Breaking the Spell

It’s time to teach the DJ culture to mind its ABCs and 123s


Illustration by Ryan Tino

“Is this going to be one of those grumpy-old-man commentaries?”

The question was posed during a recent staff meeting, and it was legitimate—even if it did come from a colleague who’s not a day younger than me. Hey, I admit it: I’m not hip to the times, I’m not hip to change, I’m … well, just plain-old not hip. What I am is everything I once despised about my parents—two squares who dismissed Eddie Van Halen’s finger-tapping wizardry and Steven Tyler’s signature squeals as “obnoxious noise.” If only I had a dollar for every time I was told to “turn that shit down!” …

They didn’t get it. And now neither do I.

True story: Not long after starting at Vegas Seven, I was handed several electronic dance music articles to edit, and kept stumbling across one particular DJ’s name. Thought it was the oddest thing. Deadmau5? Is it some sort of pun regarding the former Chinese dictator? Then one day I blurted out to nobody in particular, “What’s with this Dead-Mao-Five?” I’m quite sure Chris Rock has never heard such laughter. It took awhile for the chuckling to die down, but when it did, I was corrected. “The ‘5’ is an ‘S’—it’s Dead Mouse! Get it?”

Clearly not. Because nine months and some hundreds of articles later, my mind’s eye still reads it as “Dead-Mao-Five.” And I cringe every time I see it. Or DJ BL3ND. Or DJ S3RL. Or my new personal “favorite” DJ M!keAttack. Perhaps because I actually appreciate the nuances of the Latin alphabet, which has served us well for, oh, a good couple thousand years. Not to go all grumpy-old-man on you, but … it’s bad enough that this lazy generation can’t muster the energy to spell out “laugh out loud”; now 26 letters aren’t sufficient to get the job done? WTF?

I vaguely recall the first time I saw the “numbers-as-letters” marketing gimmick. It was about a decade ago when Michael Morton and friend/partner Scott DeGraff brought their N9NE Group to the newly opened Palms, where they launched Rain Nightclub, Ghostbar and N9NE Steakhouse. The business name was a bit of an inside joke, a nod to the fact Morton and DeGraff met when they were 9 years old.

I recently asked Morton what was behind the decision to substitute the number “9” for the letter “i.” “We just wanted to have fun with it, add a little more sizzle to our name, and we thought it looked good,” he says. “There’s no deep meaning to it. I’d never seen it before.”

Did he have any clue he was creating a monster?

“I don’t know if I’m that smart!”

Maybe not, but clearly Joel Zimmerman (a.k.a. Deadmau5) is. He’s parlayed his alter-ego into a multimillion-dollar empire, as he’s among a handful of DJs who can command a six-figure nightclub appearance fee. And that doesn’t even include the merchandising component; his oversize mouse-head—er, I’m sorry, mau5head—logo is ubiquitous in this city (and, yes, that was Walt Disney you just heard doing a 360 in his grave).

Here’s how huge Zimmerman has become: This weekend, Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s 1,000-acre venue is being converted into the Electric Daisy Carnival. Everybody who’s anybody on the DJ scene will be taking the stage at the three-day rave … except Dead-Mao-Five, who has decided to shun the biggest EDM festival in the Western Hemisphere, instead choosing to scamper across the pond for a couple of gigs in Ireland and England. Safe to assume the 31-year-old Canadian won’t miss the EDC paycheck—nor will festival organizers miss him, considering they’re expecting some 300,000 revelers (which would easily eclipse last year’s attendance figures).

Well, the mau5 might not be in the hou5 this year, but plenty of other DJs who take great pride in (and profit from) murdering the English language will be—Kaskade, anyone? R3hab? MSTRKRFT?

You know who else just might show up? Me … with a bunch of dictionaries to hand out!

No, seriously, I’ve always subscribed to the theory that in order to truly understand a culture you need to fully immerse yourself in that culture. So maybe now is the time to get out of my rocking chair and open the old mind to a new experience. Besides, what’s not to like about an all-night party of art, thrill rides and thousands of scantily clad ladies swinging glow sticks?

So what if house music in all of its forms makes my ears bleed in much the same way heavy metal drove my parents insane. Unlike Mom and Dad, I’ve got an iPod (and I actually know how to use it). Yeah, you know what? Count me in!

And that’s when another colleague chimed in. “You can’t go to EDC, Matt,” she said. “Everyone will think you’re a narc!”

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