Deadmau5 promises more than just music

The images were grainy, the lines obscured — as if they were photos taken by a surveillance camera. The backdrop appeared to be a giant boombox, but maybe it was just speakers on scaffolding. Lights added halo glares but didn’t illuminate. A V-shaped podium sat center stage.

Only the telltale rounded mouse ears behind this gizmo station identified the shots: No, not leaked drawings of the latest Disneyland attraction or a Takashi Murakami art project, but mockups of the stage set for the Coachella performance of Canadian geeky beat king deadmau5, who will headline the Sahara Tent Friday night.

Deadmau5: An article in Friday’s Calendar section about the electronic music act deadmau5 said that Joel Zimmerman, the man behind the act, was from Niagara Falls, N.Y. He is from Niagara Falls, Canada. —

Ever since Daft Punk’s LCD pyramid tripped out the masses in 2006, the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival has become the place for electronic music acts to make their Pink Floyd spectacle statement. Having vaulted up the clubland ladder in a few short years with his refreshingly subtle techno and having spent the last eight months planning his Indio attack, deadmau5 (pronounced “dead-mouse”) is poised to become 2010’s most talked-about dance act and will bust out the stage prop to prove it. The only problem: The mission to build is so urgent his handlers classified it as top secret. All he could show were three vague mockups.

“Is that fabric or wood?” a reporter asked, pointing to the mysterious backdrop.

“I can’t tell you,” deadmau5 deadpanned.

Joel Zimmerman, the man behind the maus, is a self-identified geek. A diehard tinkerer, he could just as easily have become a software programmer instead of a lord of the raves. “I really wanted to do everything on the computer,” said Zimmerman of his childhood growing up in the radius of the hydroelectric turbines of Niagara Falls, N.Y. “I knew I had a future; I just couldn’t nail it to one thing. If it was cool and I could do it on a computer, I wanted to do it.”

Here’s just how geeked out deadmau5 is: He got his stage name from a hardware mishap. After the amateur animator changed video cards on a computer, a rodent crawled in and fried on the circuit board. Coders in a chat room dubbed their comrade “Deadmouse”; Zimmerman Germanized the spelling and added the Cyrillic 5.

The Nine Inch Nails fan got his start hanging out in Niagara Falls studios and record stores. He became a Pro Tools expert and began making his own tracks. In the information diaspora of the Internet age, those tracks found some powerful friendly ears. Fellow Pro Tools guru Steve Duda passed one to Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee. Zimmerman, who was still living with his mom at the time, and Lee bonded over beats and became close friends and collaborators.

Influential BBC DJ Pete Tong started spinning “Faxing Berlin,” a cut on deadmau5’s ’08 release “Random Album Title.” Suddenly, the then-Toronto based artist was global. He won three awards at the International Dance Music Awards in March, has won two Junos, had a No. 1 Billboard dance hit and was No. 6 in DJ Magazine’s ’09 list of top 100 DJs — although he has rather notoriously slagged off DJs as uncreative parasites (he considers himself an electronic music maker).

Zimmerman is a skinny man with a hyper drive who looks like he doesn’t spend a lot of time in daylight. His tattoos include a cat on his neck. Onstage, he performs wearing a large mouse head, although he eventually takes it off since he can’t see or hear well inside of it. At Coachella he will unveil his latest mouse head.

Rather like Jimmy Buffett’s Parrotheads, some deadmau5 fans make their own mouse heads. “It’s awesome to see six or seven of me out there,” Zimmerman said. “Some people bring heads that are built better than mine. I think this is the one that just won’t be cloned.”

He plans to take the Coachella set, which is being designed by the same folks who made the Daft Punk pyramid, on the road. “It’s this monster of a thing we can carry for a year or two. I want to make it dynamic so we can change it up. I don’t want to go up and do the same [thing] every night.”

Zimmerman is assuming, of course, that its Coachella debut makes the desired splash. “It’s going to be a visual trip as well as audio,” he said. “It’s going to be like going to a movie. You’re paying for a show, so I’m going to give it.”