out to them like, ‘Hey, I’m working on this thing with Joel, let’s do another song’.”
Having dropped a bunch of singles this year, there’s an album on the way, which deadmau5 says is basically done. The arrival date is still up in the air – these two artists just make the music.
“I don’t know about Ryan, but I just pump out the music and then I’m like, ‘Yo management, here’s a bunch of shit. Do what you will. Here, label – do the thing’,” says deadmau5. “So I don’t have any ideas about how that’s packaged and distributed. When, how and where.”
“I definitely don’t know about that,” agrees Kaskade. “I give them the stuff and then sometimes I call them later and say, ‘What’s happening with that? I’ve been playing this one song at a show and people are mad that it’s not out’.”
On Dec. 10, KX5 performs at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum, and deadmau5 says that we’ll be hearing some of those unreleased album tracks that night.
“We’re gonna pipe in as much as we can because two hours is a long time to fill up,” he says. “Especially when you only have about 30 minutes of music collectively. So still to do on our list is to get together and kind of figure out the flow of the show. On my end, I have to figure out the technology and event production. We’re just getting ready for that. It’s a lot of compartmentalization in putting together an event like this, where you have your artist coming up with the performance and technical specs, delivery, and then you have stage design, and I’m very meticulous about my stage design. How it works, looks and runs, what technology powers it and all that stuff, too. So that’s a whole other event delegation from my end. But that’s kinda where we’re at.”
There also will be deadmau5 material and Kaskade material in the set, to fill it out.
“Oh, we’re definitely going to mix in our own respective stuff, as well as maybe some other stuff we just like that fit really nice in there,” says deadmau5. “That’s TBD. I’m treating this, at least from my end, like a deadmau5 show where it’s not so much two DJs vibing out. Are you gonna play ‘Give Me a Man After Midnight,’ or should I? It’s not going to be like that. So we have to sit down and storyboard it, basically.”
As far as future plans go, there’s not a lot to report. deadmau5 prefers to plan just a couple of weeks ahead.
“Spoken like a true bachelor,” says Kaskade with a laugh. “I only want to be three or four days out, but I’ve got all these other people in my life that demand more. Women and children.”
“I don’t know how he does it, to be honest,” adds deadmau5. “I’ll never figure it out. Back when I was young, people would say ‘You’re gonna change your mind in your 30s.’ Dude, I’m 41 and I’m sold on this. Maybe the marriage thing, whatever. But kids? Having to section my life to do things that detract from the things I want to do is crazy to me.”
Fortunately, deadmau5 and Kaskade find a way to make it work, regardless of their different family situations and locations. Not only that, but it works remarkably well.
See for yourself at the Coliseum.
Alive and Kicking: KX5 performs at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 10 at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
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