“The music is one part of mau5trap, but there’s also the ethos. We don’t take shit too seriously. At the same time, we’re good at what we do.” Chris Johnson ~ mau5trap
Even after 10 years of operation, deadmau5’s self-themed record label is claiming 2017 as its own. Mau5trap’s vitality as a music resource comes from its generous support practices for emerging musicians, a grasp on nurturing talent and providing them with the keys to the kingdom. This summer, the outlet hit the precipice of a couple company milestones while surpassing 10-years of operation. Casting a palpable influence over the electronic music genre, Mixmag readers just voted mau5trap among the “Top 50 Labels of the Decade,” placing it in the Top 10 at #9.
The publishing brand caught my eye around the time that deadmau5 and crew were putting out music by Skrillex, an up-and-coming musician in the midst of an aggressive electro phase. Since then, I’ve watched genre-defying and genre-defining musicians springboard to stardom after putting forth high-concept single releases, EPs, and LPs via the platform.
Long past its formation, mau5trap became a bastion for trailblazing artists. This winning formula encouraged a plethora of musicians like Chris Lake, Moguai, Excision, Feed Me, and Michael Woods to carve their identity into the annals of dance music culture.
Christoper Johnson [Left] ~ Photo by @WLSNSZTO of Ded Agency
“The music is one part of mau5trap, but there’s also the ethos. We don’t take shit too seriously,” says Chris Johnson, label manager at mau5trap. Chris says that, while the brand evokes the professionalism of any large indie label, mau5trap’s objective is motivated by a candid and honest attitude ahead of anything contrary. “I wouldn’t know how to operate it another way!”
Mau5trap patriarch and owner, Joel Zimmerman [deadmau5] is well-known for his off-the-cuff attitude both online and in person. Chris indicates that the company’s clear thematic elements are all thanks to Joel’s social presence as well as his ear for intrinsic music. “When you see Joel, he’s got a very close relationship with his fans. He’s very honest with his fans and lets them see the whole process. I think, at mau5trap, we naturally echo that. It’s a bit of an honest and frank approach. It’s a willingness to connect with fans.”
Mau5trap’s taste for music itself also comes without boundaries. “It mimicks and pulls from Joel’s own taste and interest music,” says Chris, who states that Joel consumes a massive range of electronic music, unrestricted by genre definitions. “He listens to people who push the boundaries – they know their shit – they’re willing to take risks.”
Stylistically, I can’t draw many comparisons between mau5trap acts like Attlas and Feed Me, or Blackgummy and Rezz. Chris explains that everyone signed to mau5trap have their own sound – their own lane that they define. “I think without trying to blow our own horn – it’s just good electronic music.”
Chris expands on mau5trap’s willingness to work with musicians on projects like their episodic compilation series, We are Friends. He claims that the key to the brand’s global success is ultimately a tendency to put the signees first, seeing through concepts, projects, albums, and other formats that the majority of “upload to Beatport” brands don’t accommodate. Mau5trap bunked this trend in the early 2010s, steering clear of the oversaturated attitude of other large indie music labels.
“Look at Attlas. We worked with Jeff to come up with a name. [At the time] he had NO MUSIC. At mau5trap we want to take risks, we want to support artists who wouldn’t usually get a chance because the numbers don’t make any sense to another label. If we like the music we take the risk. I think we’ve had that from the very start – from Feed Me and from Skrillex. We’ll give them a platform to start and the tools to do it.”
REZZ towering over Yonge & Dundas Square in Toronto ~ Photo by @kurthoop of Ded Agency
Not the people to relax on their laurels, Chris and team continue to increase the label’s already prolific output in 2017, extending that influence yet again with a couple key benchmarks. Last month, mau5trap shared its 10-year anniversary with Toronto, a party that saw many of the brand’s emerging musicians assume the controls of the Canadian city’s biggest nightclub.
Another achievement that Chris saw through was a multi-part release calendar for Canadian producer Rezz. A pair of EPs and an end goal of an LP were benchmarks prophesized by the young musician on the outset of her signing. “As a label manager and as a fan of good music, I love seeing our artists grow, grow as people and as musicians in the industry. Being able to see Rezz get the absolute hype and buzz that she has leads me to believe she’s a superstar.” Chris mentions the stylistic elements Rezz has, like her goggles and hypnotic visuals realized to compliment her character. Choices like these curiously echo deadmau5’s own evolution as a pop culture phenomenon. Two weeks ago, Rezz’s Mass Manipulation album was finally released.
Next up to bat, battle rapper Shotty Horroh breaks barriers after a signing over that monumental 10-year anniversary weekend. I imagine an ethos and a vision are coming together to unlock the potential of the brand’s most unorthodox entrant yet.
After leaving me gobsmacked by the news that he’d never been to the legendary Guvernment nightclub before its closure, Chris left me with some recommendations to other label managers, specifically those who want to hit their own 10-year benchmark. “Believe in your artists, invest in your artists, and do not be afraid to let them take the lead sometimes.”
Feature image by @WLSNSZTO of Ded Agency