Hiding behind masks

House | Wednesday 19th June 2013 | jim

The music world is saturated with mega-stars who love the limelight and promote themselves as almost God-like figures. People are drawn to them like moths to a flame. Take, for example, Justin Bieber; his life will forever be full of papparazzi photos and screaming girls. But, there is the appeal in Justin Bieber, without his looks and without his youth he would not have anywhere near the amount of fans that he now does. But if people like Justin Bieber and One Direction didn't have their looks they would not be nearly as popular as they are today. Looks seem to define music careers, even in other genres such as rock. While their look may not have got them their first play on radio, or first gig, it has kept them at the top. A rock stars look becomes a fashion statement in itself and clothing ranges are designed just around a single persons look, so that everyone can try and look like them.

While fame isn’t for everyone, I am sure that most of these celebrities enjoy it, and love having their face slapped on glossy magazines and posters. Apart from the actual fame, being able to see the person on stage actually performing, their lips moving, their face changing emotionally as the crowd gets hyped up for their songs, is also important.

If the rolling stones had their back turned to the crowds and just stood their playing their music, there might as well be a CD plugged in instead. It is the connection with the crowd that makes their acts special. Even Dj’s have begun to get more involved. At one time the DJ was reduced to a tiny little box somewhere in the room, away from everyone. Their job was to mix the music and that was all. As time has changed though, and electronic music has been pushed into the main stream. Go to see a set by someone like Skream and Benga and they will leap around on stage, or dive into the crowd as if it is a paddling pool full of hands eager to grab a piece of the musical producing flesh.

Despite this though, there still remain a number of people who wish to keep their anonymity. This anonymity comes at various levels, ranging from just masks to those that wish to stay hidden somewhat, to those that have never been seen to most people.

The first level of those is the mask-wearing people. MF Doom, Daft punk, Deadmau5 and Gorillaz, all wear masks to a certain extent.  In a recent interview with MF Doom, I remembering him saying he wore the mask because in the music world, and especially in hip-hop music, there is a dependence on what people look like, what they dress like and who they are as a person. He said he put on the mask then, to become just a sound, hidden behind this mask. ‘I could be any person, if you walked down the street you would never even notice me.’ According to some sources, MF Doom has even used this to escape playing certain gigs, sending a ‘double’ along to fill in.

The mask comes on, or in the case of Gorillaz, an animated character, and a different persona is created. The musicians are no longer just themselves, but instead a persona that has been created, as a platform to play their songs through. Daft Punk for example take on the persona of robots, and their whole musical sound, so embedded in electronic music, is the sound created by ‘the robots.’ Their fictional personas are still out their for the public to see. Daft Punk are so big now that everyone knows what the masks look like. Not many people know what the actual person looks like though, but the mask has become them. The same is true for MF Doom, as well as others such as Sbtrkt.

The masks and different personas created also act to differentiate themselves from everyone else. They don’t actually hide themselves away from everyone; the mask instead just adds something else to give them fame.


Gorillaz and Deadmau5 both started hiding behind this masked persona, but as their fame has grown the masks have been reduced. Deadmau5 will very often take his mask off, and if he does interviews will always do it without the mask. Gorillaz on the other hand, who started off completely unknown, was soon revealed to be Damon Albarn and friends. While they used to perform hidden behind a screen of video animated characters, but now they perform in front and take center stage. The pull of known fame then was too much.

At the other end of the scale are the artists who wish to stay either introverted or completely unknown. Mysterious artist Zomby, is very rarely seen, and while he does perform live, has been known to very often not turn up, and even when he does he often wears a mask. His music is still praised by hipsters everywhere, despite gaining the reputation as a bit of a d*ckhead. Heading over to twitter though, and you find Zomby one of the most prolific twitter posters in the scene. Perhaps he is just shy, or maybe he just likes the virtual persona to mess around with everyone.

As with Zomby there are a lot of artists who would rather keep to themselves and only play gigs, but then there are others that have never been seen. Like a rare creature that is known to still exist from his footprints everywhere, some artists move around unknown leaving behind a trail of music.


The bigfoot of the electronic music world is Burial. This incredibly mysterious and enigmatic producer has been creating music since about 2005 and although has done a few interviews has never performed live. That is unless it is actually another DJ or producer using the pseudonym, Burial, to release music.  This mysterious quality to his work though gives him such an edge over others. The music is pure; it is a pure creation. There are no other aspects to influence the way we listen to the music. As with all artists we want a face to put to the creation, but in being denied one we are left with just the music, and therefore a pure listening experience. Numerous DJs have played his/her songs and a lot of people know his name. Does it matter though that we don’t know who it is? I don’t think so. It adds that level of mystery to his music and leaves you guessing as to what kind of guy they are. Would it be better if everyone kept so reclusive? Of course not! There would never be any gigs, or performances, the whole music scene would just be a load of cd players.  

But to have a few individuals that keep to themselves and allow that level of naivety to remain is always going to be good. There is much respect for those that want to remain hidden away from the limelight and produce their music and give it out to the world to listen to, without an egotistical person attached as baggage.

words by Jim Roberts