Entertainers have been using masks, make-up and costumes since at least as far back as the Greeks. Artists in the 1970s—such as Kiss, Alice Cooper and David Bowie—are all superstars that made theatre a major part of their careers. Surely these “masks” allowed them a sense of liberation and novelty and may have indeed been a large part of what made them successful. Here is a brief description of a couple of the more interesting examples.
Initially formed in 1966, but then unnamed, the group would mail a demo tape to Warner Brothers in 1971. No one at the label was initially impressed and the tape was returned. The group hadn’t included a name in the return address so the rejection slip was simply addressed to “The Residents”. The members of the band decided this would be the name they would use, first becoming Residents Unincorporated and then shortening it to The Residents.
They are an American avant-garde group whose first official release came out in 1972. They’ve since put out more than sixty albums, numerous music videos and short films, three CD-ROM projects and at least ten DVDs. The band has also completed seven major world tours and scored several films.
The Residents have won multiple awards for their multimedia projects and they founded Ralph Records, a label focusing on avant garde and underground music. The group is image-nihilistic and remains anonymous preferring to focus on their music. In public, the band never speaks and is always costumed usually wearing head-encasing eyeballs. Their projects are often deconstructions of pop music or complex concept albums.
TISM is an Australian group founded in 1982. Their name stands for This Is Serious Mum and the group’s original goal was to mock the rock industry. Their song lyrics refer to art, literature and pop culture with many of the references pertaining to their hometown of Melbourne.
While their initial live 1983 concert was a failure and caused them to disband they would quickly reunite the following year (1984). They have somehow become an underground success nonetheless and the bulk of their studio releases feature some type of controversial cover such as pictures of Sinead O’ Connor tearing up a picture of the Pope, a picture of a Koala (which looked much like Sydney artist Ken Done’s popular character) with a heroin needle. Multiple law suits over these album jackets simply encourage fans to buy any and all TISM material upon release.
Onstage the group sports various costumes depending on their performances. Their fist outfit consisted of black balaclavas. Later live “reunion” appearances witnessed members wearing fat suits, flower heads (with Beatles band member names attached) and radiation suits.
The band is often backed by other performers such as actors reading Shakespeare or even a fashion show. The band remained anonymous for most of their career but too much stage-diving gave fans the opportunity to unmask them and sloppy management allowed their real names to be listed in the credits of a TV appearance. They last performed in 2004 and the 2008 death of their founding guitarist James Paull (stage name Token Blackman) has squelched hopes of further reunions.
Slipknot is an American heavy metal band formed in Iowa in 1995. These masked musicians have gone through a roster change or two and their current lead singer actually joined in 1999. The band’s concert costumes consist of individual masks and matching jumpsuits. Each suit includes the imprint of a barcode that appeared on the band’s debut demo CD Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat.
Another metal band named Mushroomhead sued claiming that Slipknot copied their image while Slipknot has sued another band, Coq Roq, claiming the same thing. Coq Roq countersued claiming that “numerous bands” such as Kiss and Gwar have “used masked personas”. While some claim the costumes and masks are simply sales gimmicks, the group members state that the costumes and masks are meant to “divert attention from the band members and toward the music and that the masks are a representation of how the music makes (them) feel”.
One thing is certain, sometimes being an “unknown” can be a boost to an otherwise negligible musician’s career.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.