Read more in Ali Trachta's story “Mash-Up Party in the USA: The LA Weekly Interview with Girl Talk.”
Over the course of the past week, both Deadmau5 and Girl Talk, two of the biggest names in dance-oriented music, have played Los Angeles. On the surface, the two are wildly different artists. Deadmau5 mixes a variety of electronic music styles that tend to pack dance floors. Girl Talk is famous for creating mash-ups, frequently pitting rock and hip-hop tracks against each other in unexpected ways.
Look a little closer and you'll see, however, that the two artists have some commonalities. Both famously deny DJ as their occupation. Both incorporate distinct visual elements to turn a night at the club into a full-blown spectacle. And, perhaps most importantly, both are popular enough where they are serving as gateway artists for new dance music fans, similar in status to the Chemical Brothers in the '90s or Daft Punk in the last decade.
We caught Deadmau5 at the grand opening of swanky new downtown dance club, The Belasco, on Saturday night and Girl Talk at a sold-out show at The Palladium last Monday. After seeing both, we couldn't help but wonder if one non-DJ rocked the party harder. We weighed in on the elements of each event below.
Deadmau5 was at a definite disadvantage when it came to the hype surrounding his L.A. gig last weekend. We had the impression that it was not heavily promoted, based on conversations we had earlier in the evening with confirmed Deadmau5 fans who didn't know he was playing.
The biggest handicap in this regard, though, was that The Belasco is a 21+ venue. The totally legal crowd works well for many dance music artists, as their work appeals more to a late-20s/early-30s crowd. Deadmau5 is not one of these performers. Having previously seen him play at Coachella, we can discern that, while the Canadian producer may have fans of all ages, his audience leans young. If Deadmau5 had played either an all-ages or 18+ venue, one can only imagine that the crowd would have rivaled the one at Girl Talk.
Where Deadmau5's gig seemed to fly under the radar, the first of Girl Talk's two performances at the Palladium was sold out far before the night of the event. It was held at an all-ages venue and it was packed.
The reason why we stress the difference between 21+ and all ages is that, if you aren't old enough to drink, you aren't going to be hanging out by the bars. If for no other reason than by default, the 18-year-olds will be on the dance floor. That's an automatic win if your goal is to get people to dance.
Win: Girl Talk
Deadmau5 was playing the grand opening of a dance club. He was the headliner, but not every person in the audience may have been there to see him. It was a dance night and, certainly, we can't discount the possibility that there were weekend warriors with no concern for who was providing their Saturday night soundtrack.
There were DJs spinning before Deadmau5 took to the stages, DJs who, at times, dropped huge tracks. When you hear “Barbara Streisand,” “We No Speak Americano” and “Pon de Floor” in a row, you know that the crowd will be sufficiently pumped.
The big difference between a dance club and a rock show is that there's no downtime with the former. Girl Talk was definitely structured more like the latter. In typical rock show fashion, the first opening group (Junker Culture) played to a audience that was probably less than half capacity. There was little-to-no dancing. The crowd filled a bit more by the time Max Tundra hit the stage, but, it didn't match the audience for our headliner. In between all the sets, the lights grew brighter and soft music played in the background. It was kind of a mood killer. If Girl Talk weren't such a big draw, he would have had to work incredibly hard to get the crowd in the mood after waiting around the venue for so long.
Both Deadmau5 and Girl Talk are “play the hits” types, but in different ways.
A set from Deadmau5 focuses on his own compositions, tracks that are huge, in a large part, because DJs play them. His music is already perfectly constructed for the dance floor. When he recreates these tunes live, he employs dance club techniques. There's no pause to wait for a round of applause. There's no introduction of tracks. It's just one guy fiddling with gear so seamlessly that, even if you've been living in a land void of nightclubs and YouTube for the past few years and had no idea who Deadmau5 was, you would still dance.
For as much as Girl Talk has used the “I'm Not a DJ” tag, he kind of is a DJ. He's making music out of pre-existing tracks. While the approach is technically different, the premise is still building upon what Grandmaster Flash and his contemporaries did decades ago at the dawn of hip-hop.
Where Girl Talk differs from DJs, though, is that he's already released some of the mixes he plays. Monday night's show opened with “Oh No,” a mash-up of “War Pigs” and “Move Bitch,” which also starts off his latest album. It was a move more typical of bands than of DJs (Duran Duran did the same thing Wednesday night, when they opened with “All You Need Is Now” at The Mayan). The set took some twists and turns, but, overall, it did seem a little more rock show than DJ set in structure, complete with encores and stage banter.
Win: This one is a draw.
Deadmau5 fans can be hardcore. We've seen kids at both his shows and at anime conventions wearing variations of his now-famous mask. Saturday night, we also saw a handful of folks show up in glow-in-the-dark Deadmau5 shirts and glow-sticks shaped like mouse ears. We like this level of devotion.
The energy was high yet consistent throughout Deadmau5's set, though it may have elevated a little when he burst into the Zelda mix of “You Need a Ladder” and “Sofi Needs a Ladder.”
We also noticed Saturday night that as soon as our masked producer hit the stage, the dance floor lit up with cell phones. While there were certainly people capturing Girl Talk's set on video as well, it appeared to be a disproportionately smaller amount.
Girl Talk drew the larger crowd. The Palladium essentially sold out on his name alone, but we can't help but think that Deadmau5 brought together the more fanatical crowd. Throughout Monday night's show, we were never quite sure if the crowd was screaming for Girl Talk or for the selections that end up in his mixes. Undoubtedly, it's probably a little of both. We noticed the biggest responses when he dropped snippet's of “Hypnotized,” “Thriller” and “Young Folks,” tracks that were already bona fide hits. When “Whoomp! (There It Is)” went all Daft Punk, the crowd hit a peak.
Deadmau5's set-up wasn't incredibly elaborate, but it's effective. He wore the mask for a pretty significant portion of the set and he played in front of a video screen projecting bright images of the mouse. His visuals are clever in that the merge the familiar with the new. The mouse that's become his signature evokes pop culture icons from Mickey Mouse to Jerry to Itchy. The imagery seemingly draws from '90s rave culture, but doesn't feel retro.
Girl Talk's visuals came pretty close to stealing the show. His backdrop was a massive LED display and he was joined on stage by scores of dancers. Throughout the set, the crowd was bombarded by reams of toilet paper and balloons. While so much action could have overpowered the music, it really didn't. Girl Talk's visual aids truly helped to get the crowd in the spirit to party.
Win: Girl Talk