Op-Ed: The Anonymous DJ Gimmick Needs To End

It can hide some painful truths about the person behind the music.
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The concept of the anonymous or semi-anonymous producer has been around for a long time. Artists would wear masks or helmets to obscure their physical features and live life in relative obscurity. This became paramount in the age of paparazzi and Hollywood celebrity obsession. It got supercharged with the internet and social media. Whether it is deadmau5 (less so now), Daft Punk or the Bloody Beetroots, DJs have used this method both as a way to build a brand and also to help live a more normal life away from music since the general public may not know what they look like. They never shied away from sharing their real names and identities. However, there is another group of DJs that take this one step further to try and remain totally anonymous. That trend has grown in the receding waters of the EDM explosion as DJs look for ways to stand out.

There is the very real anxiety for some producers that are awkward and don’t want to be subject to much public scrutiny. They just like to make music and hope people like it.

That is a valid concern, however, more likely it is part of some contrived marketing scheme to make the artist seem more interesting than just two mid-20s white dudes of means from Europe who moved to Los Angeles to pursue their music dream. It can be a strategy to obscure dull music by making the artist mysterious.

Being semi-anonymous would give you public cover to everyone outside of the business. Think Marshmello, who we know to be Chris Comstock, but still attempts anonymity as part of the brand hiding behind the bucket on his head. ZHU grew as an anonymous act, but then the story that he was anonymous started to overshadow his music and they dropped the act, slowly and quietly. Now we know he is Stephen Zhu and there are plenty of photos of him online.

There are a slew of other DJs big and small who like to remain anonymous, while also looking to enjoy the luxury of a successful career with money and adulation of fans. That is totally normal, money is great and having people think you are great strokes the ego. However, completely obscuring your identity can cause other problems.

In a world where artist’s conduct is increasingly connected to their music, being totally anonymous prevents any sort of accountability for their actions outside of music on their career. Some may rejoice at this, but for those who care about social issues, aren’t stans and the founding ideals of electronic music, this would be worrisome. Who is to say someone like Datsik or Ten Walls (he is trying) won’t attempt a come back under an anonymous pseudonym, calling together the connections in the business they still have for a big marketing push?

It is possible to live a quiet life away from the spotlight like Aphex Twin or Moodymann. They don’t over expose themselves publicly, use social media much or look for the media spotlight every possible chance they get. If you are a shy and reclusive person, a career can still be had with someone monitoring social media for you and limited press engagements. Great music with a good team and marketing strategy putting music first will get itself onto streaming services and coverage online. Gimmicks to conceal your identity are just that – a gimmick and it doesn’t last long before people have had enough of the act.

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