I’ve long been fascinated by a large number of artists that choose not to play by the notion of fame.
That is, shy away from the idea of presenting themselves, but instead putting themselves behind a cloak of anonymity, or behind a disguise. There have been a great many artists that have done so, as the mass of suggestions that I got aeons ago confirmed, and I could have included another ten.
/Subject /Disguise /Anonymity
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But these ten to me had the most interesting stories – or the most interesting sounds – and thus they feature.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound me. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
A band I never got ’round to seeing live in their original incarnation, sadly, is Batushka. A deeply unusual concept for a Black Metal band – anonymity was retained initially by the band wearing Eastern Orthodox habits and religious iconography, while their songs were written in Old Church Slavonic and had religious overtones too, and live they had a reputation for astonishing mass-like shows. The anonymity was eventually broken by a messy split that ended up in the courts (and still doesn’t seem resolved), with guitarist Krzysztof Drabikowski touring as the original band, while vocalist Bartłomiej Krysiuk tours and records with his own version of Batushka. The original pre-split album Литоургиіа Litourgiya is astonishing, still, and well worth your time.
The mysterious, anonymous French group Blut Aus Nord are not like other Black Metal bands. For a start, they rarely sound like anyone else, but also, they’ve gone on record as saying their mission is to “erase all preconceived ideas of black metal and extreme music in general”, not mention having no interest whatsoever in Satanism and Nationalism, either. As well as that, they’ve never played live, nor do they have intention to do so, but when you listen to their expansive discography, it’s clear why: how on earth could a band ever recreate their intense, complex sound live? Not to mention, which era of the band would you want to hear? The deeply weird, quasi-psych experimentation, the droning minimalism, or the brutal maximism? Or the early attempts at bringing shoegazing textures to what was nominally black metal (an idea taken on by everyone else since)?
This Ohio-based band have now been around for thirty years, and from the outset decided to use masks and psudenyms to allow a focus on their music rather than who they were. Interestingly, their videos make no particular attempt to hide their faces – the image is more of a stage-prop, and one that got them a lot of attention, particularly when Slipknot (who formed a bit after Mushroomhead) made headlines with their masks and outfits (and, indeed, deliberate attempts to hide their identities for a while, too). The compilation XX was what got me interested in Mushroomhead, anyway, and their industrial-metal-meets-Faith No More stylings were distinctive, to say the least. Sadly I’ve never got ’round to seeing them live…
GHOST have had remarkable success over the past decade – I suspect helped by their striking image and live show (where they subvert Catholic imagery and elements of worship into “support” for Satan – needless to say invoking the ire of the Church). I first saw them back in 2013, at one of the Jägermeister shows at Brixton that were a fiver a ticket, and they blew me away – even if they never quite matched the live force on record. Until 2017, too, they were anonymous, and deliberately so, even if frontman/prime mover Tobias Forge had been rumoured to be involved for some time. That was confirmed in messy ways that year, including a lawsuit from past members, but it doesn’t appear to have stopped their momentum, as in recent years they’ve become one of the biggest current bands in metal, and an absolutely enormous draw live.
That said, they’ve not appealed to everyone: my wife was distinctly unimpressed when she first heard them, dismissing them as a satanic KISS…
Broadly anonymous, “bedroom producers” are not exactly unusual in electronic music, with many artists having absolutely no interest in attention beyond the music they make, but the case of William Bevan – eventually revealed as Burial – is an unusual case. His early work – the quite brilliant self-titled album – was mysterious in every way, a dark and melancholy image of London that had a humanity, but crucially anonymity, cutting right through it. Untrue was even better, but the increased critical attention in particular meant William Bevan was outed as Burial whether he wanted to be or not. It turned out that he didn’t want the limelight, and has since retreated to releasing tracks and EPs here and there, as if releasing another full-length album will see the glare of light illuminating him again.
This French duo are best known for two things – soundtracking the wild thrills of Banlieue 13 and the sequel, and wearing impressive Cephalopod headwear that completely obscures their identities (and makes for quite the display live, too). Musically they make thumpingly heavy, bass-led electronic music, that seems to have been one of the source influences for what is now know as Industrial Bass…
Elizabeth Bernholz is another here that doesn’t necessarily use disguise to entirely obscure her identity, but instead uses the concept to become another character. The brutality of Unflesh saw her simply obscuring her face while musically distorting her voice out of all recognition as she sung about a body (humans) and a system (capitalism) that is wearing out and collapsing. The extraordinary Pastoral took on the immediate aftermath of Brexit and the smug, “Little Englander” mentality and tore away the mask to reveal the rotten core beneath, while Bernholz dressed up in a twisted court jester outfit that had trainers and a tracksuit.
Something of a chaotic, legendary group – they formed in Melbourne in 1982, and have released controversial albums, played reputedly bonkers live shows dressed in elaborate costumes and balaclavas, redacted books, and generally taken the piss out of anyone or anything that shows an interest in them – including last year when they were interviewed by Guardian Australia as they broke a nineteen-year silence. If you’re reading this, you will have surely heard He’ll Never Be An Ol’ Man River at least once in your life.
That they’ve maintained their anonymity all this time – particularly given how controversial they have been on repeated occasions – is quite the feat.
Two masked, anonymous Swedes shouting in German over thumping, raw EBM beats. They could be people we already recognise from other bands, they could be just two people who got lucky with a record deal. They are clearly not entirely serious – even if the music is quite great, and absolutely destroys live – and appear to leave a trail of drunken destruction whenever they play. I’m quite happy to let them remain anonymous, quite frankly…
Finally? The ultimate anonymous band, perhaps, who formed in the late sixties and – aside from Hardy Fox, who finally outed himself as one of the primary composers and performers in the band before he died from brain cancer in 2018 – have managed otherwise to continue to perform and record without ever confirming or revealing their identities. That said, they are a band I can’t even profess to know much of – their dizzying discography covers pages of their website – but I’m very much glad they exist, as no-one would believe me if I made them up.