10 musicians who perform in disguise, from Slipknot and Marshmello to Buckethead

From the famous black-and-white stage make-up of Kiss, to the celebrated guitarist who wears a KFC bucket on his head, these stars prefer a little artistic anonymity

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When it comes to being a musician, you’d be forgiven for thinking that every performer wants to spend their life in the limelight.

But for every attention-loving Katy Perry and David Guetta, there’s a Sia and a Marshmello determined to keep their identity under wraps at all costs.

From hiding inside a mouse-shaped helmet or beneath a giant wig, to faking an entire support band just to inhabit alternative personas, these 10 acts prove you don’t have to show your face to make headlines and win Grammys…

1. Marshmello

DJ and producer Marshmello recently performed with Nancy Ajram in Riyadh. AFP

Marshmello, aka Christopher Comstock from Philadelphia, has been performing as his alter ego since 2015, when he began releasing remixes online, quickly gaining fans and earning critical acclaim.

The Grammy-nominee aged 30 has collaborated with names such as Bastille, Khalid and Selena Gomez, and worked with Egyptian singer-songwriter Amr Diab on the track Bayen Habeit.

Most recently, he worked with Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram on Sah Sah, now a bona fide summer hit.

“I don't take my helmet off because I don't want or need fame,” the producer and DJ said on Twitter. “I'm genuinely trying to create something positive for people to connect with... The helmet makes me marshmello and also makes you marshmello... we are all marshmello.”

2. Kiss

Arguably one of the most famous and influential rock bands of all time, Kiss are inextricably linked to their black-and-white make-up, outlandish outfits (and antics!) and, of course, Gene Simmons’ tongue.

Bursting on to the rock scene in the 1970s in their full onstage regalia, each of the four members of the band developed their own characters, with Starchild (Paul Stanley), the Demon (Gene Simmons), the Spaceman (Ace Frehley) and Catman (Peter Criss).

Although they ditched the costumes in 1983 for their self-confessed “unmasked” era, they costumed up again in the 1990s, returning to their original personas, although not the original line-up.

“If you see a guy walking down the street who's six-foot-plus and black hair down to here and platform boots, you go, 'either he's a member of Kiss, or the circus is in town',” said Stanley. “So [did we do it for] anonymity? No."

3. Sia

Although she has now revealed her face, the Australian singer-songwriter spent years hiding behind her signature black-and-white wig, topped with an oversized hair bow.

A former backing singer for Jamiroquai, Sia has written for Beyonce, Britney Spears and Katy Perry, Jessie J, Kelly Clarkson and Celine Dion, among others, before breaking through as a solo artist with the track Elastic Heart from the film The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Around this time, she began hiding her face behind a wig, telling The Late Late Show: “I thought, ‘What doesn’t exist in pop music at the moment?’ And it was mystery! I was like, ‘There’s pictures on Instagram of everyone at the dentist.’”

4. Daft Punk

Grammy-winning duo Daft Punk became as famous for their signature helmets as for their groundbreaking music. AFP

The French electronic music duo consisting of musicians and producers Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo are among the most influential people in music.

Having worked with the likes of Kanye West, The Weeknd and Pharrell Williams back in the '90s, the pair used to wear masks or black bags over their heads for promotional appearances, switching to the helmets which became their signature in 2001.

Speaking about their anonymous style, six-time Grammy winner Homem-Christo has said: “We don't want to be photographed. We don't especially want to be in magazines.”

5. Insane Clown Posse

Hailing from Detroit, Michigan, the hip-hop and rap group consists of rappers Violent J (Joseph Bruce) and Shaggy 2 Dope (Joseph Utsler).

Their style, both in dressing and music, evolved from the theme of the “dark carnival”, with the two members donning face paint and wearing clown outfits that are emulated by their fans who call themselves Juggalos — a fandom which was named by the FBI in its 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment as a “non-traditional gang”.

“That was 1991. That was the first time we ever painted up,” Bruce told Esquire of creating their alter egos. “We did it at a concert at a college and when we got out there, it was too late and the show had already happened. We drove three hours through a blizzard to get there so we were going to perform one way or another. That was our first concert and it was terrible.”

6. Gorillaz

The Clash's Mick Jones and Paul Simonon have both been touring members of Damon Albarn's Gorillaz. Photo: FilmMagic

With Billboard, Brit and Grammy awards under their belts, British group Gorillaz have achieved global acclaim.

The group consists of four digitally animated characters — 2-D, Murdoc Niccals, Noodle and Russel Hobbs — created by Tank Girl artist Jamie Hewlett and led by Blur frontman Damon Albarn.

With hits including Clint Eastwood and Feel Good Inc., the group boasts 19 touring members, with founders Albarn and Hewlett admitting that animating the group started out as a social experiment.

“This was the beginning of the sort of boy band explosion... and it just felt so manufactured,” Albarn said in an interview. “And we were like, well let's make a manufactured band but make it kind of interesting.”

7. Gwar

Pustulus Maximus is the lead guitarist of Gwar. Photo: FilmMagic

The American shock-rockers have carved quite the niche for themselves in the heavy metal genre since their formation in 1984. Donning warrior-style outfits and staging hugely cinematic shows, Gwar’s image is firmly entrenched in a mix of mythology and sci-fi.

The original five members of the Grammy-nominated group started out in a band called Death Piggy. They came up with the idea to create Gwar as the support act for Death Piggy, with the intention of making the band purposefully bad to make Death Piggy look better, donning costumes and masks to portray them.

But when Gwar became the more popular group, they ditched the old band and became Gwar full-time.

8. Buckethead

A former member of Guns N’ Roses, Brian Carroll performs under the pseudonym Buckethead, wearing a white mask — inspired by the film Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers — and a bucket on his head — originally a KFC bucket — to play blues, rock, ambient and more.

The critically acclaimed guitar player who has played with the likes of Iggy Pop, has performed on more than 50 albums and been named one of the Top 10 Fastest Guitar Shredders by Guitar One magazine.

“I was eating [KFC], and I put the mask on and then the bucket on my head,” he told Guitar Player magazine of creating his alter ego. “I went to the mirror. I just said, 'Buckethead. That's Buckethead right there.' It was just one of those things. After that, I wanted to be that thing all the time.”

9. Deadmau5

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 24:  deadmau5 performs during his "lots of shows in a row" tour at the Fox Theater on April 24, 2017 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)

With six Grammy nominations to his name, Canadian producer and DJ Joel Thomas Zimmerman is better known to his legion of fans as Deadmau5.

Donning a stylised mouse head to perform onstage, the progressive house pioneer is one of the world’s highest-paid DJs and his helmet was created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, the designers behind the Muppets and Yoda.

In 2014, Disney tried to sue the DJ for copyright infringement, claiming the helmet resembled Mickey Mouse. The producer, who calls the look his “brand identity”, took to Twitter to say he felt it was ridiculous that the entertainment behemoth thought people "might confuse an established electronic musician/performer with a cartoon mouse".

10. Slipknot

The US heavy metal band was formed in 1995 by founding members Shawn Crahan, Joey Jordison and Paul Gray.

Famous for their chaotic performances and onstage antics, the group all wear different masks to perform, along with jumpsuits, which have become their uniform.

The mask trend was started by percussionist Shawn “Clown” Crahan, who would turn up to rehearsals wearing a clown mask, which inspired his nickname.

“That mask for me has always been a physical representation of the person inside me who just never had a voice,” frontman Corey Taylor, who joined the band in 1997, told BBC’s Artsnight. “It just allows me to be me.”

Updated: August 17, 2022, 3:43 AM