Why is Buckethead covering his face

Daft Punk, Deadmau5, Orbital, Marshmello, Claptone - why are so many musicians hiding their faces?

Since the early days there has been a fetishization of anonymity in the area of ​​club music. It is not for nothing that you should lose yourself in the crowd: Dancing in clubs, at parties, raves or festivals is a means and a way to free yourself from your own ballast and to try to chat with strangers without the usual awkwardness and socially expected subtleties to interact. It means: We are all here together - even if we all pursue our individual thoughts.

Wearing masks and / or other headgear is one of the methods DJs and performers have used throughout music history to maintain their anonymity. Whether consciously or unconsciously, artists like Daft Punk, Deadmau5 or Marshmello, who enter the stage as robots, rodents with LED screens or fluffy white gelatine something, pay tribute to the many sophisticated disguises with which so many house and techno Artists veiled themselves from them.

In the beginning there was the pseudonym

In the mid-80s, DJs might not hide their identities under elaborate headgear, but under a whole armada of anonymized artist names. In Detroit, Juan Atkins pioneered this practice using pseudonyms such as Model 500, Infiniti, and Channel One. They should all reflect different aspects of his musical personality, while his true identity remained a secret.

Before his solo career, he also formed the pioneering duo Cybotron with Rik Davis. Davis preferred the robotic name 3070. Even in early Chicago house it was common to have several stage names: Jesse Saunders, whose 1984 "On and On" is considered the first house record, also released under the names Fresh, The Browns, The Force and Le 'Noiz records.

Daft punk. Photo: chrisjortiz / Flickr | CC By 2.0

This practice became the model for many techno artists of the early 90s. The first Plus-8-Records-SamplerFrom Our Minds to Yours Vol 1for example, 1991 lists eight different artists, but only two of them (Kenny Larkin and Speedy J) were not aliases of Plus-8 founder Richie Hawtin. This is represented either alone or together with others than F.U.S.E., Chrome, States of Mind and under other names. Another compilation from 1991,Instinct Dance, which appears on the New York label Instinct Records, performs four artists, including Barracuda, Brainstorm and Voodoo Child. Behind all of them is the same producer, Moby, who is also represented under this name.

Such cover-up tactics differentiated electro musicians from their counterparts in hip-hop or alternative rock, where artists were celebrated like rock stars. Vanessa Daou - whose hit "Surrender Yourself" with the group The Daou was number one on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play Charts for eleven weeks in 1992 - said in 2014: "In rave culture, you often didn't know who the artist was: it just was a name. And that feeling of anonymity was important. You didn't want to know who that person was. You just wanted to feel it. "

The advent of white labels

Anonymity was also the main driving force behind another tradition that found its way into the world of club music in the early 90s: the so-called White Label 12 ".

White labels were often pressed in very limited editions and the label credits were drawn on with a felt pen, if at all. These records were often test pressings that a producer made for himself or his colleagues to see how the tracks work on the dance floor. Accordingly, they were of inferior quality and could only be used for a few dozen lines. So a lot of the tracks that DJs played weren't even available in stores, which made it difficult for anyone outside of the 90s sworn scene to get hold of the music - even if, as outsiders, they loved the tracks as well.

"You didn't even know who the [producers] were on half of those records," said 2011 Charles Aaron, a formerSpin-Editor and longtime club music fan, to me. "It was hard enough to find out which song it was." White labels eventually became so synonymous with the legendary underground scene that Rick Rubin promptly christened his new indie techno label (with major label support, of course) WHTE LBLS in the early 90s.

The anonymity of dance producers through various pseudonyms and white label pressings was a central precursor to the fact that Daft Punk now wear robot helmets or Marshmello his white bucket. An even more direct visual predecessor for the headgear of modern DJs, however, was in the field of virtual reality (VR) - more precisely, the glasses that are used in it. The first glasses appeared in 1960 as a companion to Morton Heilig's Sensorama. According to the Virtual Reality Society (VRS), it was "a gallery-like theater that stimulated all the senses, not just seeing and hearing".

Anonymous in the virtual world

In the 80s, the computer scientist and author Jaron Lanier coined the name "Virtual Reality" as a name for a series of "virtual multi-person worlds that use displays attached to the head", as he writes in the biography of his website. The equipment was expensive, VRS notes that VR glasses cost between $ 9,400 and $ 49,000 in the 1980s — which is roughly $ 20,000 to $ 105,000 today. The gloves required to operate it cost another $ 9,000. Over time, however, VR equipment became more widespread, costs dropped, and by the 90s VR technology had found its way into the world of video games (particularly with Sega VR). VR games were also a popular side attraction at many raves in the early '90s, especially in tech-savvy San Francisco.

In dance music, the first clear connection between DJs and VR was Orbital's flashlight glasses called "Torch Glasses". The glowing headgear that Paul and Phil Hartnoll wore on stage wasn't VR, but it was reminiscent of the glasses. "It was from a practical point of view," Phil told me in 2012. "We played in acid house clubs that had strobe lights and smoke machines. But we had to see what we were doing because we were playing all the instruments live. We found they were in a gift shop in New York across from the former Tower Records — a shop called Space Age Gifts. A knick-knack shop that probably isn't there anymore. It must have been '92. We found these glasses, cut them open, and built maglites a. That became our trademark. "

Deadmau5. Photo: Deadmau5: D (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A far more silly, if at least as fascinating, gimmick was adopted by another British duo: Aging-8. They took to the stages of early 90s raves in protective suits and yellow gas masks. "My brother was with the RAF at the time and gave us two of the suits," said Altern-8 co-founder Mark Archer to The Ransom Note. "If you ever pulled up the hood and flipped down your glasses, you know how stupid you look, so we put masks on too." Archer and Chris Peat conquered the charts in 1991/1992 with style-defining rave anthems like "Infiltrate 202" and "Frequency" (not to forget "Evapor-8", one of the most wonderfully stupid records ever made). Aging-8's look became legendary — a cheeky response to Rock complaints about "faceless techno bullshit."

Anonymity wasn't always welcome

The anonymity of Age 8 — and that of the 90s rave scene — was without question a move away from ego-soaked pop and hip-hop. It was also the answer to the sudden emergence of alternative rock. Fans had gotten used to the fact that bands like Nirvana were all about themselves, and many found that the anonymity of the rave was a refreshing change in that co-ordination that was suddenly everywhere. When Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain publicly struggled with their fame, the rave faction replied: Oh really? We'll show you what it's like if you don't want to be famous.

However, this anonymity was not always welcome in dance circles. "There's no face to house music when it comes to the artist," complained house singer Dajae (best known for her 1992 classic "Brighter Days") in 2005. "That's not necessarily the producer's fault ... It's always about who has the hip name. " In 1996, a promoter on the 313 mailing list was annoyed: "You don't just write 'techno music' on a flyer. You list the names of the DJs." In a conversation withSpin Moby said in 1994, "I really miss that youthful sense of excitement about a performer and a personality."

During the "electronica" boom in the US in the late 1990s, this impersonal character kept as many people away as he attracted. "Despite the sometimes seductive lure of techno, the whipping beats and soft ambient sounds had an anonymity that made it difficult to sell them on record," wrote Robert Hilburn of theLos Angeles Times Late 1997, the year The Prodigy's Fat of the Land peaked at number one on the Billboard album charts. Even so, Andrew Parks held on in 2008 XLR8R in a retrospective about this period: "One could argue that it is in particular the anonymity of electronic music (as well as the overwhelming lack of lyrics) that makes it so ideal for selling things like cars and films with it." (Of course, Mobys Play benefited the most from it, from which music was licensed for advertising and soundtracks over 300 times.)

By the late 1990s, the era of "superstar DJs" had come, most of whom had as much personality as a string pad preset. Few of them wore masks, with one major exception. Even before they decided to become robots, Daft Punk rarely showed their faces — their heads were painted blue in a promo photo from 1995. It was partly cunning and partly homage - a recognition of the conscious anonymity and the fusion with the machine as a central element of techno, but also a first step towards making their music speak for itself. The refusal of the French after the appearance ofDiscovery touring in 2001 only added to their appeal.

Daft Punk, The Knife, Zomby, ...

When Daft Punk reappeared in full-body robot outfits in 2006 for their immediately legendary appearance at Coachella 2006, they rode a revitalized wave of dance acts wearing masks again. Particularly noteworthy here are the Swedish siblings The Knife, who wore black Venetian crow masks (a look that Claptone later almost entirely copied, but his mask was gold). They appeared nebulous in other ways as well. "Olof was known to give his interviews by speaking through a vocoder," Philip Sherburne wrote in 2006XLR8R-Cover story about the duo.

The British counterpart to the Venetian crow mask is the Guy Fawkes mask from the filmV for Vendetta (based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd). She has also made her rounds in DJ circles. The most famous Fawkes wearer is the British producer with the pseudonym Zomby, although this is not his only disguise - initially he favored a skull with an all-seeing eye as a headgear. As with every functioning troll, Zomby's facelessness is accompanied by an angry personality: On Twitter, among other things, he attacked the author of this text for daring not to like his music (of course, he deleted his insults within hours). He also told Pitchfork, "If I didn't cover my face with a mask, I would probably do it with some Hermès scarf instead."

Marshmello (Photo by Cindy Ord / SiriusXM)

However, when it arrived in 2010, the mask no longer meant anonymity, no, it signaled how a performer stood out in a crowded market. The best-known example of this is Deadmau5, who never made a secret of who he really is: Joel Zimmermann from Toronto, anthem supplier and owner of the most stylish headgear since Daft Punk himself. Nevertheless, he is often photographed without her. "Zimmermann designed the mouse logo while working on rendering 3-D graphics," wrote Sarah Liss fromToronto Life in a detailed profile about him. "The mouse helmet didn't come into play until a few years later. It was his first official Deadmau5 gig and he wanted to do something that would set him apart from all the other electro musicians. The audience was instantly baffled. Then they left Lights on the helmet came on and started flashing to the beat and the whole place was upside down. "

The mask as a unique selling point

Skrillex recently said that Deadmau5 also "knows he's an asshole and that is how he glorifies himself". (To be fair, it has to be said that Zimmermann deactivated the Twitter account of his pseudonym last year.) Skrillex addressed this because one of the artists on his label OWSLA had become the target of Deadmau5's handsome anger: Marshmello, whose constantly laughing headdress on the upside down KFC bucket remembered by avant-garde guitarist Buckethead. (After all, Deadmau5 did not impale his new intimate enemy on a stick and toast it over the campfire.) There are rumors that Marshmello is actually Chris Comstock aka Dotcom, at the last EDC Vegas, however, a mischievous Tiësto played a set in Marshmello disguise and himself in the end exposed.

Marshmello's bucket sometimes glows inside, usually blue or green. However, this is used for accentuation and is not a special feature. There's no such thing as the high-tech sheen of Daft Punk or Deadmau5, nothing spacey. If these twoStarwars emulate, then Marshmello is closer to an 80s horror movie from the VHS age like Friday the 13th., just in, well, cuddly.

Perhaps Marshmello's relatively simple costume represents a new facet in the EDM headgear continuum. The anonymity of dance music was initially a way of letting the music speak for itself. Orbital's glasses were a practical protection against fog machines in the club, The Knife's masks a provocative artistic maneuver, Zomby's a way of trolling and Deadmau5's a step from anonymity into the limelight. Marshmello's bucket got him attention too, but his back-to-the-roots approach is a welcome change from the multi-million dollar EDM kitsch that has kept us shiny for a lifetime over the past decade. Electronic music has always been do-it-yourself, even if nobody really knows who you are.

In his Noisey column, rave historian Michaelangelo Matos takes a critical look at the culture of electronic dance music and traces the development of masked DJs, from Orbital to Deadmau5 and beyond. It also sheds light on how the radical anonymity that has accompanied electronic music since its inception was formalized.

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