They're utterly mysterious and strangely exciting. They drive the imagination wild when we watch them on stage. They can fly you to the moon and steal your heart, or rip it out of your chest and devour it whole. And we're not just talking about boy bands.
Who are these figures and what does it all mean? Terrifying or enchanting, we just can't take our eyes off of a musician in disguise. In a world flooded with perfectly airbrushed close-ups, these artists have chosen a route of solemn (and many times silly) secrecy that gives them an edge like none other.
Let's take a look at the flesh and blood faces of some of the most well-known undercover artists and why they fell for the allure of anonymity.
Established: 1973 in New York City
Who they are (originally): Starchild - Paul Stanley, The Demon - Gene Simmons, Spaceman or Space Ace (Ace Frehley) and Catman (Peter Criss)
How the disguises came about: Wanting to take part in the androgynous glitter look of the '70s, the members of Kiss soon found out that effeminate makeup and clothes did not work on their burly builds. The face paint designs came as a complete stream of consciousness on Gene Simmons's part, literally just looking in the mirror and beginning to draw.
Current disguise of choice: The signature white and black face paint designs have remained the same over the decades, but the rest of the get-ups have been upgraded from spandex jumpsuits to full-on metal and leather rock warrior costumes. Not to mention a revolving door of line-up changes.
Reason for going anonymous: "Getting up onstage was almost a holy place for us, like church, so being onstage looking like a bum wasn't my idea of respect. That's where the makeup and dressing up came in. It would have obviously been a lot easier to get up onstage in jeans and T-shirts and go, 'Okay, here we are--we're the Ramones!' And that would have been just as valid, but it would not have been honest." - Gene Simmons
Human after all:
The men of KISS have the most iconic on-stage disguises in the history of rock, but they're not opposed to flaunting their tanned and toned human skin for the camera
Established: 2002 in Toronto, Canada
Who he is: Joel Zimmerman
How the disguise came about: The "mau5head" was created by Zimmerman while learning how to use 3D modeling software.
Current disguise of choice: The mau5head has lasted the test of time, now coming in a variety of colors and capabilities. Zimmerman's helmets are equipped the same impressive LED technology that rivals those of Daft Punk's.
Reasons for going anonymous: Zimmerman's friend convinced him to turn the 3D model into a physical mask for his first performance.
"I wore it out for my first official deadmau5 gig, and everyone was looking at me like, what the f--k? It was a combination of that, the big brand identity, and the music, that pushed it all forward. It was so tongue-in-cheek, it’s like no f----ng prisoners." - Joel Zimmerman
Human after all:
Deadmau5 may wear a mask on stage, but he sure isn't camera shy. The dj's face can frequently be seen in the flesh on the red carpet, at parties, and beside fiancé Kat Von D.
Established: 1995 in Des Moines, Iowa
Who they are: Sid Wilson, Joey Jordison, Chris Fehn, Jim Root, Craig Jones, Shawn Crahan, Mick Thomson, Corey Taylor, and Paul Gray (deceased)
How the disguise came about: Drummer Shawn Crahan was drawn to a clown mask as a teen while shopping and began carrying the mask everywhere he went—including rehearsal. The trend caught on with the rest of the band, so they all started wearing individual masks during performances.
Current disguise of choice: Slipknot has kept the basic theme of masks with matching jumpsuits throughout their career. The masks have undergone a few makeovers, but have essentially remained the same basic designs (clown mask for Crahan, stitched mask for frontman Corey Taylor, Cyrano mask for bassist Chris Fehn, etc).
Reason for going anonymous: "It's our way of becoming more intimate with the music. It's a way for us to become unconscious of who we are and what we do outside of music. It's a way for us to kind of crawl inside it and be able to use it. There's a little aspect of, I guess, our personality in them, but in a way, it's almost like wearing the music." - Corey Taylor
Human after all:
Slipknot's members are pretty well documented out of costume, making plenty of public appearances. Singer Corey Taylor has gone completely disguise-less in his side band Stone Sour, as have other Slipknot members who perform in other bands.
Established: 1993 in Paris, France
Who they are: Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo
How the disguise came about: The French electronic music duo wore a series of cheap Halloween-quality masks at performances before taking on their robot personas. The now-iconic gold and silver robot helmets were created by an artist friend for a 2001 photo shoot. They were originally fitted with wigs, which the two promptly ditched.
Current disguise of choice: Several versions of the same helmets, sans the weaves. Currently fitted with amenities like programmable LED lights, air conditioning, communication systems, and even models that are designed to photograph better.
"We're interested in the line between fiction and reality, creating these fictional personas that exist in real life" - Thomas Bangalter (silver robot)
"We're not performers, we're not models – it would not be enjoyable for humanity to see our feature… but the robots are exciting to people." - Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (gold robot)
Human after all:
Pretty difficult to find nowadays, Thomas Bangalter (left) was caught by surprise by an eagle-eyed photographer at an event recently talking to a filmmaker friend. Older unmasked photos of both Bangalter and Homem-Christo can be found online, but for over a decade now the duo have been very wary of shutterbugs.
Established: 1984 in Richmond, Virginia
Who they are: Dave Brockie, Mike Derks, Brad Roberts, Jamison Land, and Brent Purgason
How the disguise came about: The monster costumes were originally intended for a horror film that original Gwar members Chuck Varga and Hunter Jackson intended to make.
Current disguise of choice: The costumes are constantly being recreated for each tour by a team of artists, with the basic look of each character remaining essentially the same, but with different characters being rotated in and out. Along with Gwar's costumes are a huge array of props and elaborate sets, adding to the utterly over-the-top and incredibly fun shows.
Reason for going anonymous: Members of theatrical punk band Death Piggy (whose lead singer Dave Brockie became Gwar's leader Odorus Urungus) donned the costumes to perform as their own satirical opening band just for fun. It was soon clear their audiences preferred Gwar to Piggy, and the rest was history!
Human after all:
Photos of Brockie and some other members can be found with some thorough internet searching, but the band keeps the Gwar legend pretty sacred, opting to make any and all appearance in costume. They have even made hilarious appearance in costume and character on some of the biggest trash talk shows like Jerry Springer and The Joan Rivers Show.
But in 2011, Gwar surprised their audience during a show when they stepped out of their lumberingly elaborate costumes and performed as human beings in tribute to their guitarist Cory Smoot, who had died the week before at just 34.
The Bloody Beetroots
Established: 2006 in Italy
Who they are: Sir Bob Cornelius Rifo, accompanied by Tommy Tea for DJ sets.
How the disguise came about: Rifo crew started out wearing black or sometime red fabric Venom masks, the nemesis of Spiderman.
Current disguise of choice: Rifo's own mask has evolved past Venom to being purely a Bloody Beetroots mask, to the point where the latest incarnation was teased to fans with two videos before debuting it. The new mask is equipped with 200 LED lights in the eyes, but renders Rido completely blind while wearing it—something he relishes.
Reason for going anonymous: “The mask doesn’t necessarily associate the music with me as a person, but me as an image. It doesn’t matter who is beneath the mask. Bloody Beetroots is a way of thinking, an idea and a way of life that is also my modus operandi.” - Sir Bob Cornelius Rifo
Human after all:
Like anyone else on our list, photos of the Bloody Beetroots' bare faces can be found after enough searching. But Rifo seems to be consistent with covering his face with at least his hand for any roaming photographers instead of shying away from cameras completely.
Established: 1999 in Stockholm, Sweden
Who they are: Brother and sister duo Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson
How the disguise came about: Frequently shying away from the media or any kind of appearance, it took the Knife seven years to even start performing their music. They were almost forced onto the stage after the overhwelmng response to their 2003 album Deep Cuts. The Dreijers started appearing with Venetian crow masks in any photo of themselves and on stage where they were further hidden behind a gauzy curtain. The Knife have even gone as far as sending people to pose at them at awards ceremonies, including when they won a Swedish Grammy, or only sending a fuzzy video in lieu of themselves.
Current disguise of choice: The two have switched out their disguises a few times, currently opting for '80s-style leather jumpsuits and long wigs for both with different face paints that range from full-on to just around the eyes. Some looks include corpse paint and some kind of comic book villains.
"If we could choose not to do any photos at all, we would. But it’s quite impossible. Because I don’t think it has anything to do with the music. So we use the photos now to show what our music looks like." - Karin Dreijer Andersson
"It’s very cold and dark and suggestive maybe. We feel like that if we had been there with our plain faces, that would destroy the illusion of the music. So we tried to dress up as the music. Occult and dark but at the same time, funny." - Olof Dreijer
Human after all:
Before they began touring, the Knife had one last photo set shot of them dressed as a gymnast and his instructor. That set has been the only official photos that made the duo undoubtedly identifiable.
Established: 2005 in Los Angeles, CA
Who they are: Daniel Murillo (Danny), Jorel Decker (J-Dog), George Ragan (Johnny 3 Tears), Jordon Terrell (Charlie Scene), Dylan Alvarez (Funny Man), and Matthew St. Claire (Da Kurlzz)
How the disguise came about: Each member has their own explanation, but one story that isn't like the other artists on this list is from Terrell, who said in an interview in 2010 that when the band started out, they would talking about people they knew and simply didn't want those people to know.
Current disguise of choice: Hollywood Undead's personally stylized masks have been painted and molded in different ways over the years and the most current incarnations have integrated remote-controlled LED lights.
Reason for going anonymous: Reasons differ from member to member, from remaining anonymous to put emphasis on the music, to embodying their individual personalities, to purely for the fashion of it.
Human after all:
The dudes from Hollywood Undead are on the deadmau5 end of visibility spectrum, frequently appearing mask-less at events in front of the media, and have sometimes removed the masks during performances. But when all together representing the band, Hollywood Undead will usually come masked.