After attending the show of psych-rockers Goat at London’s Electric Brixton, The Music Void ponders over the gimmick of a masked enigma.
Mystery fuels interest. This formula has been explored by philosophers, romantic poets, actors and even politicians since the infantry of humankind. Similarly, anonymity is a ubiquitous schtick of some bands, who appear wearing masks in public and create a legend that details their origin. With a marketing filter applied, the formula translates into the language of business: hidden identity boosts publicity.
At the dawn of DIY music, Californian avant-garde collective The Residents were the first group who utilised phantasmagorical outfits including masks. Their most famous look featured eyeball helmets. An obscure act at the very start, the anonymous oddballs from San Mateo, California, got attention from the British newspaper Sounds in mid-70s. They eventually gained a cult following and still enjoy the admiration of dedicated fans in different parts of the world. However, the incognito mode of the band’s latest incarnation is an attribute of the saleable commodity rather than an artistic principle. Ten-minute research on the Internet helps to identify those involved.
The early noughties saw the reincarnation of the mask trend which followed deliberately open Britpop culture represented by “icons” rather than mysterious recluses. The Scandinavian scene embraced the principle, giving to the world such enigmatic collectives as The Knife, Sleep Party People, Goat and Ghost to name a few.
Drawing inspiration from world music, paganism and postmodern theatre, these collectives attempted to make a communal art statement. The Knife, a duo featuring siblings Karin and Olof Drejer, often poked fun at the audience by dressing in identical female costumes and wearing wigs. The gender-bending policy of the group was a stab in the back of inequality, The fellow Swedes Goat hide behind the facade of exquisite ethnic clothes of mixed origin, thus, praising the elimination of borders, embracing diversity and fighting prejudice. Denmark’s Sleep Party Party is a statement in itself – although emerging live as a six-piece band, it is a one-person project, a brainchild of Brian Batz inviting session musicians to perform with him. Swedish metal collective Ghost transmitted dark gothic aesthetics by dressing up like the clergy and grim reapers. Visually, they might evoke Slipknot, a perennial American heavy metal band.
All but one have disclosed the names of those involved. Goat have remained loyal to the initial smoke-and-mirrors principle. Although moving from Korpilombolo, a mysterious village in Northern Sweden, to less bemusing Gothenburg, the collective hasn’t demystified their image since the release of their first album World Music in 2012. They still have one official spokesman called Goatman who gives interviews on behalf of the band. Goat claim to originate from Korpilombolo, a tiny place in Northern Sweden where, according to the legend, voodoo rituals used to be practised.
Despite their current state of incognito, Goat, particularly their live version, triggers a question of whether anyone can remain anonymous for a long time, especially now, in the era of advanced digital technology. On one hand, no single Internet user can be protected from data leaks. At the same time, one can easily disguise the public by creating a fake profile. The recent scandalous experiments initiated by AI prove this point. Although robots haven’t beaten humans’ capacity to create, their ability to bemuse is something the music industry might want to catch up with.