Marshmello’s 2016 has been comparable to Skrillex’s 2010 — a gathering storm that largely eluded the non-dance media spotlight while reeling in fans by the gross. The anonymous producer-DJ, whose management politely refuses all interview requests, has been a constant on the U.S. festival circuit: Ultra Music Festival, EDC New York, Beyond Wonderland, Holy Ship!, the Billboard Hot 100 Festival, Lollapalooza, and—closer to home for the Twin Cities crowd—the mid-August Summer Set festival in nearby Somerset, Wisconsin.
It’s not hard to see why the kids go nuts. A Marshmello appearance is a high-velocity affair even by EDM’s notoriously hyperactive standards. At Miami’s Ultra, for instance, Knife Party and Pendulum played a combined 27 selections, while Carnage (with whom Marshmello made an onstage cameo) cycled through 38. Marshmello played 43 in an hour, not counting blends. And where far too many big-stagers are content with splashing endless variations on their own logos on the screens behind them, Marshmello’s visual style tends toward shameless displays of psychedelic-color overload — not to mention the DJ’s own memorable mug.
Ah, the mask. The Marshmello head is simplicity itself: a white oversize paint bucket with a black smiley-face variant that’s benign but slightly sinister, like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man from the original Ghostbusters, with a hint of the killer Santa from the mid-eighties slasher flick Silent Night, Deadly Night. Even Tiësto got in on it by playing an EDC Vegas set dressed like every raver’s favorite campfire treat, though the rumor is that the real-life culprit is Chris “Dotcom” Comstock.
Because it’s 2016, Marshmello’s getup has also inspired online beef. Deadmau5, undoubtedly aggrieved that he no longer had a lock on the EDM-headgear game, tweeted that Marshmello’s fans were a “brain-dead posse of deaf sheep,” prompting Skrillex — whose OWSLA label releases Marshmello’s music — to tell Zimmermann to “Stop being a fucking bully to people.” (Deadmau5 seemingly paid attention; he deactivated his Twitter account not long after the conflagration.) But judging from his new video “Ritual,” Marshmello has taken it all in stride. It’s a shrewd gambit — a screwing-around-with-friends travelogue in which he dodges traffic, pillow-fights till the feathers fly, plays with dogs, and — what’s this? — brings a lonesome Deadmau5 along to dance around a bonfire: fwends forever.
Musically speaking, a Marshmello show is more like a greatest-hits revue than a concentrated dose of a particular style. If you’ve seen or heard a big-name EDM DJ in action, little that the Great White Wonder plays is going to surprise you much. His biggest stylistic tic, in original tracks and his own remixes alike, is the kind of sickly circus organ that recalls nothing so much as late-’90s happy hardcore; not for nothing is his album titled Joytime.