Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Anonymity In Music

Pop music doesn’t cater for anonymity. ‘What does an artist look like?’ is an ever pressing question on the mind of a fan.

Recently, William Bevan (aka Burial) tried to mask his image behind his pseudonym; this lead to a great deal of hysteria up-until February 2008, when The Independent exposed the man behind the mask.

Typically, anonymity is a tool used for the good. We most readily associate the concept with The BATMAN. The idea is that by remaining invisible to the social eye the ID can represent an agent for something bigger, in the case of the Caped-Crusader he becomes an immortalised agent of the good ship politic. Wiping out the blemishes, the corruption, the abuse of power.

Certainly in the case of musicians such as MF DOOM, a rapper who sports the mask of Marvel Comics character Dr Doom, this is highly pertinent. Lesser so but still relevant would be the discreet members of Detroit techno collective Underground Resistance. The idea that the music can do the talking, that it can be the sole medium of communication is a powerful idea. The problem occurs when someone hides from society; our instant reaction is to expose them.

If comic books are to be believed, anonymity produces two opposing reactions – many of Batman’s nemeses are also disguised. Additionally, The Batman was initially conceived as an altruistic character. However, over time we’ve learned to question his motives, we want to learn more about this disguised man of honour. Furthermore, the notion of anonymity has become stained by the online world. Writers and bloggers regularly take pseudonyms; there are avatars and usernames. Such a great proportion of online content is untraceable to the source that it lacks a human touch.

People use online anonymity to vent their spleen, to rant and rave, to attack others, to hurl insults at those they will probably never meet. Because of this, today we associate pseudonyms and anonymity as an agent void of moral or legal obligation. They live above the law and outside of society. Crucially they lack accountability.

It seems unfeasible today as to why anyone would adopt such a renegade stance. Especially if you are a musician. The group WU LYF (formally known as Wolf Wolf amongst others of varying printability) are one such group.

Crammed into a back street deli near Piccadilly Station awaiting WU LYF, it’s clear that their disguise has brought them attention. The room is packed with A&R men and women (but mostly men), gig promoters, radio presenters, journalists, music publishers, all keen to see the band. It’s apparent that the hottest property in Manchester is a band whose commodity isn’t readily identifiable.

Fairy lights are flashing violently, a girl applies some lipstick, a kora player plies his trade in the corner. The band watch-on whilst the audience are incapable of identifying them. This is their power. As Bruce Wayne walks amongst us we feel safe in the knowledge that elsewhere, Batman is protecting us.

Unfortunately, WU LYF aren’t going to save you. They’re going to remind you that the society we live in lacks a centre. That we live such fragmented lives and that in this cultural vacuum we aren’t going to find anything tangible to stop ourselves from cascading apart. Gotham City is falling to pieces.

Words: Samuel Breen


  1. i was there and knew exactly who they were. they were looking at me, me at them. good gig

  2. i dont think that's a very good metaphor, sorry

  3. Hmm, I seem to have breezed over the romance; maybe you went to a different date (boom-tck).

  4. Interesting article. Marketing tactics used by corporate companies are now being applied to the arts to attract attention. After all, attention is often rewarded to anti-social behaviour (from a naughty child to Amy Winehouse) so anyone who wants to seek positive attention has to rely on new innovative marketing ideals to bring the punters in. Sounds like WU LYF got what they were looking for- debate, publicity and a following.