If you’re the type of artist that cares more about the art than the money and fame, then hiding your identity is the best way to keep your audience’s attention on the art rather than the superficial. Here are 11 stories behind masked bands.
1. The Residents
Over a span of 44 years, the art collective known as The Residents has kept their identities shrouded in mystery. The members of the band met in high school in Shreveport, Louisiana and later migrated to San Francisco, California, and choose to stay hidden under eyeball masks and top hats because they want audiences to focus on their pop deconstructionist music rather than their image. Over the duration of the band’s lifetime, The Residents have released nearly 40 albums of avant-garde music and various multimedia collections.
Slipknot is a Grammy Award-winning heavy metal band from Des Moines, Iowa that formed in 1995. Their self-titled debut album was a commercial and critical success, as it peaked in the top 50 of the Billboard Top 200 in 1999. Part of the reason for Slipknot’s early success is attributed to their very attention grabbing masks.
Each member of the heavy metal band wears a unique mask that corresponds to his personality. Throughout the years, several of their masks have changed to show the passage of time. In 2002, vocalist Corey Taylor said of their masks, “it's our way of becoming more intimate with the music. It's a way for us to become unconscious of who we are and what we do outside of music. It's a way for us to kind of crawl inside it and be able to use it.”
3. Insane Clown Posse
In 1989 in Detroit, Michigan, Joseph Bruce (aka Violent J) and Joseph Utsler (aka Shaggy 2 Dope) formed the hip-hop horror duo Insane Clown Posse. Surrounding their music with violent imagery and despair, Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope paint their faces like demented clowns to portray the Dark Carnival ethos and mythology.
Part of the duo’s Joker’s Cards albums, The Dark Carnival is the afterlife according to the Insane Clown Posse. It’s a metaphoric limbo where the dead are judged before they go to Heaven or Hell.
4. The Locust
The Locust started out like any other four-piece punk band from San Diego, California, but when the attention started to focus on their clothing, the band changed their image to suit the music rather than their style. “We were just wearing our street clothes,” singer/bassist Justin Pearson told the Chicago Sun-Times. “We were poor punk kids. Somehow that became the topic of conversation instead of our music.” These days, members of The Locust wear skin-tight, full-body nylon suits with hoods to make them resemble insects.
5. The Knife
The Knife is a brother and sister electronic pop duo from Sweden. Though they started in 1999, The Knife didn’t get mainstream success until singer-songwriter José González re-arranged and covered their song “Heartbeats,” which was used in a popular Sony commercial. Shunning the spotlight, the duo received numerous Swedish Grammis Awards in 2003 and 2007, but never attended the ceremonies or accepted their awards.
The Knife rarely makes public appearances and when they do they wear masks with large bird’s beaks that are similar to Venetian Medico Della Peste (plague doctor) masks.
A post-punk revival band from Liverpool, England, Clinic got together in 1997. Members Ade Blackburn and Jonathan Hartley wanted to start a band that was more keyboard and organ based than their previous band, Pure Morning. In 2002, Clinic’s hit “Walking with Thee” was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album.
During Clinic’s live shows, the band wears surgical masks to hide their faces from the audience—and as homage to San Francisco art collective The Residents. “I like the way there was a visual side to what they did, but it wasn't something too serious. It was like a tacky pun on the band name. I liked something a bit more ridiculous like that," Blackburn said.
Joel Thomas Zimmerman, aka Deadmau5 (pronounced Dead Mouse), is a progressive-house music producer and DJ from Toronto, Canada. Zimmerman got the name Deadmau5—first a screen name—when, as a teenager, he fixed his computer and discovered a dead mouse inside.
Zimmerman created the Deadmau5 logo when he was learning to use 3D modeling software. When the lead singer of the industrial metal band Orgy urged him to wear the logo as a headdress during performances, Deadmau5 was born. Variations of the Deadmau5 logo and headdresses appear on all of Zimmerman’s albums and live performances.
In 1984, two separate projects merged together to form Gwar. One project was a punk band from Richmond, Virginia called Death Piggy, while the other was The Slave Pit, a production space for a never-made movie titled Scumdogs of the Universe.
When the people behind the two projects met, they had the idea to form a joke band called "Gwaaarrrgghhlllgh" to open for Death Piggy. But when Death Piggy noticed people leaving their shows after "Gwaaarrrgghhlllgh" performed, the members of Death Piggy and The Slave Pit became one band and shortened its name to simply Gwar.
Gwar’s brand of satirical heavy metal has thrived with their outlandish live show with large extravagant costumes and masks. The band's concerts use elements of horror and science fiction to comically enact morally taboo themes and political satire.
Since their formation, Gwar has released 13 albums and was nominated for two Grammy Awards for Best Long Form Music Video in 1993 and Best Metal Performance in 1995.
9. Pussy Riot
Pussy Riot is a feminist punk band from Russia that consists of 11 members who all wear colorful ski masks to keep anonymity. They put on unauthorized, guerrilla stage shows as a way to protest Russian policies and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On February 21, 2012, Pussy Riot performed at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior for their music video “Punk Prayer—Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!” Three members of the band were arrested, denied bail, and later convicted to two years in prison for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.
10. The Aquabats!
In 1994, lead singer Christian Jacobs and bassist Chad Larson started a ska band with trumpet player Boyd Terry. The Aquabats! fused punk and ska music of the mid-90s with surf rock and new wave. At first the band was used for satirical purposes to poke fun at the overly serious punk and ska bands at the time, but then evolved into a fun-loving rock band with superhero tendencies, with matching blue costumes, silver helmets, and black masks.
Throughout the years, The Aquabats! released five albums and launched a live-action Saturday morning TV series called The Aquabats! Super Show! on the cable network The Hub. Their live shows are often seen as mini-stage plays as they use music to fight crime and super villains. The Aquabats! live shows also emphasize silliness, wackiness, and overall fun.
Jacobs also co-created the popular children’s TV show Yo Gabba Gabba! for Nickelodeon and Nick Jr.
11. Daft Punk
French musicians Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter started a band called Darlin’ with Laurent Brancowitz in 1987. While the band was short-lived, a negative review of their show described Darlin’ as “a daft punky thrash.” So when Darlin’ broke up, de Homem-Christo and Bangalter formed the electronic duo Daft Punk (Brancowitz joined the pop band Phoenix).
Daft Punk is not only known for their innovative music, but also their visually dynamic live shows. The duo's music is grounded in storytelling and their concerts are examples of continuing the story past the album. They started wearing robot helmets in 1999, both as a way to merge with the music and to mask their shyness from the general public.