Every Day is Halloween — Musicians in Costumes

Halloween is, objectively, a pretty weird holiday. It was conceived through vicious conflicting ideologies and has been mutated into a night reserved for children, costumes, and commercialism. There’s this strange level of intrigue to dressing up for Halloween and the anonymity that comes with it. It leads even adults to participate, attempting to obtain that same juvenile excitement and horror from their childhoods. For some musicians, however, every performance is the equivalent of Halloween.

Creating music while in costume adds both a layer of intrigue to a live performance, and allows musicians a level of removal from what they’re producing. Utilizing a stage persona means an artist is consciously presenting only a specific character instead of allowing their real selves to act as the face of their music.

For some artists anonymity is a level of protection, for others it allows them to push their dramatic performances further with less personal repercussions for their behavior. Not so an artist can do heinous things onstage and live a normal life without consequence, more so, it further separates the artist’s personal life from what they create.

For instance, Gwar‘s live performances bulldoze right past normal hardcore intensity into straight raunchy anarchy, in large part thanks to their monstrous presentations. But in regular life, being associated with the gore-heavy aspects of their performances could hinder some relationships, or make interactions a little awkward. Their giant monstrous costumes allow the band members to avoid being recognized as the musicians that do things like rip the skin off silicone caricatures of presidents or spray fake viscera over their entire stage and audience.

Gwar is not the only group to utilize horrific exaggerated imagery in their stage personas. Slipknot has been hiding their faces in grotesque and spiked masks since 1997. Originally their masks were worn in a somewhat masochistic way. The unclean and uncomfortable masks were a sort of visual representation of their hardcore mentality. As the band has grown they’ve chosen to upgrade their masks per a ritual based on their album-release cycle, which results in an ever-changing variety of terrifying masks worn by the performers.

Juggalo bands don’t all wear masks, but the notorious clown face paint has a whole different level of horror and chaos associated with it. The founders of the Juggalo subculture and the most infamous group is Insane Clown Posse. The group’s face paint has come to be associated with pseudo-violent and campy behavior, a phenomenon only furthered by the FBI’s controversial decision to label Juggalos as a “gang.” This sentiment has been challenged multiple times, but regardless of the government’s perception of the band, their costumed performances deliberately attempt to create a unified subculture and confuse the general masses. Both of which the group does quite successfully.

Conversely, musicians like Pussy Riot perform in costume to bring attention to the criminalization of protests in Russia and other social-rights issues. Originally, their masks were used to protect themselves from very real threats, but now they are used to reinforce the group’s anti-establishment message and worn in solidarity by fans to express their support for the group.

In a somewhat similar respect, the non-binary musician Jazmin Bean performs as a genderless monster in order to reference arbitrary gender roles and limiting identity expression. Their choice of how to present themselves bleeds into their personal life and their own gender identity, but the monstrous aspect is exaggerated to the extreme in their artistic persona.

Other musicians perform in costume to force attention away from them as individuals and onto their music. The electro producer and DJ Marshmello initially kept his identity secret for the first two years of his professional career, and it’s still debated if he’s been “unmasked” at all. He’s repeatedly done fake face reveals and has succeeded in taunting fans with his identity since 2015. For him, remaining anonymous is about creating something neutrally accessible, and relatable. He’s rejected the idea that he needs fame and said he just wants to create something optimistic for his fans to relate to.

Red Leather creates in a similar vein. The musician was propelled into the public sphere this year by his small, but dedicated internet following. He performs in an exaggerated fringe-adorned cowboy hat, completely obscuring his face. The anonymity forces people to appreciate the music for exactly what it is, and his presence adds a layer of mysteriousness to his confessional-style songs.

Some musicians’ choice of costume is paired with elaborate lore folded into the performances. Daft Punk‘s iconic robot helmets were conceived in a bid similar to other artists to maintain privacy and restrict the fame from leaching their creativity. The duo created an offbeat origin story justifying the helmets, claiming that a freak recording accident left both previously human musicians as robots.

Another suspected robot is Buckethead, inarguably one of the most talented contemporary guitarists. According to Buckethead himself, he is a robot raised by chickens and wears the KFC bucket on his head as a grotesque but sweet sentiment for his now-eaten chicken family. The musician has long been admired for his raw creativity and desire to make music for the sake of actual creation. Thanks to his talent and eccentric backstory he’s gotten to be a participant in a number of widely-ranging projects.

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