I took the photo featured below at the Anaheim NAMM conference in 2012. The event was packed, and with all those music-biz go-getters scurrying around and forging connections, it made for a cloyingly warm, often uncomfortably muggy experience. As I walked the floor, wiping the beaded sweat from my brow, I turned a corner and saw Mick Thomson, one of Slipknot’s guitar players, signing autographs for a long line of rabid fans. He stood tall in the stale air, dressed completely in black, a menacing mask covering what must have been his sweltering face. “Well,” I thought, “At least I’m not that guy.”
I wondered if, in situations like these, Thomson (Number 7, to you Maggots out there) or any of the other ‘Knots ever regretted being a member of a masked band. Probably not, because it’s always been a major part of their appeal and identity, and though they spent their early years eerily anonymous, they’ve since had their faces “exposed” and it didn’t send their career crumbling.
Electronic artists Daft Punk and Burial both recently saw their unmasked faces strewn across the web, but it was only voluntary in one of the cases. Deadmau5 wears a mask onstage and it’s his overwhelming trademark, but you’re not going to see him walking down the street with it – or any other mask – on. (Though I have heard he smokes cigs in there…wild!)
In 2014, being a musician in the spotlight and keeping your identity a secret is nearly impossible, but not completely: The members of Swedish band Ghost have managed to keep their identities mostly unknown up to this point, but there are plenty of rumors floating around online. Seems like all it does is add to the intrigue.
Brooklyn rapper Leikeli47 started her career not covering her face, but she’s since started sporting an array of ski masks and it’s done nothing but increase her exposure. In fact, her new mixtape opens with a Bane sample from The Dark Knight Rises: “No one cared who I was until I put on the mask.”
But what about you? Should you wear a mask or try to get your whole band to wear masks? Let’s look at the pros and cons of a masked musical life:
Pro: Masks are mysterious and will give you an air of intrigue in an era when musicians are arguably too dependent on their public personas.
It’s your own brand of biting social commentary and a way of pushing back against a society hellbent on forcing you to conform to their face-displaying ideals. You’re making a statement!
Con: Masks will turn your head into an aquarium of perspiration and regret when you get under those stage lights.
I sweat enough when I’m onstage. I don’t need something wrapped around my skull, sealing in the gamey flavor of my scalp juices. You know that t-shirt you peel off after a particularly intense gig? It’s like that, but in your mouth.
Pro: Masks will help you stand out.
Not a lot of bands wear masks!
Con: Masks will get you lumped in with other bands that wear masks.
Turns out a lot of bands wear masks!
Pro: Your masks will make it “all about the music” because people won’t be distracted by those pesky faces.
You’re all about cutting through the crap and reminding us all what’s really important: Your flame-covered B.C. Rich Warlock and what you plan to do with it.
Con: Your masks will make it “all about the masks” because it’s the first thing writers and audience members will latch onto.
You wanted to be “that band with the unparalleled guitar shreddery” and instead you’re “that band who bought their stage costumes at Halloween Headquarters.”
Pro: Custom masks are tailor-made to be reproduced and sold as merch items, which leads to increased fan engagement and big bumps in your show revenue.
Do these kids want to be just like you? Now they kind of can!
Con: Anyone buying your mask and wearing it in public will most likely be targeted as a dangerous individual and can expect to be “neutralized” by local authorities.
Might want to put a warning on those masks you’re selling.
Pro: No one can see your face.
This one is particularly appealing to people who are hard to look at.
Con: You live your life looking over your shoulder, wondering when some opportunistic jagwagon is going to “de-mask” you for their own personal gain.
Joke’s on them: you sewed the mask to your face.
What do you think? Do you wear a mask when you perform? Does it stink after you take it off? Has it helped your career? Who are your favorite masked musicians?
Tell us your mask-related tales in the comments!