Reveal the stories of some of the industry’s most enigmatic masked DJs.
DJs have electrified crowds across the globe with familiar iconic faces including the likes of Calvin Harris, Avicii, and Steve Aoki. While there are many DJs recognizable by their facial features, there are also those who choose to keep their identities hidden with creative masks that double as pieces of art. These masked DJs never go by their given name, and if the average person came across them without their mask, they may very well walk right by them unaware. This article will revisit the history of masked DJs in dance music, taking a glimpse into some of the biggest hidden faces in the industry.
The concept of masked identity in DJing began with aliases made popular by DJs such as Detroit’s Juan Atkins with his names ‘Model 500’ and ‘Infinity’ or Chicago’s Jesse Saunders, going under the names ‘Fresh’ and ‘The Force’. This trend was continued with artists like Moby who went by other names including Brainstorm and Voodoo Child. These aliases laid the groundwork for musical experiences that were meant to isolate music from reality, eventually evolving into the phenomenon of masked DJs that is prominent today.
Daniel Dumile is a producer and DJ from Long Island, New York. Part of the hip-hop supergroup Madvillain with fellow producing titan Madlib, Dumile has utilized his masked persona throughout his entire career, dating back to 1999.
MF Doom proves the relevancy of aliases in masked DJs having released music under names Madvillian (with Madlib), Viktor Vaughn, King Geedorah, and Danger Doom (with DJ Danger Mouse) among others. MF Doom has rocked his mask in every music video and live DJ set throughout his career, though it has evolved from its original ‘90s generation. Check out the history of MF Doom’s mask, as told by its creator Blake Lethem:
Perhaps the most famous masked DJs, their career still flourishing after more than two decades in the business. The French electronic house duo of Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter formed in Paris and rose to prominence with the French house movement.
Their identities have remained hidden throughout their careers, though they were not always the iconic robot characters that everyone recognizes today. The duo began DJing with black bags covering their heads during sets. The masks then progressed into their contemporary incarnation, but at first the robots wore wigs which they later ripped off, deciding the robots had looked better bald. Daft Punk have found critical and commercial success in their robotic personas, having collaborated with the likes of Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, and The Weeknd.
The duo have also popularized wearing masks to award show ceremonies which now seems to be the norm for masked DJs.
Most people haven’t heard of Canadian Joel Zimmerman, but the name Deadmau5 is undoubtedly recognized by music consumers across the globe. The story goes that Zimmerman found a dead mouse inside of his computer after it crashed, and became known amongst his peers afterward as the dead mouse kid. Embracing the nickname, Zimmerman took to an online chatroom to make the username “Deadmouse”, settling on the alias Deadmau5 after discovering that his initial choice was unavailable.
Much like other masked DJs, Deadmau5 has released music under various aliases including Dred and Karma (with Derek Caesar), Halcyon441, Karma K, and Testpilot.
Justin James Moulds is a British DJ that kickstarted his career in 2008 with the Zomby EP. He began releasing music in 2007 across a range of imprints including Hyperdub, Werk Discs, and 4AD. Zomby’s music is reflective of the ‘90s and he has made considerable use of an Akai S2000 Sampler and an Atari ST computer to really capture the era’s sound. He has cited his primary musical influences as jungle and eskibeat.
Zomby has always been intrigued by the fashion world, claiming that he wishes magazines would cover their models faces with masks – he has also claimed that if he had not worn a mask during his career, he would have covered his face with a Hermes scarf. His masked musical persona consists of a mask that resembles the phantom of the opera, with diamond texture and gold metallic coloring. The mask was created by visual designer Ben Drury, and has become the defining image of Zomby’s career.
Swiss DJ and producer Michael Kull has also shrouded his music under a masked alias as Mike Candys. Candys began his career in 2008, hitting the Swiss dance scene hard with his popular song “La Serenissima.” His sole album came in 2011 and charted in the Top 100 in Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. The DJ admits that the “Smiley” mask was not his first creation but rather the one that stuck.
His masked persona is a round yellow smiley face. The mask was created by Candys himself, making it even more unique. His mask visually embodies the wild and cheerful electro signature sound that is tailored for festival culture.
US based Christopher Comstock’s genius in self-branding and marketing have helped him reach superstar status with his Marshmello music persona. Comstock also performs under the alias Dotcom, signed under the same label and management as Marshmello.
The producer has clearly studied the successful masked aliases of the past like Daft Punk and Deadmau5 to craft his own brand. He has even featured in the first ever virtual DJ set in collaboration with the video game developers Epic Games for an in-game experience in the widely popular Fortnite, reaching an audience of millions. The Marshmello alias has even been worn by other stars to further Comstock’s brand including comedic legend Will Ferrell, DJ legend Tiesto, and pop singer Shawn Mendes at the iHeartRadio MMVAs.
The Marshmello mask is a simple white sphere accompanied by lights and was created originally with simplistic lights superglued inside, though now there is a more complex version kept secret by Marshmello. For masked DJs, mystery and enigma are the key to success.
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