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Musical Space

Musical Space: Masks


Bjork is wearing masks now. In the pictures, videos and live performances that support the avant-garde singer’s new album Utopia, her face is hidden behind exquisitely made masks that evoke fantasy animals in various stages of their past and maybe future evolutions. Why does it seem more and more musicians are performing in masks?

It’s obviously good branding - a way to set oneself apart in a crowded market, like Deadmau5 wearing his memorably huge cartoon mouse head. But there are other reasons. Some do it for the advantages of anonymity. The masks worn by metal band Slipknot certainly add to their scary image, but they say that they do it to make it about the music and less about themselves. Anonymity can help an artist lose him- or herself in a role, overcome shyness and even protect them from persecution, as is the case with the balaklavas worn by Russian protest-punk band Pussy Riot.

A mask can also fit into the larger narrative of a mysterious stage persona. There are some very good origin stories: electronic duo Daft Punk were turned into robots by a tragic sampler explosion in their studio; guitarist Buckethead wears a mask and a KFC bucket on his head because he was raised by chickens who scratched his face off. Rapper MF Doom - short for “Metal Face Doom” - wears a metal mask to voice his opinion of the music industry by appropriating the backstory of Marvel Comics’ Dr. Doom, the nemesis of the Fantastic Four, who hides his face from the society responsible for his facial scars.

And then some music is so transcendent that it just doesn’t seem right that the musician should look like a normal human being. Which brings us back to Bjork.


Listening List:
 The Residents, “Moisture,” Commercial Album (1980)
This would be a good one to look up on YouTube. They wear formal top hats and tails with huge eyeballs over their heads. Over 60 experimental albums.

MF Doom “Hey!” Operation Doomsday (1999)
Maybe my favorite rap album. Takes his character from Marvel Comics supervillain Dr. Doom. Love the samples from “The Fantastic Four” and “Scooby Doo” cartoons.

Buckethead, “Welcome to Bucketheadland,” Enter The Chicken (2005) https://youtu.be/BxpOdMRUcRc?t=86
Buckethead’s stage persona matches his superhuman technique and work ethic. He has released 302 studio albums, four special releases, and one EP.

Pussy Riot, “Police State,” 2017
They wear balaklavas, hiding their identity to keep them out of legal trouble with the government they protest against. 

Daft Punk, “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” (2001)
Duo of French House music that dresses and acts like robots.

Slipknot, “Psychosocial,” All Hope Is Gone (2008)

Los Straightjackets, “Tailspin,” Damas y Caballeros! (Live, 2001)
A brilliant retro-surf band that wear Mexican wrestling masks.