At a times where we are all living behind masks, the Futurgrooves team wanted to address the question of wearing the mask… in electronic music. The mask is at the origin of the culture of anonymity serving the music. From the Underground Resistance collective in Detroit to Daft Punk, why do some electronic music artists prefer wearing masks?
70’s & 80’s : The birth of a culture
Let’s jump a little into the past, at a time when the exploitation of the image of rock superstars such as Queen or Kiss is at its peak. Back in the 70s and 80s: a time when the frenzy of the star-system borders on indecency, where exuberant script is king. Far away, a music with cold, jerky and repetitive rhythms is heard… it’s electronic music!
This new musical genre emerges in response to the abuse of star-system machinery: it is the birth of a new culture that puts music at the centre of attention. In opposition to the «super-scripting» of the bands of Rock’n Roll, the electronic music puts the artist at the same level as the public, the DJ’s and the dancefloor are one: it is the beginning of a new era of musical performance, whose mask will soon be a symbol.
End of the 80’s : The mask at the service of music
In a decade, electronic culture stands out because it focuses on music, not on the artist. It was the collective and label Underground Resistance (UR), founded in the late 1980s, that introduced the culture of anonymity into electronic music. The DJ’s of the collective offer incognito performances, dressed in black, faces hidden by hoods and scarves. The members of UR, originally from the ghettos of Detroit, prefer music to the artist’s ego: they perform masked and refuse to be photographed. With its innovative and challenging ideas, UR embodies and builds a culture of anonymity that will grow in
90’s: advance masked… in illegality!
Therefore, electronic music embodies values and ideals. The 90’s are the peak of this underground culture that carries protest and marginal values. It is with the birth of rave parties that the culture of mask and anonymity spreads. These parties celebrate music and dancefloor… illegally. It is therefore not surprising that many DJ’s preserved and hid their identities with hoods or masks. They did not hesitate to play hidden; nobody knew who they were, only the sound system was visible. Despite their anonymity, DJ’s were at the heart of a growing culture.
90’s: Anonymity, the key to success?
In parallel to this illegal context, masked artists make their appearance and democratize this practice to the general public. How not to evoke Daft Punk: French duo pioneer of wearing the mask during their live performances. It is after the success of their first album Homework (1997) that Daft Punk puts on the helmet for the very first time. The two robotic and avant-garde characters maintain the mystery and create a universe that will make them famous worldwide. Result: 20 years of career, an international success, an iconic and unique universe thanks to their robotic alter-ego.
At the same moment, the mask was not the only way to put music at the centre of attention. The example of Bob Sinclar is revealing: the same alias for a multitude of DJs and producers. In 1998, the humorous alias «Bob Sinclar» brought together many anonymous DJs around the same project, erasing the identity of each to the benefit of music.
Anonymity and the wearing of the mask have seduced music lovers of all genres: from then on it is a scenographic and/or marketing asset.
Today: Why are DJ’s masked?
The appearance of masked DJs is strangely contradictory. On the one hand, DJs take hold of them to support dissident values. On the other hand, DJs are making it their trademark and are starting a new trend. However, a question arises: do these artists who are opposed in everything pursue the same goal?
There are many reasons why DJs wear masks. Bearer of mystery and imagination, the mask is for some an artistic, aesthetic or marketing choice. For others, masked performers represent the natural heritage of the underground culture of the 90s and allow them to preserve anonymity. Sometimes even, some DJ’s wear a mask during their performances to fight their shyness in front of the audience.
Despite all these reasons, which ultimately remain the choice of each artist, all these DJ’s have at least 2 important things in common: they focus on music and do their shopping in peace.