Daft Punk, deadmau5, Marshmello… Some of the greatest, most recognizable dance music icons have made it to the top wearing a mask — and the stories behind them are just as intriguing as their aesthetic.
Billboard unmasks some of the world’s most elusive DJs in a new feature story, 11 DJs Who Wear Masks and the Stories Behind Them. From Marshmello’s playful bucket-shaped head to Claptone‘s shiny, golden disguise, from Malaa‘s menacing ski mask to Daft Punk’s robot helmets — these are some of the top masked DJs to ever grace the decks.
Maybe it’s the mystery behind these artists that attract listeners or perhaps we’re all suckers for a good gimmick. But we truly believe these legends living behind their privacy shields are beyond talented and deserve recognition for their music.
Allow us to introduce the artists behind the masks. Also, check out Billboard‘s full snapshot here.
1788-L: Not included in the Billboard article, but just as important right now. 1788-L burst onto the scene out of nowhere in February 2018 with a bootleg flip of Virtual Self’s “Particle Arts.” Since then, the mystery producer has released two EPs on Deadbeats, played Red Rocks, and collaborated with Blanke, Rezz, Illenium and more.
Bloody Beetroots: Having previously performed as a duo, Sir Bob Cornelius Rifo heads up the project and the masks have undergone a number of redesigns over the years. Most fans would spot the Venom-like MIDI-controlled LED eyes from a mile away. More recently, his mask has sported message “NO” in plain letters — but the message behind this remains a mystery. What we do know is that Rifo couldn’t give two shits about fame.
Claptone: Claptone has gained massive recognition in the techno scene, though his identity remains completely unknown. According to Billboard, the mask is modeled after Black Death “beak masks” worn by Medieval doctors during the Plague of 1656. The reasoning behind the mask seems authentic — “We all wear masks,” Claptone once explained to DJ Mag. “The single purpose of being Claptone is to touch people.”
Daft Punk: When you think of masked DJs, this dynamic duo is probably the first that comes to mind. Created by special effects artist Tony Gardner, these helmets were truly ahead of their time and transformed Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo into robotic, dance music heroes. Just try to name a more iconic masked duo — we’ll wait.
Danger: From one masked dance act to another, the disguise for this project was inspired by none other than Daft Punk and their robotic helmets. However, he based the distinct look off a character from Final Fantasy. Franck Rivoire’s lifelong obsession with comic books and video games translates into music and design seamlessly with his black mask and glowing eyes. Putting this on, he becomes his alter ego by night and appreciates the “absence of expression” it holds.
deadmau5: Most of us can probably recognize deadmau5 aka Joel Zimmerman with or without his mau5 head on. Back in the day, he used a mouse head for a logo when he worked as a freelance web designer. After doing some work on their website, Jay Gordon of industrial metal band Orgy suggested he wear a mouse helmet on stage, should he ever pursue his career as an electronic musician. The rest is history.
Kloud: This mystery project claims to be a source of artificial intelligence. The backstory plays out through music videos, as the music entity breaks free from the evil grips of Kloud (a corporation that thrives off mining the intelligence of mankind). This narrative boasts a cyber world of self-expression and truly endless possibilities. The future is now and there’s no telling what kind of masked DJs we’ll encounter next.
Malaa: Who is Malaa? The world may never know. This guy never talks on the mic or breaks character under any circumstance. Closely associated acts like Tchami, DJ Snake, and Mercer aren’t letting on either. His mystery identity counters his instantly recognizable ghetto house flair, which has taken over the scene along with his “bad boy” image. Malaa’s straight up black ski mask is in line with popular street wear and has even become a staple in his merchandise line.
Marshmello: From mystery DJ to global sensation, Marshmello is living proof that even the simplest of masks can take a brand to the next level. His manager, Moe Shalizi, says it stands for something much deeper — a universal message of acceptance. The same theme plays out in many of his music videos. Nevertheless, the mask can be attributed to much of Marshmello’s success.
Noise Cans: This distinctive mask is a strong nod to the artist’s Gombey tradition and represents a mix of African, indigenous peoples, Caribbean and British cultures. His fondest childhood memories involve running to the streets to hear banging drums and dancing for hours. During these celebrations, the musicians would wear similar masks and headdresses. The project name and look upholds these memories. “The mask is culture, vibe, energy,” he says. “It allows you to create and feel as free as you want to be.”
SBTRKT: The neon-tribal mask references this London-based artist’s childhood in Kenya, meant to bridge old cultures and new. Building off colors, patterns, and messages from ancient societies, SBTRKT presents a vibrant identity all his own. However, just as elusive as the project itself, the designer and visual art director behind the mask remains anonymous.
Slow Magic: This DJs tribal mask is friendly and approachable — your real life “imaginary friend.” Slow Magic is known for jumping into crowds to drum in the pit during his live, interactive shows. Removing his identity from the mix, there is a certain type of magic happening here, allowing fans to focus on the music. The artist behind the mask believes escape is a form of expression.
Photo via Rukes.com