There are a number of mask wearing musicians bringing legendary experiences to stages all over the world. Along with a unique persona these alluring folks embody an element of mystery that is rarely found even at the largest festivals. This year at Woogie Weekend one of our headliners, Claptone, who is known for his spooky mask with a long beak-like nose brings with him funky techno-inspired house beats and a soulful signature groove.
The interesting thing about masks like Claptones is how it allows the music to be the star of the show while the identity of the performer stays silent in shadow, leaving anyone flailing on the dancefloor to wonder, who is piloting this spiritual steamboat of whimsy and rhythm? Through his onstage persona, Claptone conjures up an elusive mystique and if you know the historical significance of the mask he wears then it might help to understand a bit about why this bird of sonic paradise keeps his identity cloaked in secrecy. It may also shed light on what this mask-sporting, music-making powerhouse is here to achieve.
Why does Claptone Wear That Mask?
Claptone has been asked on numerous occasions by press about his use of the golden mask that he wears. Almost always the spirited response he’s given has been perplexing because it frequently tells less about the identity of the man or the origins of the mask and more about the sense of the motives behind his wearing it. When asked outright “Why do you wear a mask?” in an interview with DJ Mag Claptone identified the masks as an allegory for the roles we play in our lives.
“We all wear masks.” He says. In fact, what’s interesting about these roles is according to Claptone “you can’t take these masks off, because there is no ‘real me’ behind the mask.” By eliminating the illusion of the personality behind the decks Claptone aims to bring the feels. In that same interview with DJ Mag he even states that “The single purpose of being Claptone is to touch people. Form and function melt when Claptone plays his sets, bright and dark, angry and warm-hearted, happy and sad, calm and outrageous. If you open your heart you can feel it: Claptone deals in emotions.”
While this starts to get us a sense of the motives behind the mask it doesn’t yet tell us much about the historical role played by this particular mask. In other words, there are thousands of weird, remarkable masks in the world so why this one?
In the Venetian era the masks were donned by practicing doctors treating those infected with Bubonic plague. From wealthy to poor, the plague left bodies piling up and skilled medical professionals in short supply. Traveling doctors, who were often quacks or students with good intentions, were hired to treat the ill so they wore the masks with glass spectacles built in and a scented herb placed in the nose with straw, ostensibly to filter the putrid air, which was believed to be the source of the disease. Unable to offer much relief, the doctors often sold false remedies or settled for collecting demographic information of the people dying in lieu of offering hope to patients.
To avoid physical contact, the plague doctors would adorn themselves in thick black, waxed cloth while they carried canes should any physical touching be required. In some cases, the stick was requested by patients who believed that the disease was god punishing them for sinning. The plague doctors represented a rare spirit that could claim to be a spiritual guide, an agent of the government and a medical practitioner simultaneously. Not withstanding, the nightmarish figures were so alien that they developed an eerie lore about them, which cast them as reapers with a miserly disposition.
A Known Truth
In a time mired with death and disease, the strangely dressed figures became symbolic of an era that taught us about medicine, government and spirituality, albeit at a terrible cost. So why choose this mask to define your onstage DJ persona? Claptone has never said specifically, but he has shared that the memory of how it came to be is lost, only saying “I did not chose the mask. The mask chose me.” It’s easy to speculate that there may be more than one Claptone or that the person behind the mask needs the anonymity to continue the persona for some reason but what is clear from the Claptone story is that with the addition of the mask the music has another dimension to it that invites the listener down the rabbit hole to consider the masks that we all wear each day.
In an interview with AXS, and what is probably his deepest dive into the topic he hinted at the origin of the spooky disguise:
“The golden mask I wear resembles the shape of a plague doctor’s mask and at the same time has Venetian origins. Culture and religion are powerful but dangerous tools. They do inspire me nonetheless. But in the end everyone wears their own mask, I wear mine in pride. Don’t be fooled though it’s not so much about the mask, it’s more about the sound, the sonic realm that I unfold onto you.”
Featured Image Credit: Daniel Zetterstrom
Right Image Credit: Neda Rajabi