As the houselights pulsated to the hi-hat splashes of “Where My Keys,” the curtain in front of the stage fell to reveal dance music icon Deadmau5 in his cartoon-mouse-helmet-festooned glory. His disc jockey console depicted a rotating 3-D Rubik’s cube that became an appropriate metaphor for the challenge of enlarging club atmosphere to stadium proportions.
Those challenges arose when Deadmau5 moved the event from the 2,500-person capacity venue Soma to the 15,000-capacity field at Petco Park that subsequently led to an increase in ticket prices to $90 — more than the cost of a one-day pass to this year’s Electric Daisy Carnival — before weak sales forced promoter Live Nation to cut prices to $65.
After waiting an hour in will-call lines and being subjected to a convoluted system of barricades on the floor of the stadium that nearly caused multiple fistfights, the audience struggled to respond to Deadmau5’s progressive first hour of heavy house. Instead of drumroll crescendos, Deadmau5 favored slow, smooth transitions that often withheld bass drops for several minutes. While these gradual transitions allowed the synth lines to soak into the crowd, the momentum came to a standstill, even on fan favorites such as “Slip” and “Some Kind of Blue.” With the exception of “To Play Us Out,” which featured the vocal line from Fatboy Slim’s “Star 69” and Bill O’Reilly’s profanity-laden tirade was printed karaoke-style on screen, there was little crowd interaction during the first hour.
The turning point of the set came when singer SOFI joined Deadmau5 onstage for the electro single “Sofi Needs a Ladder” and the dubstep-driven “One Trick Pony.” Her infectious energy transformed the crowd into a bouncing mass as she traded off lyrics with the audience and shifted the set toward a more bass-heavy sound. The transition led to a live mashup of “FML” and “I Remember” as the triplet beat pounded away at the dancing audience.
Another high point of the second hour came with the Ed Banger-esque unreleased track “Professional Griefers.” With its Daft Punk “Discovery”-era style synthesized guitar line, Deadmau5 fittingly dropped “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” and Justice vocal hits into “Griefers” to rapturous applause.
Deadmau5 finished his second hour by layering Rob Swire’s vocals with “Moar Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff” while dressed like the ghost from the music video. Afterward, he launched into a three-song encore consisting of the chiptune-inspired “Meowingtons Hax Enabled” and the electro-house track “Animal Rights” before closing out the set with an epic 11-minute version of his single “Strobe.”
As electronic dance music hits the mainstream and more DJs become arena-sized acts, each artist will have to overcome the growing pains associated with the increase in popularity. The change in venue created an energy problem that took half of the set (and SOFI’s amazing vocals) to solve. As the last notes of “Strobe” rang out, the words “Game over” printed in arcade font across the LED backdrop. The game was done and Deadmau5 pulled an upset victory.